Is Lacquer Thinner The same As Paint Thinner? (Differences)

If you’re currently preparing to undertake a large painting project or simply want to brush up on your knowledge of painting products, then you might currently be wondering whether lacquer thinner is the same as paint thinner, especially seeing as both products sound so similar.

Even though these terms are commonly used interchangeably, it’s important not to get the two mixed up, because even though lacquer thinner and paint thinner are designed to serve similar purposes, they are each made for different types of paint.

Interior paint, otherwise referred to as acrylic latex paint, is a type of indoor interior paint known for having a low volatile organic compound level. For this reason, lacquer thinner is the preferred choice for DIY’ers and professionals, alike.

However, on the other hand, exterior paint, otherwise referred to as oil-based paint, contains a higher level of volatile organic compounds than interior paint, which means that lacquer thinner is the preferred coating when working with this type of heavier paint.

That’s not all, though. Besides being created to be compatible with either acrylic latex or oil-based paint, there are a variety of other differences that set lacquer thinner and paint thinner apart from one another – and we’re going to be outlining them below! Let’s take a look.

What Are The Main Differences Between Lacquer Thinner and Paint Thinner?

Difference #1: Formulas

As you might have already guessed from what we’ve already discussed above, paint thinner and lacquer thinner are designed to be suitable for different types of paint. For this reason, both types of paint solvents contain different types of properties within their formulas to cater to different needs.

In addition to this, both types of solvent can contain unique properties depending on the manufacturer, so individual formulations of both can vary from brand to brand.

So, to break it down:

  • Paint thinner is usually a single solvent that is made entirely of white spirit, with the inclusion of additional additives.
  • Lacquer thinner is made up of a variety of different solvents (not just white spirit) in order to make it strong enough to be able to be used with heavy, oil-based paint formulas.

Difference #2: Strength Levels

Paint thinner is designed for interior paints, which means that it is a very mild solvent in comparison to lacquer thinner. For this reason, it is safe to be used in milder paint formulas (such as acrylic latex paint) and can also be used to clean up painting mishaps without destroying any paint coats still intact underneath.

On the other hand, lacquer thinner is the stronger of the two solvents. Lacquer thinner undergoes a process of refining crude oil that then produces a variety of different chemical compounds including solvents, gasoline, kerosene, and more. Crude oil consists of a mixture of hydrocarbon compound chains that are created at a variety of different lengths and sizes depending on the boiling point.

So, to help extract these hydrocarbons from the crude, refiners then go in and boil the crude until the hydrocarbons are able to pass through distillation tubes, which is also referred to as fractional distillation.

After fractional distillation, medium to long molecule chains are used to create gas and fuel, while smaller hydrocarbon chains are used to create a variety of different solvents, including lacquer thinner.

In addition to this, unlike medium to long hydrocarbon chains, small chains tend to vaporize into the surrounding air extremely easily, which means that out of the two, lacquer thinner is able to vaporize more easily due to the higher level of volatile hydrocarbons.

For this reason, if you are planning to use lacquer thinner with your oil-based paint, you will need to make sure that you are wearing gloves, glasses, and a mask, as well as ensure that the area you are working in is well-ventilated, with windows open.

Difference #3: Evaporation Time

Alongside formula and strength differences, another main difference present between paint thinner and lacquer thinner is the evaporation rate. As you might have already guessed, paint thinner tends to evaporate into the air at a much slower rate than lacquer thinner does, and the main reason for this comes down to those volatile compound levels we spoke about above.

This means that, if you were to leave a bottle of lacquer thinner and paint thinner with their caps off and head out for a few hours, by the time you get back you would no doubt notice that the lacquer thinner will have evaporated at a much faster rate than the paint thinner.

Nevertheless, when working with both, you should make sure that you are wearing a protective mask and gloves, as well as making sure that the area you are planning to use it in is well-ventilated with windows open, especially if you are using a sprayer.

Difference #4: Flammability

The next main difference between the two is flammability levels. Even though both lacquer thinner and paint thinner are flammable, it is important to keep in mind that lacquer thinner is far more flammable than paint thinner due to the strong mixture of solvents used when making lacquer thinner.

Difference #5: Usage

Last but not least, the final biggest difference between lacquer thinner and paint thinner is that each is formulated to be used for different types of paint.

Paint thinner is specifically created using just white spirit (with a few other additives thrown in) which makes it suitable for interior based paint, while lacquer thinner is formulated with a variety of different solvents (including white spirit) which makes it suitable for heavy-duty oil-based paints that are commonly used for exterior walls and furniture.

However, even though lacquer thinner can be used to thin oil-based paint, it is not the best option for clean-up jobs due to its strength level. Therefore, regardless of whether you are using interior or exterior paint, if you happen to splatter some paint where it shouldn’t be, or you need to remove a wet coat, then you should immediately opt to use paint thinner.

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