How to Use Mineral Spirits On Wood?

Learn how to use them, how they work, and what exactly they do to wood

Any painting project that you are doing at home is a responsible mission. Even if you simply need to repaint an old piece of furniture or refresh your walls, you have to pick the right paints and prep the surface well.

And since it often happens that we need to decrease the surface and remove all the oily residue from it, we need to opt for what is called mineral spirit.

This liquid is a real salvation for home painters since it helps to get the wooden surface ready for the upcoming painting or staining process. However, most of us still have questions regarding the rules of using mineral spirits on wood.

This is why today we are going to tell you more about that.

You will find out how to use mineral spirits to clean wood, what mineral spirits do when applied on bare wood, and also, we will explain how to clean wood with mineral spirits.

Finally, we are going to explain you in detail how to choose proper mineral spirits for cleaning wood, as well as what alternative products can be used if you don’t have a bottle of mineral spirit at hand right now.

Cleaning Wood With Mineral Spirits

The most frequently asked question among the homeowners is how to clean wood with mineral spirits.

Of course, you can say that one just needs to read the label on the product’s bottle attentively for the instructions, but those will be only the general recommendations.

In order to use the product correctly without accidentally damaging the wooden surface (which is quite a delicate material), you need to be aware of how to apply mineral spirits to wood.

Of course, some of you might never used mineral spirits before, but don’t worry – the process of this product’s application to wooden surfaces is basically simple and needs to be done similarly.

Here are the basic steps you should follow:

  • Take an old rag.
  • Dampen it with the mineral spirits that you bought.
  • If you are trying to get rid of a dried stain (for instance, tree sap), squeeze out the excess spirits onto the spot from the rag.
  • Then, let the rag sit over the stain for a few minutes to soften the stain.
  • Wipe away the dust, and grime, as well as polish and wax build-up with a damp rag.
  • For hard-to-reach areas, replace the rag with an old toothbrush or steel wool that is dampened with mineral spirits first.

This is the basic recommendation for cleaning wood with mineral spirits.

If you are looking for a solvent that is gentler than mineral spirits, consider mixing this product with a bit of mild soap first to get a gentler solution.

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What Does Mineral Spirit Do to Wood?

Before you start applying mineral spirits on wood furniture, you definitely want to know exactly what this product is able to do to this surface. Since wood is considered quite a delicate material, we all know that it should be treated carefully.

So basically, mineral spirits help dissolve oils, including those that affect your wood pieces, such as sticky sap residue that accumulates if your wood is being stored outside.

Also, mineral spirits are good for cleaning adhesive left from purchase stickers. It also helps clean your wood pieces of general dirt and debris and helps old items look good as new.

Below, you can read more detailed explanation on each of this product’s functions.

Using Mineral Spirits to Show Wood GrainUsing Mineral Spirits to Show Wood Grain

Restoring Shine to the Wood

You have definitely seen those old wood pieces covered with finishes that have dulled over time. Mineral spirits are a great way to bring back their shine!

Mineral spirits are a solvent, as you probably know. It means that this product is able to cut through build-up and grime, as well as polish, wax, and oil remnants. And it can do it way faster than other regular cleaners.

Clean Stubborn Stains From Wood

Since it is easy to clean simple stains and dust from wood, dealing with more stubborn stains can be quite a challenge. Without knowing how to do it correctly, you are putting your wooden deck, floor or patio at a high risk!

This is when mineral spirits come in handy.

They soften the stain, making it easy for you to clean, and restore the wood surface. All you need to do is to let a spirit-soaked rag sit on the stain for a few minutes, and then just wipe everything away.

In addition, mineral spirits can become a great option for removing oil-based stains off of any wooden objects or surface that you have in your household.

That means you can use this product for dealing with food oil stains in your kitchen, for coping with adhesive stains from price tags and other stickers, as well as for cleaning stains from oil-based lotions and other beauty products.

Clean Stubborn Stains From Wood
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Prepare Wood for Staining

Another beneficial feature of mineral spirits is that they can be used for getting your wooden piece for staining. See, once you are done carving, for example, you need to stain and finish your wood pieces.

But before you can do that, you need to sand your piece down first. It will help to get rid of all the carving marks thus making the surface smoother.

But how can you clean your wood after sanding, some of you may ask? You know for sure that sanding helps to get rid of scuff marks and carving impurities.

Nevertheless, it leaves lot of sawdust behind. This is why, if you make an attempt to stain your wood right after yo are done sanding, you risk trapping this sawdust in the stain. As a result, it will become a part of the final piece!

This is why, if you strive for a clear surface, you need to use mineral spirits. Gently wipe down all wooden surfaces with a rag that is dampened with spirits, and it will do the trick!

You will get that clean and dust-free surface.

Moreover, since using mineral spirits for cleaning is a relatively delicate process, you won’t leave marks on the wood. In comparison, those marks would be left if you had to be rougher.

This is especially important when you are working with a softwood that shows marks easily.

Prepare Wood for Staining
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Show Wood Grain

Those who do wood carving know very well that, if you are working with wood and want to make sure that the finished piece will look super aesthetic, you need to choose a wood with a grain pattern that you like.

However, there is the challenge that you will experience. See, when picking out the wood, the grain pattern you see is not necessarily the pattern that will remain after you have completed and finished the piece. 

This is why you need to be able to highlight the wood grain of your chosen wood piece 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.

Show Wood Grain
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Clean Oils From Oily Woods

We don’t only mean oils that end up on your wooden piece by accident. As you probably know, some wood types, such as purpleheart and rosewoods, can be extremely oily by their nature.

This is why they are rather challenging to work with, especially if you are using expensive tools that can gum up due to the oils in the wood.

However, if you wipe your wood piece down with mineral spirits before you start working with it, you can remove that oily residue from the wood surface.

The spirits will make your wood easier to work with, however, you need to note that this does not affect the inside part of the wood piece!

And even if you use mineral spirits, you will still need to finish the item with an evaporative finish or a sealant. Like this, you will protect it long-term.

Like this, now you know what exactly mineral spirits are used for on wooden surfaces and wooden pieces.

So if you decide to try yourself as a wood carver, make sure that you have a bottle of this liquid at hand all the time!

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How do Mineral Spirits work?

Now you already know that mineral spirits are used for removing oily residue and all sorts of dust and grime from your wooden piece. But how do they work exactly? Mineral spirits are petroleum distillates which means that they work as a solvent.

Since it can dissolve oil, it is typically used as an oil-based solvent or paint thinner.

When you use them with oil-based paints and finishes, mineral spirits make the paint or finish thinner and thus easier to work with. This product also helps artists refine the colors they are using.See, when you add mineral spirits to paint as needed, you can create the color you want.

Also, since mineral spirits are considered solvents, you can also use them as a cleaner in a wide variety of industries, including the woodworking industry.

But if you think that this product will mix with the substance that a person is trying to clean, you are wrong. Unlike when mixed with paint, mineral spirits cannot be mixed with other substances they are supposed to clean.

Instead, mineral spirits will thin the substance. This is why using this product makes it easier for us to get rid of even the most stubborn stains!

How do Mineral Spirits work
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How to Buy the Right Mineral Spirits?

There are pleny of mineral spirits on the market today to choose from. And if the variety of products allows you to have alternative options to take into consideration, it also makes shopping a bit more challenging in terms of easiness of choice.

How to Buy the Right Mineral Spirits
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To make things easier for you, we have prepared a few handy tips you can keep in mind when shopping for mineral spirits:

Check the grade

Mineral spirits come in three grades: low flash, regular, and high flash.

For domestic use, you should use mineral spirits no sronger than regular grade. But you will do perfectly well with a low flash grade option too.

Make sure you are buying mineral spirits, not mineral oil

Mineral oil is most commonly used to treat dry skin and clean dishes and other utensils.

It can be used on wood, but it is not as effective as mineral spirits!

Make sure you are buying mineral spirits, not mineral oil
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Make sure you are not buying paint thinner

Paint thinners are used to thin oil-based paints and they have different effects on wood. Plus they can be more toxic than mineral spirits.

Check to see if the mineral spirits are odorless and non-flammable

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.

Check to see if the mineral spirits are odorless and non-flammable
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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.

With these tips and life hacks, you will be able to better understand what product you are about to buy for cleaning wood, and also, you will find it simpler to figure out whether the mineral spirit you are about to purchase is exactly what is needed for your purposes.

Alternatives to Mineral Spirits

It may seem to most of you that mineral spirits can become a wonderful solution for cleaning wood and preparing it for the further painting and other manipulations.

However, while mineral spirits are one of the most effective solvents to use on wood for sure, they often can’t be considered a universal option for everyone.

See, due to the volatile organic compounds that this product contains, mineral spirits are often banned or restricted in many parts of the United States.

Alternatives to Mineral Spirits
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It means that woodworkers in these areas need to search for alternatives they can make use of instead the original product. Luckily, there are a few options that you can consider using instead of regular mineral spirits:

Denatured Alcohol

This is a type of ethanol that can be used for literally everything! You can opt for it for all sorts of works and purposes, from using it as your camping stove fuel to a wood cleaning aid.

However, note that this product will strip your wood of any oil! This is why we don’t recommend using it for thinning paints or refreshing finishes. Instead, you’d better use it for wood cleaning, especially on unfinished wood pieces.

Denatured Alcohol
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Acetone

This product is a significantly less toxic in comparison to mineral spirits. This is why you don’t need to use a respirator or a mask when working with it.

Acetone is basically the same substance that ladies use as a nail polish remover, this is why it can be successfully used to remove oil, grease, glue and sticky residue, as well as dirt from your wood surfaces.

Mineral Spirits vs Acetone | How and When to Use | This or That DIYMineral Spirits vs Acetone | How and When to Use | This or That DIY

Turpentine

This is the perfect substitute for mineral spirits if you’re looking for something that works as a paint thinner! However, you need to note that turpentine is significantly stronger and way more toxic than mineral spirits!

So you need to be extremely careful when using it.

Oil Soaps

These are cleaners that are specifically designed for being used on wooden surfaces. Oil soaps are milder than mineral spirits, however, it doesn’t make them weaker.

On the contrary, they are extremely effective at cleaning finished wood! However, if you are dealing with a very dirty wood surface, you might want to invest in a stronger option.

Well, dear homeowners and woodcarvers, now you know way more about such a useful product as mineral spirit! We told you how to use it on wooden surfaces and items to degrease them and remove oily residue and other grime and dust that might end up on it.

Also, you learned how this product works and what alternative options you can take into consideration in case you can’t or you are not allowed to use mineral spirits (e.g. if they are banned in your area or state).

Frequently Asked Questions

⭐Is it possible to clean wood with mineral spirits before staining?

Yes, you can do that. Apply mineral spirit with a rag or a sponge, and then apply the wood conditioner. This will help a soft wood absorb stain more evenly.

⭐Can mineral spirits raise wood grain?

No, they can’t do that. Mineral spirits will not raise the grain and will also highlight the grain.

⭐Can mineral spirits be used on bare wood?

If unpainted wooden furniture looks dull, mineral spirits can restore its good looks. But even though they’re safe on wood with a clear finish, always test an inconspicuous spot before applying mineral spirits to the entire surface.

Using Mineral Spirits to Show Wood GrainUsing Mineral Spirits to Show Wood Grain
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