Denatured Alcohol Vs. Mineral Spirits [Everyday Woodworking Solvents]

On and on, denatured alcohol vs. mineral spirits has been majorly linked to a woodworker tool chest. But have you ever wondered what differences are there between these two and what good do this instrumentation does to your wood projects?

As a matter of fact, there have been so many questions lingering in the air about these woodworkers’ instruments. I know that you also have quite a number of these questions in your mind; otherwise, you wouldn’t have clicked on this article. And I’ve got some great news for you.

Difference Between Denatured Alcohol And Mineral Spirit?

denatured alcohol vs mineral spirits

In the most woodworking shop, you’ll likely notice the presence of denatured alcohol and mineral spirit. And you may wonder why since both solvents can be used interchangeably.

Well, specific differences exist between these two, but before we go into that, you should first learn what is denatured alcohol and mineral spirit.

As the name implies, denatured alcohol has become unfit for drinking due to the adulteration of the alcohol content. However, it can still be used for several domestic and industrial purposes.

Now, let’s get this on a clearer picture. Denatured alcohol is an alcohol-containing additive that causes a foul smell, a poisonous, and a bad taste. This solvent is proven to be effective for cleaning wood coats or finishes.

But if the going gets tough, and it’s impossible for you to lay your hands on denatured alcohol, you have a mineral spirit to your rescue.  A mineral spirit is an excellent denatured alcohol substitute.

It is gotten from petroleum and is commonly used by painters as an organic solvent. It would do virtually anything denatured alcohol would do for you except that mineral spirit would not mix with water, but denatured alcohol would.

Most times, these two terms are used interchangeably, but here’s the thing. Denatured alcohol and a mineral spirit differ in composition, although they both could be used for the same purpose of cleaning woods.

Do you see where we are going with this? So let’s look at their differences in detail.

  • What each dissolves and thin?

Denatured alcohol would completely dissolve solid shellac flakes. It would also thin shellac, which is why it’s often referred to as shellac thinner. But mineral spirit would not do so. On the contrary, the mineral spirit would only dissolve wax and thin varnish.

Make no mistake about it. Mineral spirit would not dissolve varnish but thins varnish.

  • Smell

Owing to the presence of additives in denatured alcohol, it has a foul or a stinky smell. On the other hand, the mineral spirit is not as stinky, probably because it’s more refined.

  • Solubility in water

Let me say this straight. Mineral spirit would not dissolve in water because it’s a nonpolar solvent. What this means is that the mineral spirit does not have a high EN of oxygen. However, denatured alcohol has this in abundance and will quickly dissolve itself in water.

  • Evaporation rate

Here’s the secret. Denatured alcohol evaporates too fast when compared to mineral spirit. In other words, it would take mineral spirit more time to dry than it would take denatured alcohol.

On average, a mineral spirit would evaporate between 15 and 20 minutes and between 5 and 10 minutes for denatured alcohol.

To make matters worse, denatured alcohol may leave behind a residue owing to the fast evaporation.

  • Texture

Mineral spirit turns out to be a little stickier than denatured alcohol. But that’s not a problem, especially for professionals who can always find their way around it.

  • Source Material

As earlier mentioned, denatured alcohol is a 70% pure ethanol in its concentrated form and 30% denaturing agent that includes methanol, denatonium, acetone, and methyl ethyl ketone. And it’s usually referred to as the methylated spirit or wood spirit.

However, mineral spirits have entirely different source material. Mineral spirit is a refined petroleum product that makes it more oily than denatured alcohol.

Can You Mix Denatured Alcohol And Mineral Spirit?

At your own risk. You must understand that while denatured alcohol is water-based, the mineral spirit is oily, and they would not mix together.

Unfortunately, you won’t end up with a very nice mixture, and the application can be somewhat tricky.

Mineral Spirit Vs. Denatured Alcohol Applications For Your Woodwork

acetone vs mineral spirits vs denatured alcohol

This article contains everything you should know about the denatured alcohol vs. mineral spirits used in woodworking. I’ve been there, and I know exactly what you are looking for. So stick with me here, and let’s get this over and done with.

Before applying a wood stain or paint on wood pieces, you would want to clean the surface after sanding it. This is where denatured alcohol vs. isopropyl alcohol comes in.

You can clean the surface of woods to be stained easily with any of these solvents, and because it dries quickly, it’s a speedy method of wood cleaning.

But there’s more. Woodworkers use denatured alcohol as a primer for their wood projects. What this means is that denatured alcohol would help your wood absorb shellac evenly during wood refinishing.

But bear in mind that mineral spirit would not work as such.

Want to know the best part? You can mix your shellac with denatured alcohol to create a sticky substance that would protect your wood from Ultraviolet rays and scratches.

Most woodworking fans do this instead of buying already premixed shellac that stands a chance of been expired or been degraded. Again, the mineral spirit would come out disastrous when mixed with shellac.

But remember this: It’s 2 gallons of denatured alcohol for 2 pounds of shellac. That’s the key.

For starters who do not know where to buy denatured alcohol, you’ll get them in home improvement stores or a hardware store near you. You can also check it up on Amazon.

Here’s the good point about mineral spirit. If you are looking for an effective paint thinner for varnish, don’t go too far because the mineral spirit would do the trick.

Study shows that mineral spirit works to pass through buildup and stubborn grime on woods.

Denatured Alcohol And Mineral Spirit For Cleaning Wood?

Whether you’re repainting or staining wood, you have first to get rid of the finish, which is the shiny coat on the surface of the wood. And lucky you if the finish is shellac or wax because both finishes will straightaway dissolve under denatured alcohol and mineral spirit, respectively. So here’s all you have to do.

Denatured Alcohol For Wood

  • Step 1: Wear your rubber gloves and open the doors and windows to let in more ventilation
  • Step 2: Spread denatured alcohol on your paintbrush. You can substitute a paintbrush with either a toothbrush or a sponge
  • Step 3: Apply a rich layer of denatured alcohol to the surface of the wood using your paint brush
  • Step 4: Before the denatured alcohol dries out, gently wipe it off against the old coat on the surface of the wood

Mineral Spirit For Wood

  • Step 1: Clean the surface of the wood. The first thing to do is to use a duster to wipe off the surface of the wood.
  • Step 2: Wear your protective gear. That is, your gloves, old clothes, respirator, and glasses.
  • Step 3: Apply the mineral spirit. Dip a sponge or a clean rag into a plastic saucer containing the mineral spirit, or pour out a little of the mineral spirit unto the rag.
  • Step 4: Rub on the mineral spirit on the wood. Gently clean the surface of the wood with the rag and covering the whole surface in even strokes. As you clean, the rag gets dirty, turning over the rag as necessary to use a clean end.
  • Step 5: Wipe off the surface. Use a clean cloth containing no mineral spirit to wipe off the surface. It will help get rid of residues that may tamper with your staining.
A Warning!
Always carry out a test using mineral spirit on a wood sample to check the effect on your wood. This is to prevent damage of any kind to the wood.

What Is The Benefit Of Denatured Alcohol On Wood?

But you’re probably wondering if denatured alcohol gives any benefit to the woodworking industry aside from the uses mentioned above. You bet it does.

Anytime you’re thinking of using denatured alcohol to clean your wood projects, make sure to remember these 3 benefits.

  • It’s Fast And Reliable

Let’s face it. It would only take a denatured alcohol less than 30 minutes to evaporate and dry off. So this means a shorter time for you waiting for dryness to occur and proceed with the new task.

Most importantly, denatured alcohol is bound to evaporate quickly, which makes it reliable for woodworking.

  • Antibacterial Properties

For what it is worth, denatured alcohol has antibacterial properties, and trust me; it would be useful for your wood project. Not many microorganisms can survive exposure to alcohol, so that means a safer condition for you to show your skills.

  • Moisture Free

At this point, you realize that moisture can become such a big threat to wood, causing them to rot or spilled. It all comes down to this. From the start of your wood project to the end, you should be wary of moisture.

Needless to say that denatured alcohol evaporates quickly without leaving any moisture behind and thus will protect your wood from damage.

Safety Precautions For Using Denatured Alcohol On Woods

acetone vs denatured alcohol

Denatured alcohol may turn out to be a saving grace for your wood project, but always remember that it’s a harmful chemical and would need extra care when you are working around with it. I’ve gotten several safety measures ready for you. Check them out.

  • Wear protective covers

When working with denatured alcohol for your wood, make sure to adequately cover your body and hands because denatured alcohol can be absorbed by your skin or irritates your skin. To protect your eyes from this toxic chemical, safety glasses would do the trick.

  • Avoid contact with the mouth.

Ingesting denatured alcohol can lead to death and, in some cases, health issues. This is why this solvent should be kept away from children and store in a cool, dry place.

  • Use a respirator

Continuous exposure to denatured alcohol vapor can lead to a loss of consciousness. It can also birth some side effects like nausea and dizziness.

In order to prevent the occurrence of these problems, always provide a well-ventilated room for the job, and in the absence of none, use a respirator.

  • Keep away from flames/sunlight

Like mineral spirits, this solution is highly flammable and should not be exposed to open flames or direct sunlight. If you smoke cigarettes, it’s best you do away with them when you are working with denatured alcohol.

Additionally, store the solution in an airtight container where heaters cannot get to them.

  • Wash your hands after use

Get a mild soap and clean water to wash off the residues of denatured alcohol on your hands and your body.

Here’s the scariest part. Prolong use of denatured alcohol can dry out your skin and even cause chemical burns. I’ll recommend using a good body/hand moisturizer to moisturize your hand/skin regularly.


Let’s rewind and have a summary of everything. For your wood staining or repainting, denatured alcohol and mineral spirit are that cleaning agent you can rely on. They have an outstanding characteristic of dissolving wood finishes and allowing you to take up a new task.

All you need to do is follow the application steps given above, and you will walk away with a clean wood that would look almost brand new.

So it all buzz down to this. An attempt to substitute the use of denatured alcohol with mineral spirit for your wood would be successful because they both serve the same purpose.

Take one more look at the Denatured alcohol vs. mineral spirits concept, and you’d be convinced that both would do the same job for your woodwork. And it’s easier than you think.

Good luck with that.

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