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What is Turpentine Used for in Painting?

what is turpentine used for in painting

What is turpentine used for in painting? Many artists use turpentine in their work, but what is it really used for? If you cannot stand the smell of turpentine, but you are extremely interested in oil painting, do you still need to use it? Turpentine is often used as paint thinner but that is not the only thing that you use it for.

If you are a beginner at painting, you probably did not know that you will need turpentine when using oil paints. This article will teach you why turpentine is an essential tool in all artists’ arsenal, and where you should not use it.

Uses of Turpentine in Painting

When talking about what turpentine is used for in painting, take note that it is not the same as the one used in household paint. The turpentine used for oil paintings is distilled. In other words, it is no longer an oil product, which means it no longer has the same nausea-inducing smell.

Here are some of the main uses of turpentine when using oil paints:

For Thinning Oil Paints

Unless you are using top-grade oil paints that are extremely expensive, oil paints straight from the tube are too thick. Most of the time, oil paints have the same consistency as thick toothpaste, making them difficult to paint with.

Applying a bit of turpentine to your paints will make them a bit thinner. When using turpentine as paint thinner, use it sparingly. Use a couple of drops of turpentine on the amount of paint that you will be using for the session.

To Make the Oil Paints Dry Faster

Oil paints dry excruciatingly slowly, but this is not the case when you are oil painting with turpentine. This is great when you need to lay down a sub-layer for the background. Mix enough turpentine into the oil paints to make them thin enough that they almost resemble watercolors when applied.

This way, you will not need to wait an entire day before you can apply the next layer of paint. Instead of waiting a couple of hours, the turpentine will allow the oil paints to oxidize quickly. You only need to wait around half an hour or so.

To Clean the Brushes

When you are working with oil paints you will find that they gunk up the bristles rather quickly. Unlike water-based acrylic paints, you cannot just dip your brushes in a jar of water when you are using oil paints.

To clean your brushes, you will need to use turpentine, instead of water. However, when you are cleaning your brushes, you should not let them soak in the turpentine. This chemical is a rather strong solvent and it can also melt the plastic components in the brushes, including the bristles.

You should follow how Bob Ross beats the devil out of his paintbrushes. You might even learn how to paint just like him.

Helpful Tips and Advice

make the oil paints dry faster

Even if artist – grade turpentine is a bit milder than the industrial-strength product, it can still pose a couple of dangers. Here are a couple of tips that you need to remember when using turpentine.

Never it on acrylics – Never use turpentine when you are using acrylic paints. Unlike oil paints, acrylics are water-based, which means using turpentine will break them down. Even a little bit of turpentine will cause acrylic paints to separate.

Use turpentine in a well-ventilated room – Even though art-grade turpentine is not as strong as household turpentine, you still need to be in a well-ventilated room as its fumes can still be somewhat noxious. Before you start painting, part the curtains and open the windows to let the air circulate.

What Else Can You Use Instead of Turpentine?

uses of turpentine in painting

One of the issues with using turpentine is that it dries rather quickly, which can be a hassle for beginners. If you want a paint thinner that is easier to use, consider using the following.

  • Poppy oil
  • Walnut oil
  • Liquin
  • Linseed oil
  • Stand oil
  • Safflower oil

Among these choices, linseed is the most popular alternative to turpentine as an oil paint thinner. Safflower is also a popular choice, but it does have several drawbacks. Linseed oil is the best choice if you want to make thin and sharp lines in your oil paintings. It thins out the paint but still allows it to be applied smoothly.


Now that you know what turpentine is used for in painting, you will be able to use it without as much fear as before. Yes, turpentine is still kind of tricky to use, even more so if you are a beginner at oil painting, but you will realize later how much help it can be. This is especially true when it comes to cleaning your paint brushes.

On the other hand, if you are just looking for paint thinner and you are not that interested in what other things turpentine can do, there are many viable options that you can choose from.