Mineral spirits are a staple in any woodworking shop. DIYers equally have them in their garages or some other storage location in their homes.
This is due to the many important uses of mineral spirits for both household and professional applications. If you are into woodworking, you will want to know how to make the most of this essential product.
That said, can you use mineral spirits on wood? This write-up seeks to answer the question about using mineral spirits on wood and provides the various ways and steps for using mineral spirits in woodworking.
What are Mineral Spirits?
Mineral spirits are colorless organic solvents obtained from the distillation of petroleum products, used as cleaning agents and thinners for oil-based products like paint, polyurethane, and varnish.
Mineral spirits also termed white spirits in some countries, typically comprise various light hydrocarbons, making them volatile.
Can You Use Mineral Spirits on Wood?
Yes, you can use mineral spirits to clean wood before staining it, remove stain and solvent-based finishes from paintbrushes when working with wood, dilute the wood stain, highlight flaws on wood surfaces, and remove stains from skin and wooden surfaces.
How Do Woodworking Mineral Spirits Work?
Mineral spirits work as solvents that dissolve oil and solvent-based wood finishing products. This is what gives them the ability to cut through these finishes, loosening their bonds and removing them from surfaces where they are unneeded.
Because mineral spirits thin oil based paints and dissolve solvent-based wood finishes, they do an excellent job loosening these products from the bristles of paintbrushes and surfaces where they are stubbornly stuck.
Once these solvents’ molecules have come loose, they can be easily washed off the bristles or surfaces. The same ability to dissolve oil-based products also makes mineral spirits excellent thinners for such products as paint, poly, and varnish.
Thinning these wood finishes makes them less viscous and easier to work with.
P.S Mineral spirit isn’t the same as mineral oil. Learn the difference between mineral oil and mineral spirits for information.
How to Use Mineral Spirits on Wood
Once you know the various applications of mineral spirits, the next important thing is to know the procedures to follow in each application.
Adding this knowledge to your repertoire can help you make the most out of the product when your project requires it.
Here is a detailed look at the various applications where mineral spirits come in handy.
1. Cleaning Wood Before Staining
If you have mineral spirits at home, you may have used them for cleaning purposes. This is one of the main uses of these white spirits, and wood is no exception.
Mineral spirits wash out and remove dirt and grime from wooden surfaces and get them ready for finishing. Cleaning wood with mineral spirits before staining or applying a finish has two main advantages:
It does not raise the grain as water does, and it promotes the absorption of wood stains into the pores in the wood. This helps create a richer and better finish.
Mineral spirits also dry faster because they are volatile, so they make the cleaning process faster. This makes mineral spirits an excellent way to speed up project completion.
Here are the steps to follow when cleaning wood with mineral spirits before applying a finish.
Step 1: Sand the wood
Sanding is an essential step in any wood finishing project. It helps ensure the surface is smooth and even. So it is a step you do not want to skip.
You can always start with medium grit and then switch to finer grit sandpaper for the final part of sanding. This should depend on the wood you are finishing.
Step 2: Dampen a clean, lint-free rag with mineral spirits
After sanding, you can always wipe the wood dust with a tack cloth. As the name suggests, a tack cloth is slightly sticky, enabling it to pick and clean away the sanding dust from the sanded wood surface.
Tack cloths are slightly sticky cloths that are used to clean sawdust off the wood before finishing or painting. They are often made of turpentine, which is stickier than mineral spirits.
However, when you are not into perfection, you can create a tack cloth alternative easily by dampening a clean rag with turpentine or mineral spirits.
Simply pour a small amount of mineral spirits onto a lint-free rag. It is a cheaper alternative with less odor than turpentine products.
Step 3: Wipe the wood with a dampened rag
Use the damp rag to wipe the powdery residue left by the sanding. Rub the clean and absorbent cloth dampened with mineral spirits gently on all the wood’s surfaces to remove all the residue.
Be sure to move gently, with even strokes in the direction of the wood grain. It is important to wipe in one direction to avoid redistributing the residue back onto the surface of the wood with the cloth.
Do not go back and forth or use circular motions as they may create a mess. Additionally, ensure you keep switching the rag to a clean portion after using one portion to pick the debris. And you have a big surface to clean; you may use more than one rag.
Step 4: Dry the wood with a dry rag
Once done, use a clean, dry rag to give the entire surface a quick once-over, wiping out any remaining residue and the mineral spirits off the wood.
You may have to rub the surface a few times to ensure you remove all the dampness from the surface.
Step 5: Air dry the wood
After drying the wood by wiping it with a dry rag, leave it to air dry before applying any finish or wood conditioner to help soft wood absorb stain. The surface needs to be completely dry for any finish to adhere properly.
Mineral spirits are light and likely to dry pretty quickly, so you will not wait too long for the wood to be ready for the finish. You should wait for no more than 20 minutes.
2. Cleaning Paintbrushes
Pure water and soap are typically ineffective against greasy objects such as wax and oil-based paint. In addition, products such as paint and varnishes can stick to the bristles of a brush and become near impossible to remove.
Thanks to the dissolving power of mineral spirits, the solvent will dislodge the most suborn substances from objects such as paintbrushes in this case.
How to Clean Paintbrushes with Mineral Spirits
When working with solvent or oil-based products, like paint or varnish, mineral spirits provide an effective and quick way to remove the residual product stuck on the bristles.
You can treat the spirits like any liquid cleaning agent, soaking the object in the solvent or applying it to the object to dislodge the stubborn residue before washing with water.
That said, here is a step-by-step guide on cleaning paint brushes with mineral spirits.
Step 1: Put some mineral spirits in a bucket
Choose a bucket that can accommodate the paintbrushes you wish to clean and pour some mineral spirits into it.
Ensure there are enough mineral spirits in the container to submerge the bristles. The idea is not to fill the container with mineral spirits; just to have enough for the bristles.
Step 2: Swirl the dirty bristles in the mineral spirits
Hold the handle and dip the paintbrush in the mineral spirits to submerge the bristles. You’ll want to keep it there for about one minute, swirling it around to loosen the paint from the bristles.
Swirling allows the solvent to get in between the paintbrush bristles and work the sticky residue. You can also push the brush against the walls of the container from time to time to work the solvent into the bristles.
Step 3: Comb the brush bristles
After swirling for about a minute, withdraw the paintbrush from the mineral spirits and comb its bristles with a paintbrush comb or any object resembling it. While doing this, ensure you set the brush on a rag.
Step 4: Return the brush to the mineral spirits
Dipping the bristles back into the mineral spirits helps wash the dislodged paint off the bristles into the solvent in the container.
Once again, swirl it around, pressing it against the walls of the container from time to time to work the dirt out of the bristles. You can comb it numerous times if necessary until all the dirt is gone.
Step 5: Use water and soap to wash the brush
The final part is to remove the mineral spirits from the brush. The solvent tends to have a strong smell that you don’t want to have lingering around.
Additionally, mineral spirits are highly flammable, so keeping your brush soaked in mineral spirits can be a fire hazard. So, use some dishwashing soap or laundry detergent to wash the brush with water.
The soap helps break down the mineral spirits, removing them from the bristles. Rinse the bristles thoroughly to remove all the residue and mineral spirits, and then lay the clean paintbrush somewhere to air dry.
3. Diluting Wood Stain
Water and oil do not mix, so if you have some oil-based product you wish to use on wood, you cannot thin it with water. This is where non-water solvents like mineral spirits come in.
So if you are working with some wood stain that appears too dense, you can add some mineral spirits to it to make it less dense. The white spirit is a prolific paint thinner, wood stain thinner, and solvent for other oil-based finishes.
Step 1: Transfer the wood strain into a bucket
You could use a smaller container such as a bowl if you are working on a small project involving only a small amount of wood stain.
Otherwise, a small bucket will be appropriate. You can transfer some or all the wood stain into the bucket depending on how much you need at the moment.
The idea is to pour enough, so you don’t have to redo the mixing later on after running out. In any case, note down the amount of wood stain added so that you can replicate the ratios should you have to thin some more later on.
Step 2: Add some mineral spirits into the bucket
Penetrating wood stains typically have a thin consistency, so it is essential to add only a small amount of mineral spirits at a time and note down the number as you go. You can use a tablespoon or some other tiny measuring tool for this purpose.
Step 3: Test out the stain
After each addition, stir the mixture and test it on a piece of scrap wood to see if it is ready.
Note that stained surfaces tend to be lighter when dry, so you should not thin the stain until it is too light. Instead, stop thinning as soon as it is close to the share you are looking for but slightly darker.
4. Restoring Wood Projects
Cleaning antique wood furniture with mineral spirits is often an excellent way to remove grime and dirt built up over time.
If you have finished wood that has lost its former beauty due to dirt buildup or grime on the surface, soap and water can be ineffective against such buildup.
The other alternative is often to scrub the object with a scouring pad saturated with a soapy solution. However, the scouring has its limitations: it can scratch the surface and damage the finish, leaving unsightly marks on the wood.
Mineral spirits help cut through the buildup, dislodging it from the surface and revealing the concealed finish beneath the murky layer. This allows you to restore the project without damaging the surface.
Step 1: Saturate a soft cloth with mineral spirits
Step 2: Start by testing the mineral spirits on an inconspicuous area on the project before going all in.
Step 3: Rub the entire surface with the cloth the spirit runs out
Step 4: Add more mineral spirits to the cloth to keep it wet and scrub until the buildup comes out.
Step 5: Use a brush or small brush to scrub away any stubborn mess stuck in crevices and cracks.
5. Cleaning Sap and Oil-Based Adhesives off Surfaces
If you have wooden items in your outdoor living space, sap from nearby trees can always fall on them at any time. Tree sap can be extremely stubborn and difficult to remove from surfaces due to its sticky nature.
Aside from that, stickers on wooden planks also tend to leave behind some stubborn adhesives that you must clean away after a new purchase. These, too, can be a pain to remove and prevent sap from coming out of wood.
Thankfully, mineral spirits have a nearly magical power to dissolve these sticky messes and dislodge them from surfaces. To remove these adhesives from wooden surfaces, follow the following simple steps.
Step 1: Pour some mineral spirits onto a rag to dampen it.
Step 2: Soak the sticky stuff by placing the wet rag over it, squeezing the rag a bit to deposit the solvent on the sticky substance.
Step 3: Wipe away the softened sap, adhesive, or grime after leaving it to soak in the wet rag for about a minute.
6. Cleaning up Excess Tacky Stain from Stained Wood
Excess wood stains must always be wiped off after a few minutes, often 5 to 10 minutes of application, to create the desired finish.
However, if you wait too long before wiping, the stain typically becomes a sticky mess. If the stain is oil-based, you can fix the problem by following the following steps.
How to use Mineral Spirits to Remove Stains off Tacky Surfaces
Step 1: Pour some mineral spirits onto a rag or sponge
Step 2: Rub the tacky surface with the wet sponge or rag
Step 3: Continue scrubbing until the tackiness is gone across the entire surface
Depending on its size, you may have to re-saturate the material with the spirits a couple of times during the project.
7. Highlighting Flaws on Wooden Surfaces
Mineral spirits can make surface imperfections on wood more visible so you can fix them before applying the finish. To use the white spirit for this purpose, follow these steps.
Step 1: Dampen a clean, lint-free cloth with mineral spirits
Step 2: Wipe the wood surface with the mineral spirits, using the cloth to distribute the solvent evenly across the wood surface.
Step 3: Observe the wood for any imperfect spots that might have escaped the eye. The solvent mimics the effect of wood finishes on the surface, highlighting any imperfections that could show through the finished wood.
8. Removing Stains from the Skin
Mineral spirits can irritate the skin, so you don’t want to let them stay on the skin for too long. However, if you get wood stain on your skin, follow these steps for safe usage.
Step 1: Apply mineral spirits directly to the stained spot. Consider using a piece of cotton ball for applying mineral spirits to stained spots on the skin.
Step 2: Use soap and water with a cleaning pad to wash the area, removing the stain and the mineral spirits simultaneously.
As long as the mineral spirits do not sit on your skin long enough, they will not burn it.
How to Use Mineral Spirits Safely
As already mentioned, mineral spirits are inflammable, so they can present the risk of fire. The solvent is also high in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making it toxic to ingest and potentially dangerous to the skin as it can irritate the skin in case of prolonged contact.
Inhaling vapors from mineral spirits can cause dizziness, nausea, and other symptoms. So, you must handle the product carefully to ensure the safety of the user and the environment.
Safety Measures to Take When Using Mineral Spirits
- Always buy odorless mineral spirits whenever possible. These are highly refined to remove most of the toxic organic compounds, making them safer.
- Wash your hands or any part of the skin that comes into contact with mineral spirits immediately with soap and water.
- Wear a respirator or safety mark when using traditional high-VOC mineral spirits, or work in a well-ventilated area.
- Always keep mineral spirits away from open flames or sources of ignition to avoid the risk of fire. Mineral spirits are highly flammable and can burst into flames from the slightest sparks or even hot objects.
- Avoid crumpling up rags soaked in mineral spirits before they are dry. Instead, lay them out flat to dry on a cloth line or some safe location away from ignition sources.
- Store mineral spirits in temperature-regulated areas for safety.
How To Dispose of Mineral Spirits
Mineral spirits are categorized as hazardous waste. Such wastes are not meant to be disposed of with other household wastes in the junkyard.
Instead, every state has rules governing their proper disposal that must be followed for the safety of the environment and the people involved.
After using mineral spirits, you should not pour them into the drain as they can leach into the groundwater, contaminating it. Here are some of the ways to properly dispose of the white spirit.
- Soak an old rag with the used mineral spirits and lay it somewhere to dry. The rag should suck up the liquid and lose it in the air while drying. Mineral spirits are volatile and easily evaporate.
- Use a rag to brush them onto a piece of scrap wood, cardboard, or used newspapers. The papers or wood will absorb the mineral spirits, and once they are dry, you can safely toss them into the trash.
- If you have mineral spirits that refuse to dry, you may have to take them to your local hazardous waste disposal facility. Mineral spirits may fail to dry if they go bad.
How Long to Let Mineral Spirits Dry Before Staining?
You should let mineral spirits dry for between 15 and 20 minutes before applying the intended wood finish. You can always tell when the wood is dry by simply observing it for wetness. Once the wood is dry, it will no longer look wet, and you can proceed to apply stain or some other finish you are working with.
Will Mineral Spirits Remove Stain?
Mineral spirits will not remove old wood stains from wood. However, it can remove water stains and dirt from unfinished wood surfaces such as unpainted wooden furniture. Mineral spirits can also lighten the stain on a dark-stained wood. To lighten up the stain, soak a clean, lint-free rag in mineral spirits and use it to wipe the stained surface with the grain.
Can you use Mineral Spirits on Unfinished Wood?
Mineral spirits can also be used for cleaning wood projects before applying any finish. This provides an excellent way of cleaning the wood’s surface. It also promotes the absorption of stain into the wood, giving you a richer finish.
How to Clean Mineral Spirits off?
Use a solution of hot water and soap to clean mineral spirits off the skin, the drain, and other surfaces. Hot soapy water solution does an excellent job cutting through mineral spirits and cleaning them off. Using hot soapy water to wash skin that has sustained irritation from prolonged mineral spirits exposure causes the skin to begin healing immediately. This underscores how effective hot water and soap solution is against mineral spirits.
What do Mineral Spirits Do to Wood?
Mineral spirits do an excellent job dissolving and cutting through stubborn grime and dirt buildup on wax, polish, and oils on wood. To use mineral these spirits on wood, rub soiled wood with a clean and absorbent cloth saturated with mineral spirits.
Do Mineral Spirits Leave Residues?
Like other oil-based spirits, mineral spirits leave an oily residue behind. You can use dishwashing soap or laundry detergent and water to wash and remove this residue.
Mineral spirits have numerous uses on wood, as you can see from the illustrations in this article. These uses can come in handy at various points in your woodworking journey.
Acquainting yourself with these applications should prepare you better if the need arises. We hope this knowledge helps make your next woodworking project involving mineral spirits successful.
Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts to share.