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Denatured Alcohol vs. Mineral Spirits: Which is Best for Your Needs?

denatured alcohol vs mineral spirits

denatured alcohol vs mineral spirits

Both denatured alcohol and mineral spirits are used for woodworking and a variety of DIY projects. They are both great if used correctly for the right jobs. However, it can sometimes be difficult to choose the correct one for your needs. Often, one is better than the others, and choosing the wrong one can severely mess up your project.

Because choosing the correct one is so important, we’ve written this article to help you in this task. We’ll go over exactly what each product is, things to consider when using them, and which one is best for which jobs. One is not necessarily better than the other all the time; it mostly depends on what you’re doing.

Overview of Denatured Alcohol

Denatured alcohol is an ethanol that has additives to make it bad-tasting or nauseating. In other words, its alcohol that has been rendered undrinkable. (Well, technically, you could drink it, but it would not be a fun experience.) It is made to discourage consumption. Often, it is dyed so that it can be identified visually – so no one accidentally drinks it.

Denaturing alcohol, aka making it taste bad, does not change the chemical makeup of the alcohol itself. It is used exactly like alcohol, except you can’t drink it.

Quality Chemical Denatured Alcohol 200-1 Gallon

Uses

So, why would anyone go through all the trouble to make alcohol taste bad? Often, it is to get around alcohol taxes. In many countries, extra taxes are added to alcohol and similar drinks. To avoid paying this sort of tax, ingredients are added to make it undrinkable. How exactly denatured alcohol is made varies from country to country, depending on the definition of alcohol.

Denatured alcohol is often used for non-drinking purposes, for this reason. Often, it is used for fuel, surgical, and laboratory purposes. It is cheaper than regular alcohol because of the absence of the tax. For food and beverage purposes, pure ethanol is required. Denatured alcohol can also not be used for chemistry purposes, as the added chemicals can interfere with the final product.

There is no obvious benefit to using denatured alcohol. It is simply denatured to get around the taxes.

Toxicity

Different denatured alcohols are made in different ways. Some simply taste bad, while others are poisonous. If the alcohol contains methanol, it can cause blindness and death. During prohibition, the government required that methanol be used in all legally sold alcohols. This led to the death of dozens of people in New York City alone.

Nowadays, methanol is often not added. Instead, denatonium is added instead. This makes it taste quite bad. Substances such as pyridine are also added to make it smell unpleasant. Sometimes substances are added to induce vomiting, like syrup of ipecac.

Pros
  • Powerful solvent
  • Inexpensive due to lack of taxes
Cons
  • Toxic – or at least not very fun to drink

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Overview of Mineral Spirits

Mineral spirits are petroleum-derived liquids that are a common solvent in paint. There are many different kinds of mineral spirits, with some being used for particular purposes. In most cases, they all work very similarly, however. For example, odorless mineral spirits are often used for oil painting, as their toxic aromatic compounds have been removed. Mineral spirits are also commonly used in paint thinner.

Gamblin Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits Bottle

Types

There are three main types of mineral spirits, as well as three different grades. Each type is divided into these three different grades: low flash grade, regular grade, and high flash grade. The grade is determined by the crude oil used to make the product.

The three main types of mineral spirits are:

  • Type 0: This type of mineral spirits has no further treatment after distillation. It is basically just mineral spirits with nothing added.
  • Stoddard Solvent: This is a specific mixture of hydrocarbons. It was developed in 1924 by a dry cleaner as a less-flammable alternative to the petroleum solvents that were commonly used during that time period. Dry cleaners began using this solvent shortly after it was invented, and it continued to be the predominate dry cleaning solvent until the late 1950s.
  • Turpentine substitute: Turpentine substitute is usually used for cleaning. However, it can not be used for paint thinning, as it can make the paint take forever to dry – or not dry at all. It can be used for brush cleaning, though it can leave behind an oily residue. As you might expect, it is not very common.

Uses

Mineral solvents are used for all sorts of things. They are often used as paint thinners, but they can also be used for cleaning and degreasing machines. They are an inexpensive petroleum-based product that can replace the use of vegetable-based turpentine for a fraction of the cost. This is the most common paint thinner for oil-based paints.

High-grade mineral solvents are usually used for painting, while low-grade spirits are used for industrial cleaning purposes. Mineral spirits are the active ingredient in many different soaps, and are sometimes use in remedies for poison ivy.

Mineral spirits can also be used as a fuel in place of kerosene, though they are not marketed as such. This is typically because while it can be used as a fuel, it really isn’t a very good one.

Toxicity

Mineral spirits are a minor irritant. It is not particularly toxic if it is inhaled, touched, or ingested. However, acute exposure to a lot of mineral spirits can cause a lack of coordination. High concentrations in an unventilated space and lead to drowsiness and nausea. Prolonged skin exposure over a period of time can cause irritant dermatitis.

There are legal limits set for exposure to Stoddard solvent in the workplace. In America, OSHA sets this at 500 ppm.

Pros
  • Inexpensive
  • Decently non-toxic
  • Many different types available
Cons
  • Can leave a greasy residue

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Denatured Alcohol vs. Mineral Spirits – The Details

Residue

The main difference between DA and mineral spirits is that mineral spirits will leave some sort of oily residue behind. This can be removed through means you would normally do to remove an oily residue – like soap. However, you may not have to clean it at all if you’re using some sort of oil-based paint afterwards.

DA will not leave any residue. It is not oil-based, and therefore does not leave oil behind when the rest of it evaporates or is cleaned away.

Drying Time

Mineral spirits take an average time to evaporate and dry. Depending on how much you use, you’ll probably be waiting around for at least an hour for it to dry completely. On the other hand, DA dries decently faster.

Of course, it depends on the conditions both are used in, as well as the type of each product used. In nearly all cases, DA is going to dry faster than mineral spirits.

Despite this, you should not be used the drying time as the main deciding point between these two solvents. Instead, you should be focusing on yoru project and what you plan on using both solvents for.

Uses

There are quite a few differences between these two solvents. However, you should be focusing on mostly the uses each solvent is best for. They are used for widely different purposes, even though they are both technically solvents.

When it comes to painting, mineral spirits can be used for oil-based paints, oil-based stain, and oil polyurethane varnish. If you need to thin any of these three substances, your best bet is to use a mineral spirit – preferably odorless.

At the same time, you should use denatured alcohol when thinning shellac, but that’s about it. It is not particularly good at thinning anything down, so it really isn’t used much for painting.

If you’re trying to clean something, you should use mineral spirits for grease, brushes, paint sprayers, tools, and metal. Mineral spirits are very good at removing grease and paint, which makes them best suited for cleaning things like paint brushes and grease.

Denatured alcohol can also be used for tools and metal as well. However, you can also use it for glass. In fact, it is one of the best cleaners for glass.

You can use denatured alcohol as a fuel in some situations. Mineral spirits are not particularly suitable for fueling anything, unless you’re in an emergency situation.

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Conclusion

Whether you need to use denatured alcohol or mineral spirits depends largely on what you plan to do with them. Both can be used for thinning paint, but they are best for different kinds of paint. You can also use both for cleaning, but they are best for cleaning different surfaces.

Figure out what projects you plan on using these substances for, and then pick one accordingly. While DA can be a bit more expensive than mineral spirits, mineral spirits are not going to help you clean glass. They both have very specific uses and should be used accordingly.

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