Mineral spirits have long been a staple in industries like painting, woodworking, and manufacturing, where they are commonly used as a paint thinner, cleaner, or degreaser. However, increased awareness around mineral spirits’ potential health and environmental hazards has led many to seek alternatives.
This comprehensive guide’ll explore some of the most popular and effective options for replacing mineral spirits. We’ll cover eco-friendly commercial substitutes, common household products that can be used in a pinch, and specialized solutions designed to replace mineral spirits directly.
By the end, you’ll have a thorough overview of the different products you can consider and insight into how they compare to traditional mineral spirits in terms of performance, safety, and environmental impact. Let’s dive in!
Eco-Friendly Commercial Alternatives
For those looking to move away from mineral spirits for environmental reasons, there are now commercial products designed specifically to replace them in an eco-friendly way. Two of the most popular options are:
AcraStrip offers a line of eco-friendly “green” cleaners and thinners as an alternative to traditional solvents like mineral spirits. Their products are biodegradable and derived from plant materials like soybeans and oranges.
Specific AcraStrip products that can substitute mineral spirits include:
- AcraStrip Advanced Paint Remover – strips paint and varnish without caustic or toxic chemicals
- AcraStrip Citrus Cleaner – all-purpose degreaser and cleaner
- AcraStrip Gel – dissolves grease and lubricants
AcraStrip products are non-flammable, VOC-free, and packaged in recyclable containers. They can be used for applications like paint and graffiti removal, concrete cleaning, tar and adhesive removal, and cleaning tools and equipment.
Polychem is another company offering plant-based and biodegradable alternatives to replace mineral spirits across manufacturing, transportation, and field service industries.
Some of their most popular products include:
- Polychem Degreaser – removes grease, oil, dirt, and more from parts and equipment
- Polychem Concrete Cleaner – removes stains, oil, and debris from concrete
- Polychem Paint Thinner – thins and cleans oil-based paints and coatings
Polychem products are non-hazardous, non-flammable, and plasticizer-free. The company advertises them as safer for users and better for the environment than traditional solvents.
How Do AcraStrip and Polychem Compare in Effectiveness and Eco-Friendliness?
When comparing top eco-friendly brands like AcraStrip and Polychem, there are a few key factors to consider:
Both brands produce products that effectively substitute mineral spirits for degreasing, paint thinning, parts cleaning, and more. However, due to their strong stripping formulations, AcraStrip solutions may have a slight performance edge for heavy-duty jobs like removing layers of paint and varnish.
AcraStrip and Polychem both use plant-derived ingredients and biodegradable formulas. Polychem highlights the renewable resources used in manufacturing. AcraStrip emphasizes recyclable packaging and zero VOCs. Both brands are very eco-friendly compared to traditional mineral spirits.
AcraStrip products tend to be more expensive than comparable Polychem alternatives. This may be due to the powerful paint strippers in their range. Polychem is a more budget-friendly green option overall.
Both brands are non-flammable and non-hazardous to improve safety profiles. AcraStrip paint strippers require more involved safety precautions due to their strength. For general degreasing, Polychem is likely the safer choice.
So in summary, AcraStrip may have an effectiveness edge for extreme jobs, while Polychem is likely safer and more budget-friendly for typical degreasing and cleaning applications. Both provide much more eco-friendly options than mineral spirits.
Common Household Alternatives
For one-off jobs or in a pinch, there are a few common household products that can act as temporary mineral spirit substitutes:
Denatured alcohol, often used as a cleaning agent or fuel source, is one of the most readily-available substitutes for mineral spirits. It can be found at most hardware stores, in states where it is permitted.
- Evaporates quickly without residue
- Effective grease cutter and solvent
- Low toxicity
- Very flammable – requires careful handling
- Strong odor may be unpleasant
- Not as effective as mineral spirits in some applications
Charcoal Lighter Fluid
Many use charcoal lighter fluid as an occasional substitute when mineral spirits are unavailable. It is a petroleum distillate like mineral spirits.
- Often readily available
- Acts as solvent and cleans brushes
- Highly flammable
- Not as effective for thinning paints
- Strong odor
Found in nail polish removers and some paint thinners, acetone is a powerful solvent and cleaner.
- Aggressive grease-cutting ability
- Evaporates rapidly
- Widely available
- Highly flammable
- Can damage plastic, vinyl and foam
- Harsh chemical odor
Turpentine is a plant-derived solvent commonly used as paint thinner and brush cleaner.
- Natural ingredient
- Effective solvent properties
- Pleasant pine smell
- Toxic if ingested
- Not as strong a cleaner as mineral spirits
What Are the Pros and Cons of Using Common Household Items as Mineral Spirit Substitutes?
Using household products as temporary mineral spirit substitutes offers convenience but has some definite downsides:
- Readily available and accessible in a pinch
- Generally effective for basic cleaning, degreasing, and paint thinning
- Most options like acetone and charcoal lighter fluid are highly flammable, requiring careful handling
- Can produce unpleasant fumes or vapors
- May be toxic if ingested or exposed to for prolonged periods
- Not designed for these applications, so could damage materials
- Results not as consistent or controllable as commercial products
Overall, household substitutes should only be used sparingly and cautiously until a proper mineral spirit alternative can be obtained. The risks likely outweigh the small convenience benefit.
Beyond household items, there are now specialty products designed as direct substitutes for mineral spirits:
The Real Milk Paint Company – Natural Citrus Solvent
The Real Milk Paint Company produces plant-based, eco-friendly finishes and strippers. Their Natural Citrus Solvent is made from USDA certified organic orange oil and designed to replace mineral spirits directly.
- Bio-based formula from sustainable sources
- Natural citrus scent
- Low VOC/non-toxic
- Effective cleaner and degreaser
- Can be used for paint thinning and brush cleaning
- More expensive than mineral spirits
- May need multiple applications for some jobs
- Not as effective on heavy grease or grime
Klean-Strip Green – Odorless Mineral Spirits
Klean-Strip Green is a mineral spirit substitute made from 65% more renewable resources. It has an odorless formula for improved air quality.
- Low odor improves indoor air quality
- High flash point for safer handling
- Renewable sources cut fossil fuel use
- Can be used for paint prep and brush cleaning
- More affordable than natural citrus solvents
- Not 100% plant-based like some eco-alternatives
- Less effective on heavy grease and oil
- Evaporation rate slower than traditional mineral spirits
How Do Specialized Products Like Natural Citrus Solvent and Klean-Strip Green Impact Indoor Air Quality?
Specialized mineral spirits substitutes like citrus solvents and Klean-Strip Green offer big improvements for indoor air quality compared to traditional mineral spirits:
- Plant-based and natural citrus formulas have pleasant or no odors rather than strong chemical smells. This greatly improves the air quality experience while using them.
- Because they are made from natural and renewable ingredients, they have lower VOC levels when evaporating. Traditional mineral spirits emit high VOCs as they evaporate, reducing indoor air quality.
- Options like Klean-Strip Green have higher flash points, making them less prone to combusting which would release fumes. This makes them safer to use indoors without harming air quality.
- Low odor options help prevent the lingering smell of chemicals. Mineral spirits can leave an unpleasant odor long after use.
So for applications like paint thinning and indoor brush cleaning, specialized substitutes are far less likely to impact air quality than traditional mineral spirits negatively. Always ensure proper ventilation is available regardless of the product used.
Other Potential Alternatives
Beyond the major substitutes we’ve covered, there are a few other options that may work depending on the specific application:
Murphy Oil Soap
Murphy Oil Soap is actually a detergent rather than a true soap. It can be effective for cleaning and restoring unfinished wood surfaces.
- Safe for most wood finishes
- Pleasant lemon fragrance
- Lifts dirt from wood pores
- Not as effective a degreaser as mineral spirits
- Can leave residue if not fully rinsed
- Frequent use can damage some finishes over time
Krud Kutter concentrated cleaners are often touted as an effective “green” alternative to harsh chemicals. When heavily diluted, some formulas can substitute mineral spirits.
- Plant-based ingredients
- Degreases and cleans most hard surfaces
- Free of VOCs when diluted properly
- Needs dilution for safety and effectiveness
- May still contain propane and petroleum distillates
- Not designed specifically as paint thinner
Walnut oil is sometimes suggested as a natural replacement option for mineral spirits when thinning oil paints.
- All-natural plant-based oil
- Maintains colors well
- Less odor than mineral spirits
- Limited ability to thin paints effectively
- Doesn’t achieve smooth washes like mineral spirits
Soap and Water
One of the safest but least effective options is using soap and water for applications like paintbrush cleaning.
- Very safe and non-toxic
- No chemicals or fumes
- Not effective as paint thinner
- May damage bristles over time
- Insufficient for removing grease or grime
How Do Murphy Oil Soap and Krud Kutter Perform In Comparison to Traditional Mineral Spirits?
Murphy Oil Soap and Krud Kutter are both effective cleaners, but fall short as full substitutes for the performance of mineral spirits:
- Neither match the ability of mineral spirits to thin oil-based paints effectively. Paint thinning is one of the primary uses of mineral spirits.
- They have limited power to remove heavy grease and grime. Mineral spirits are valued for strong degreasing abilities.
- Krud Kutter requires heavy dilution to approach mineral spirits safety levels. Undiluted it is much harsher.
- Murphy Oil Soap leaves more residue and is not designed as a multi-purpose solvent/cleaner like mineral spirits.
- Soap and water can damage paint brushes over time while mineral spirits safely clean them.
While Murphy Oil Soap and Krud Kutter have benefits like plant-based ingredients, they cannot fully replace the versatility and performance of mineral spirits across multiple applications.
When considering alternatives to traditional mineral spirits, there are now many effective and eco-friendly options to explore.
Top commercial choices like AcraStrip and Polychem offer similar performance and better environmental profiles. For one-off uses, household products like denatured alcohol can work in a pinch but require caution. Specialty plant-based solvents like citrus thinners provide a direct mineral spirits substitute for paint thinning and brush cleaning with minimal indoor air impact.
While no alternative is perfect, products like AcraStrip, Polychem solvents, and Natural Citrus Solvents represent the future of safer, cleaner options that protect human and environmental health while still meeting application performance needs. As demand grows and green chemistries continue advancing, mineral spirits may become a thing of the past.