How to Use Mineral Spirits

Lead Image
  • Beginner
  • 15-60
What You'll Need
Mineral spirits
Protective gloves
Protective glasses
Face mask
Adequate ventilation in the work area

Mineral spirits, more commonly known as paint thinner, are clear liquid solvents used in painting and decorating. Sometimes called white spirit or Stoddard solvent, they can be used industrially for stripping paint, taking the grease off machine tools, and removing dirt and oils from metals, making them particularly useful in car part assembly. White mineral spirits can also be mixed with other liquids and used as a lubricant for thread cutting.

Step 1 - Clean the Item

First, make sure that all surface dirt is removed from the item. For example, if you are cleaning a kitchen cabinet or wiping down a shelf, then you should first use a duster to take off any dust or debris that might be lining the top of the item. A kitchen cabinet can be wiped down with a damp cloth and allowed to dry before mineral spirits are used, or you may choose to simply brush it off with a duster.

Step 2 – Ensure a Safe Environment

Put on your protective gloves and glasses, and secure your respirator for protection from the fumes.

Step 3 – Apply the Mineral Spirits

Take your bottle of Stoddard solvent, and pour out a small amount onto a rag. If you don't want to pour the spirits directly onto a cloth, you can also tip out a little in a plastic saucer or lid and dip a cloth into the liquid.

TIP: White mineral spirits can be damaging to a variety of surfaces. For example, it can destroy the shine on a “no-wax” floor. Always check the surface you plan to treat by testing a small, inconspicuous area to see how it reacts to the solvent. If it proves damaging in that one area, don’t move forward with it.

Step 4 - Clean the Item

Once you have placed the mineral spirits onto your cloth, start cleaning the item. Rub the cloth gently across the surface of the item, making smooth, even strokes to cover the item from one side to the other. Do not scrub. The cloth will get dirty as you pass the mineral spirits over the item. Turn the cloth over as necessary so that you’re always using a clean side.

Be aware that solvents like paint thinner can also cause the varnish to peel in addition to dirt and grime. If this occurs, you may need to repair the item by applying another layer of varnish over the top after you have finished cleaning it with the mineral spirits.

Step 5 – Wipe Down the Surface

When you have finished cleaning the item with mineral spirits, use a clean dry cloth to wipe over the item. This will remove any lingering paint thinner, which could cause harm if left unchecked. You should then let the surface dry before using it again or replacing any items you removed before cleaning.

Step 6 – Dispose of Solvent Soaked Rags

Used rags and other cleaning materials that have absorbed white spirit should never be thrown in the normal garbage. Even after use, the chemicals on the rags remain flammable and spontaneous trash fires can occur.

Dispose of mineral spirit soaked rags by putting them in a sealed container like a coffee can with a lid and filling the can with water so that all of the rags are submerged. Completely submerging them is the only way to completely remove any risk of a fire. You can then either bring the container to your local hazardous waste disposal center or hold on to it until your area has a hazardous waste pick up day.


Paint thinner is volatile and highly flammable. If you are planning to use mineral spirits, always follow any safety instructions listed by the manufacturer. Use the proper protective gear to cover your skin and eyes, and be sure to keep your work area well ventilated as fumes from the spirits can also be harmful.

The solvents themselves should also be handled properly after use. Follow any label instructions for storing or disposal of mineral spirits and never dump it down a sink or drain that leads to the sewers.