Mineral spirits and mineral oil are substances we commonly have lying around our homes and workshops for their many helpful uses. Both substances have multiple uses and closely similar names that could make them easy to confuse.

However, mineral oil and mineral spirits are not synonymous. Neither do these products have the same uses or characteristics. 

So to eliminate any confusion, this article compares mineral spirits vs mineral oil in terms of their chemical and physical characteristics, uses, and other essential aspects that are pertinent to their applications. 

Mineral Spirits Vs Mineral Oil

The main difference between the two is that mineral spirits are a form of petroleum distillate, and mineral oil is an oil-based lubricant. When choosing what to work with, it is important to consider their viscosity, toxicity, flammability, and food safety. So, depending on the application, you may prefer mineral spirits or mineral oil.

What are Mineral Spirits?

Mineral spirits are a group of petroleum by-products typically used as organic solvents for oil-based products like paint and other wood finishes.

While both mineral spirits and mineral oil are petroleum by-products, mineral spirits (also termed white spirit) are higher in molecular weight than mineral oil. 

Various mineral spirits have varying levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They also undergo different kinds of refinement in their production to remove sulfur and VOCs. 

The spirits also typically have a strong odor, though some manufacturers refine the products further to eliminate VOCs and make the products odor-free. 

Still, any mineral spirits are toxic to ingest regardless of their refinement level or process. They are not food-safe and can cause different health complications if they come in contact with food preparation surfaces. This is one area that sets them apart from mineral oil.

You should also always wear protective gear when handling mineral spirits because they can cause skin irritation in case of contact. 

Mineral spirits pros

  • Mineral spirits can kill molds effectively. 
  • They are efficient cleaning agents for oil-based projects.
  • They can dissolve automotive grease.
  • Mineral spirits can remove sap from gardening tools.

Cons of mineral spirits

  • Mineral spirits are toxic and can irritate the skin and respiratory system when applied to the body or inhaled. 

Can you use mineral spirits on wood? Read here for more information.

What is Mineral Oil?

Mineral oil is similar to mineral spirits in that it is equally a by-product of the petroleum distillation process. It is what remains behind while making gasoline from crude oil.

It is a colorless and odorless mixture of higher alkanes, with numerous household and industrial applications. Unlike mineral spirits, mineral oil is food-safe.

Therefore, it is typically used as a finish for food-handling wooden items like salad bowls, chopping boards, and butcher blocks. The oil is safe to ingest in food and contains no known volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  

This oily liquid is typically thoroughly refined during its manufacturing process to ensure the highest purity levels before being brought to the market.

Mineral oil pros  

  • Mineral oil, also known as paraffin oil, is non-toxic and highly environmentally friendly 
  • It is clear-colored, which can enhance the appearance of wood without altering its look. 
  • The oil is odorless, making it safe for people with smell sensitivities.
  • It nourishes wood surfaces.
  • You can use mineral oil to treat wood as it protects it from water damage by sealing its pores. 
  • It prevents molds and mildew from forming on wood. 

Cons of mineral oil

  • Mineral oil offers only temporary protection as a wood finish, so you must reapply it every so often to maintain its protection.  

Mineral Spirits vs Mineral Oil Side by Side 

Despite mineral oil and mineral spirit being petroleum extracts with similarities such as being clear-colored and flammable, they do not have much else in common. 

Their differences start with their chemical composition or molecular weight, with mineral oil having a lower molecular weight than mineral spirit.

This section looks at the various ways in which these two organic compounds differ in detail. Read along. 

Mineral oil vs mineral spirits: Common uses 

Mineral oil is pretty versatile, with countless household and industrial uses.

Its uses are spread across various industries and application areas, including skincare, wood finishing, gastrointestinal health for relieving symptoms of constipation, treating cracked feet, and more. 

Some mineral oils are processed into food-grade formulations and used to manufacture candies. Some are also highly refined and used as key ingredients in skin and cosmetic products, including ointments and cold creams.

They are popular in cosmetics and skincare products like petroleum jelly because they do not clog the pores in the skin. This is why they are sometimes scented and sold as baby oil.  

Mineral oils are also used as a laxative for humans and pets, as lubricants, and in certain pest control applications. 

On the other hand, mineral spirits are used primarily as cleaning agents and thinners for oil-based paints, lacquers, aerosol sprays, asphalt products, varnishes, and solvent-based wood preservatives.

They are commonly used in DIY woodwork as a popular alternative to turpentine. Mineral spirits can remove oil and grime from wood, metal, plastic, and concrete surfaces as a cleaning and degreasing agent. 

They also do an excellent job cleaning paint, polyurethane, and oil-based wood stains off paintbrushes.  However, you can learn other methods how to clean oil-based paint brushes without paint thinner.

Mineral spirits versus mineral oil: Food safety 

Mineral oil is generally safe to ingest, which explains why woodworkers use it to treat food-handling tools and equipment. For example, it is a common wood finish for wooden chopping boards, salad bowls, wooden utensils, and butcher blocks.

Some mineral oils are processed and used in candies as ingredients. The oil is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) due to its safety profile.

You can typically obtain mineral oil from pharmacies and various groceries due to its food-safe profile. In contrast, mineral spirits are not food-safe and should never be ingested in any form.

This is because mineral spirits are health hazards and taking them with food can pose health risks.

Mineral oil vs mineral spirits: Odor and toxicity

Mineral spirits generally have a strong odor similar to kerosene that many people find unpleasant. It is also relatively toxic and can irritate the nasal tract when inhaled, especially for long periods.

Some mineral spirits are highly refined to remove the volatile organic compounds giving them a strong odor. However, even the odorless mineral spirit formulations are relatively toxic.

They should not be applied to the skin or allowed to come into contact with the body or food-handling items.

Mineral spirits can cause skin irritation, so wearing protective gear, including rubber gloves and a mask or respirator, is always recommended when handling them.

Inhaling fumes from mineral spirits can cause symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, slowed reaction to stimuli, clumsiness, vomiting, and unconsciousness. When handling mineral spirits, you can mitigate their risk by ensuring the area is well-ventilated.

Mineral oils, on the other hand, are odorless and non-toxic. Instead of causing any negative symptoms in the body, these oils can treat dry skin, cracking, peeling, or callouses. They have a soothing effect that alleviates skin irritation. 

You also do not need to wear any special breathing equipment when handling mineral oil for treating dry skin because it is odorless. This quality makes mineral oil safe for persons with smell sensitivities and allergies. 

Mineral oil vs mineral spirits: Inflammability 

Both mineral spirits and mineral oils are inflammable. Therefore, it is essential to keep these organic compounds away from open flames or heat.

When working with either of them, you will want to ensure no flame-casing agent is nearby to avoid the risk of a fire outbreak. 

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says that mineral oil is not technically an explosive but will catch fire on an open flame. So you should be safe using them away from ignition sources. 

The same rule applies to mineral spirits, which will catch fire when exposed to sparks or open flames. However, unlike mineral oil, mineral spirits tend to be more readily flammable and likely to cause spontaneous combustion. 

When using mineral spirits, be sure to keep them away from sources of ignition and within temperatures below 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Any temperature beyond this level might cause a fire without an external heat source.

Mineral spirits versus mineral oils: Environmental impact 

Both mineral spirits and mineral oils are organic compounds derived from organic sources. This means they are biodegradable. However, they both have a long degradation window, so they are likely to take a long time before fully decomposing.

This poor biodegradability is not a problem with mineral oil since the compound is non-toxic and odorless, so it has minimal impact on the environment.

However, mineral spirits are different. They are toxic, and subjecting them to the environment for natural decomposition means keeping the toxins around for extended periods, detrimental to the environment.

Mineral oil versus mineral spirits: Recommended disposal method 

Mineral oils are sometimes used to control pests because it affects the growth and reproduction of these microorganisms. This suggests that mineral oils can potentially affect flora and fauna of a given habitat if disposed of improperly. 

So, it is recommended that you take mineral spirits or mineral oils to a hazardous waste disposal facility in your location for proper disposal. 

Mineral spirits vs mineral oils: Viscosity

Viscosity is one of the physical characteristics that set mineral spirits and mineral oils apart. Mineral spirits are very thin and flow like water. On the other hand, mineral oils are far more vicious and flow slowly.

See also: Paint thinner vs mineral spirits


Can you use mineral oil instead of mineral spirits?

No. Mineral oil and mineral spirits cannot be used interchangeably because their uses and chemical properties vary significantly. While mineral oil is a food-safe oil used for finishing food-handling wooden items, mineral spirits are toxic liquids used mainly for cleaning oil-based products.  

What is a substitute for mineral spirits?

Denatured alcohol is likely the best substitute for mineral spirits as a cleaning agent. Many people keep some denatured alcohol at home and use it as a potent paint remover and excellent cleaning agent. Knowing how denatured alcohol vs mineral spirits compare can help you correctly choose one for your next woodworking project.

What is a substitute for mineral oil?

The best mineral oil alternatives for wood finishing are Tung oil, linseed oil, and walnut oil. These oils have the same nourishing effects on wood as mineral oils and are equally food-safe, odorless, and non-toxic. (You may also want to know how to dispose of Linseed rags.)

Do mineral spirits remove paint from wood?

Yes, mineral spirits can be a relatively effortless way to remove paint from wood. Simply saturate a clean, dry rag with mineral spirits and rub the paint with it. While at it, ensure you focus on the areas with the paint to be removed and not the rest of the wood or its entire surface. 

What is the difference between mineral oil and paint thinner?

While both mineral oil and paint thinner are organic products derived from minerals, mineral oil is low-odor and non-toxic. This is as opposed to a paint thinner that contains volatile organic compounds making it toxic, with a strong smell. Mineral oil, or liquid petroleum, are also food safe applications, whereas paint thinner cannot be ingested. Doing so can cause food poisoning, with significant negative health effects. Mineral oil is used on wood to nourish it, whereas paint thinner does not possess any nourishing qualities for wood. Additionally, mineral oil cannot be used for thinning oil-based paint.

Can you use mineral spirits on wood?

You cannot use mineral spirits on wood as a wood finish. You can only use mineral spirits in woodworking to clean off paint or remove stains and other wood finishes from brushes. The compound is a potent degreaser and cleans these substances off the wood surface and from tools like brushes. 

Are mineral spirits the same as mineral oil?

No. The two products are different in that mineral oil is a clear-colored, food-safe organic product typically used to polish wood to make it water-repellant. It is also used as a skin moisturizer for treating skin irritations and flaking skin or as a laxative for both people and pets. On the other hand, mineral spirits are clear, organic solvents typically used as cleaning agents or thinners for oil-based paint and other similar products like varnish and polyurethane. Mineral spirits also boast a higher molecular weight than mineral oil.

What is the difference between mineral oil and mineral spirits?

The main difference between mineral oil and mineral spirits is that mineral oil is food-safe, non-toxic, and odorless. In contrast, mineral spirits are not food safe and often contain volatile organic compounds making them toxic, with a strong odor that you may find unpleasant. 

What are mineral spirits made of?

Mineral spirits are made entirely from petroleum distillates, with no added ingredients. This organic solvent is a clean, clear-colored product typically used as a paint thinner in DIY and professional workshops. 

What are the other names for mineral spirits?

Mineral spirits are also known as white spirits in United Kingdom and Ireland and mineral turpentine in New Zealand and Australia. They are also called petroleum spirits and turpentine substitutes in various places. 

Is all mineral oil the same?

Not all mineral oil is the same. For instance, food-grade mineral oil, or liquid paraffin, is different from pharmaceutical-grade mineral oil in some ways, even though they share the same basic formulation. These differences between various mineral oil grades come from the processing, compounds, and refining processes that each respective mineral oil undergoes. 

What is the difference between kerosene and mineral spirits?

Mineral spirits are a bit more volatile than kerosene. It covers a narrower boiling range than kerosene, so it evaporates faster. However, both products are chemically similar and can be used interchangeably in some cases.


As a woodworker or homeowner, you are highly likely to have some mineral spirits or mineral oil in your garage or workshop.

Understanding all the details regarding these organic products can help you handle them better and dispose of them more safely. 

We hope this article helps clarify any confusion that may exist between mineral spirits and mineral oil. 

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