Mineral spirits are one of the essentials in a professional woodworker’s tool kit. However, if you’ve never used them before, you may wonder what exactly this nifty little tool can do – and most importantly, how it will affect your wood surfaces when you apply mineral spirits to them.
Mineral spirits help dissolve all types of oils, including ones that affect your wood pieces. This includes sticky sap residue if your wood is being stored outside, adhesive left from purchase stickers if you’ve just bought a new set of wooden planks, and so on. It also helps clean your wood pieces of general dirt and debris and helps olden items look good as new.
You may be wondering how exactly a single product can have so many effects on wood. If you want to know exactly how mineral spirits affect wood, keep reading!
5 Effects Mineral Spirits Have on Wood
1. Restore Warmth and Shine to the Wood
If you’ve got older wood pieces with finishes that have dulled over time, mineral spirits are a great way to revive their shine.
Mineral spirits are a solvent, which means this product can easily cut through years of build-up of grime, and polish, wax, and oil remnants. It is, of course, possible to get rid of this with regular cleaners – but that requires much more elbow grease than you’ll have to put in if you’re using mineral spirits.
Additionally, mineral spirits are a relatively mild solvent. Stronger options can strip your wood of the finish altogether, but that isn’t a concern with this product.
2. Clean Stubborn Stains from Wood
Getting rid of dust from your wooden floors is easy – but what happens when you’re faced with more stubborn stains?
If you’ve got a wooden deck or a patio that’s open to the elements, you’ve likely found the tree sap tends to stick to the wood, ruining the look of the project you spent so long working on. Additionally, it’s a major problem to clean – you’ll likely struggle to get it off if you can affect the sap at all.
That’s where mineral spirits come in. They soften the stain, making it easy for you to clean the spot and restore your wood floors to as good as new. All you need to do when applying mineral spirits is to let a spirit-soaked rag sit on the stain for a few minutes before wiping it away.
Additionally, mineral spirits are also a great option for getting oil-based stains off of any wooden objects you may have. These can include:
- Food oil stains in and around your kitchen
- Adhesive stains from price tags and other stickers
- Stains from oil-based lotions and other beauty products
3. Prepare Wood for Staining
You may already know that mineral spirits can be extremely useful if you’re looking to dilute an oil-based wood finish.
However, that isn’t the only time mineral spirits can come in handy while working with wood.
Once you’re done carving, you need to stain and finish your wood pieces. However, before you can do that, you need to sand your piece down first to get rid of all the carving marks.
How, then, do you clean your wood after sanding? While sanding gets rid of scuff marks and carving impurities, it leaves behind a lot of sawdust. If you try to stain your wood immediately after sanding, you risk trapping this sawdust in the stain, making it part of the final piece.
If you want a clear, pristine surface, you need to use mineral spirits.
When cleaning with mineral spirits, you don’t need to be too aggressive, the way you would if you were working on a stubborn stain. Instead, gently wiping down all wooden surfaces with a rag that has been dampened with spirits will do the trick.
Additionally, because it’s a relatively gentle process, you won’t leave marks on the wood the way you would if you had to be rougher. This is especially important when you’re working with a softwood that shows marks easily.
4. Show Wood Grain
If you’re working on a woodworking project and want to ensure that the finished piece will look as aesthetic as possible, you need to choose a wood with a grain pattern that you like.
However, the challenge you’ll experience is simple – the grain pattern you see when picking out the wood is not necessarily what the pattern will look like after you’ve completed and finished the piece. You need to have a way to highlight the wood grain of your chosen wood in a way that is similar to what it will look like after finishing.
Mineral spirits are a great option for this. They don’t raise the grain of the wood – all they do is highlight it temporarily. It allows you to get an idea of what you’re working with and adjust your design if need be.
5. Clean Oils From Oily Woods
Some wood varieties, such as purpleheart and rosewoods, can be extremely oily. This makes them challenging to work with, especially if you’re using expensive power tools that can gum up due to the oils in the wood.
If you wipe your wood down with mineral spirits before you start working with it, you can remove a ton of the oil from the wood surface. While this does not affect the inside of the wood, the spirits will make your wood somewhat easier to work with.
You’ll still need to finish the project with an evaporative finish or a sealant for long-term protection, but it will make the carving process more manageable for you.
How Mineral Spirits Work
mineral spirits are a petroleum distillate that works as a solvent. Because it can dissolve oil, it is most commonly used as an oil-based solvent or paint thinner.
When used with oil-based paints and finishes, it makes the paint (or finish) thinner and easier to work with. It also helps artists refine the colors they are using, as they can add mineral spirits to paint as needed to create the color they want.
Because it is a solvent, it can also be used as a cleaner in a wide variety of industries, including the woodworking industry. Unlike when mixed together with paint, mineral spirits do not mix with the substance that a person is trying to clean. Instead, it thins and dislodges the substance. This makes it easier for people to get rid of even the stubbornest of stains.
How to Buy the Right Mineral Spirits
Like most other products, there are a ton of mineral spirits on the market for you to choose from. While the variety allows you to have other options you can consider if the first doesn’t work for you, it also makes shopping a tad more challenging.
Personally we recommend the Klean Strip Green Odorless Mineral Spirits from Amazon.com. Not only is it odorless and non-flammable, it also comes with a pair of nitrile gloves to ensure you stay safe when using this product.
However, if this product isn’t available in your area or you would like to find something else yourself, you will need to figure out what alternative to invest in. To make things easier, here are some tips you can keep in mind when shopping for mineral spirits:
- Check the grade. Mineral spirits are generally available in three grades: low flash, regular, and high flash. For domestic use, you shouldn’t require anything stronger than regular grade mineral spirits, and you’ll generally be able to do perfectly well with a low flash grade option.
- Make sure you’re buying mineral spirits rather than mineral oil. While they both have a relatively similar origin, mineral oil is food-safe and body-safe. It is most commonly used to treat dry skin and callouses and clean dishes and other utensils. While it can be used on wood, it is nowhere near as effective as mineral spirits are.
- Make sure you’re not buying paint thinner. While mineral spirits and paint thinner are often used interchangeably, they aren’t always the same thing. Paint thinners are a wider range of solvents that are used to thin oil-based paints and include turpentine, acetone, and naptha, as well as mineral spirits. All of these have different effects on wood, and the may be more toxic than mineral spirits.
- Check to see if the mineral spirits you’re considering are odorless and non-flammable. Non-flammable mineral spirits are a safer option over flammable versions. Additionally, odorless spirits are easier to use – mineral spirits tend to have an unpleasant, kerosene-like smell. Odorless variants are not only more convenient to use, they can also be safer, as they have been refined to remove a number of toxic compounds that give mineral spirits their smell.
- Buy high-quality products. While mineral spirits are relatively safe to use as long as you take certain basic precautions, they are inherently toxic. What this means is that if you buy low, dubious quality spirits, you risk getting a product that is dangerous to your health.
How to Apply Mineral Spirits
If you’ve never used mineral spirits before, don’t worry – the process for applying them to wooden surfaces is relatively similar. Here are the basic steps you should follow:
- Dampen an old rag with the mineral spirits of your choice. If you’re looking for a solvent that is gentler than mineral spirits, you can mix the spirits with a bit of mild soap first.
- If you’re trying to get rid of a dried stain like tree sap, squeeze out the excess spirits from the rag onto the spot. Then, let the rag sit over the stain for a few moments to soften the stain.
- Use the damp rag to wipe away the dust, grime, and polish and wax build-up.
- For detailed and hard-to-reach areas, replace the rag with an old toothbrush or steel wool that has been dampened with mineral spirits first.
If you’re looking for more help on how to apply mineral spirits, you can refer to this article.
Alternatively, you can also refer to this YouTube video, which shows you how you can clean old wood furnishings with mineral spirits:
Alternatives to Mineral Spirits
While mineral spirits are undoubtedly one of the most effective solvents to use on wood, they’re not an option for everyone. Due to the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in mineral spirits, they are banned or restricted in many parts of the United States, which means that woodworkers in these areas need to have alternatives they can work with.
Some options you can consider include:
- Denatured Alcohol: This is a type of ethanol that can be used for everything from camping stove fuel to a wood cleaning aid. However, it should be noted that this product will strip your wood of any oil. This means that it cannot be used for thinning paints or refreshing finishes. Instead, you should stick to use it for wood cleaning, especially unfinished wood.
- Acetone: This is a significantly less toxic option than mineral spirits, and you don’t need to use a mask when working with it. It’s the same substance that is used as a nail polish remover and can be used to remove oil, grease, glue and glue-residue, and dirt from your wood surfaces.
- Turpentine: This is the perfect substitute for mineral spirits if you’re looking for a paint thinner. However, it’s significantly stronger and more toxic than mineral spirits, so you need to be extremely careful when using it.
- Oil Soaps: These are cleaners specifically formulated for use on wooden surfaces. They are milder than mineral spirits but are extremely effective at cleaning finished wood. That said, depending on how dirty your wood surface is, you may need to invest in a stronger option. If you’re looking for an oil soap for your wood surfaces, I recommend Murphy’s Oil Soap from Amazon – it’s one of the best-known names in the industry and is made with 98% natural ingredients. Aside from wood, it is also effective at cleaning vinyl, ceramic tiles, leather, and more.
Mineral spirits are a great option if you’re looking to quickly clean stubborn stains from wooden surfaces, especially ones that are oil-based. They’re also great for renewing old finishes, removing excess oil from oily woods, and highlighting wood grain to make woodworking easier.
Because they are a relatively gentle solvent, you can use them on finished wood without worrying about losing the finish. However, if you don’t have access to mineral spirits, you can use similar substances like oil soaps or other solvents like acetone. That said, you should make sure that you’re using the right product for your requirements – stronger solvents will strip the wood of the finish, and gentler solvents may not be effective on extremely stubborn, oil-based stains.