Skip the Turpentine Paint Thinner
March 29, 2022
Turpentine is a highly flammable strong-smelling solvent made from pine tree resin and oil. While this material has a variety of industrial uses, it’s predominantly sold to consumers for use as a paint brush cleaner and paint thinner for use with oil-based paints. It’s also occasionally found in varnishes, floor and furniture waxes and polishes, pottery and ceramic coatings, artist paints, and cleaners.
Turpentine is a volatile organic compound (VOC), which means it readily forms inhalable vapors at room temperature. These vapors are what make turpentine hazardous. When inhaled, turpentine can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and a sore throat. The vapors may also affect the brain or nervous system, and trigger headache, dizziness, confusion and nausea.
Beyond inhalation, if turpentine is ingested or absorbed through the skin, it can cause gastrointestinal burning and pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Repeated or long-term exposure may damage the kidneys, bladder and nervous system as well as trigger dermatitis and eczema.
Turpentine has not been evaluated for carcinogenicity. However, research indicates a possible association between long-term exposure and respiratory cancers. As little as 15 mL can be fatal to children, and exposure to turpentine can impact fetal development.
To identify turpentine in consumer products in an effort to avoid it, check product ingredients listings for any of its many pseudonyms. These include: gum spirits, turps, gum thus, D.D. turpentine, wood turpentine, oil of turpentine, rectified turpentine oil, spirits of turpentine, sulfate wood turpentine, sulfate turpentine, gum turpentine, and steam-distilled turpentine. Opt for safer, turpentine-free products instead.