Xylene Vs Mineral Spirits – The Ultimate Guide

While looking for solvents at your local hardware store, you have probably come across different ones, such as xylene and mineral spirits. Each one looks like it might do the job, and it can be hard to choose between them. Which one should you choose for your DIY projects?

Xylene is best suited to painting projects, especially when spraying paint, because it improves the flow of paint through the paint gun. DIY’ers who want a quicker evaporation time and a more budget-friendly product tend to prefer mineral spirits.

This article will look at what makes each common solvent alike and what sets them apart.

Is Xylene and Mineral Spirits the Same Thing?

Xylene and mineral spirits can get some of the same DIY tasks done but are not the same thing. You can spray paint xylene more effectively than spirits since it evaporates slower. Mineral spirits are suitable for more tasks, are less toxic, and are less expensive.

Knowing each paint solvent can be very useful when deciding which one to purchase.

What is Xylene?

Xylene is a liquid hydrocarbon produced from organic compounds like coal tar and wood combined with petroleum distillates. It is used in various industries to make fuel, PET plastic, and more. As a solvent, xylene is used by DIY’ers as paint thinner.

The main advantage that comes from choosing xylene solvent over other alternatives is that it makes the paint dry at a slower rate. Xylene can be used on metal and electronic components as a cleaning agent.

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What Are Mineral Spirits?

Mineral spirits (white spirit outside the US) is a mixture of aromatic hydrocarbons used as a paint thinner, as a cleaning solvent, as a degreasing solvent, and more. Spirits are widely used in the painting industry and by DIY’ers, thanks to its versatility and effectiveness.

Spirits are ideal for DIY’ers of all levels and interests. It comes in handy when painting, cleaning surfaces, degreasing metal parts, removing price tag residue, restoring wooden furniture, and more.

Differences Between Xylene and Mineral Spirits

Clearly, xylene and spirits are not the same thing. Some of the differences between these two solvents include their evaporation time and how they smell.

Evaporation Time

Xylene evaporates about five times slower than spirits. It is sometimes sold as a “slow-dry” solvent.

Since thinning paint with xylene makes it dry slower than with spirits, this is the right choice if you are going to paint large surfaces. In fact, Rustoleum is a paint maker that recommends doing this when dealing with big paint jobs.

The Smell

While mineral spirits have a kerosene-like smell that many people find offensive, xylene smells sweet. This might make xylene seem like a better option but keep in mind that fumes from xylene are more hazardous than those from spirits.

Also, you can opt for “odorless” spirits, although these can still have a faint smell and are not as strong as the regular kind. Odorless mineral spirits lose some of their effectiveness because of the enhanced refining process to get rid of the smell.

Do Mineral Spirits Contain Xylene?

Mineral spirits do not contain xylene. However, you will come across blended solvents labeled as paint removers or for other purposes that include both to one degree or another.

When in doubt, it is best to use a particular solvent for the purpose it is labeled for. For example, if it says “Paint Remover” on the container, only use it for that purpose. Pure xylene and spirits, on the other hand, can be used for a variety of purposes such as thinning paint, degreasing, and cleaning.

Xylene or Mineral Spirits?

Xylene and mineral spirits both have their advantages depending on what you want to do with them. If you want to thin paint and spray it over a large area, xylene is a better choice. Mineral spirits will do just fine if you are thinning oil-based paint to apply it on a smaller surface with a paintbrush or paint roller.

You will also want to consider the cost of these solvents so that you do not spend more than you have to. If you do not take on DIY projects often, the price difference will be negligible. However, what you pay can rise considerably if you need these solvents often.

Good quality spirits will cost you about $10 a gallon. Xylene costs at least twice as much depending on where you get it and in what quantity.

Yet another factor to take into account is safety. Mineral spirits are much safer to work with than xylene.

Safety with Xylene and Mineral Spirits

Using solvents like xylene and spirits makes life easier for DIY’ers, but there are safety issues to consider. Both of these solvents are associated with health hazards and should be handled with care.

Xylene is more toxic than spirits. When exposure to this solvent is acute, a person can develop respiratory tract irritation and impaired equilibrium. Long-term exposure to xylene can lead to kidney and liver damage, a bigger chance of developing Leukemia, and other conditions.

Mineral spirits are less toxic than xylene and other solvents. Yet, it is still considered an irritant and can cause skin burns.

Xylene and spirits are both flammable. Using these solvents anywhere near heat or sparks is extremely dangerous.

When using either excellent solvent, it is best to employ safety measures such as wearing rubber gloves, goggles, and protective clothing. 

It should go without saying that you must use these solvents working in a well-ventilated area and possibly wear a face mask or respirator to avoid dangers from toxic fumes.

Conclusion – Xylene or Mineral Spirits

When taking everything we have gone through here about xylene and spirits, it appears that spirits come out on top in most DIY circumstances. Regular mineral spirits are less toxic, cost less, and have more applications.

Xylene is the clear choice if you want your paint to flow better and evaporate slower to paint large areas with a spray gun.