Solvents Commonly Used By Painting Contractors

Solvents Commonly Used By Painting Contractors


There are several different solvents used by painting contractors & painters for different painting situations, either conditioning, cleaning or thinning products for proper spraying consistency. Here we will discuss most common ones used.

Using Solvents, like stains, varnishes, and shellacs are very flammable and extreme care needs our attention at all times for upper respiratory and fire hazards.

Important Safety Precautions Using These Common Solvents

  • Adequate ventilation must be available, never in a confined room
  • Eye protection & Respirator w/charcoal filters are a necessity
  • Rubber latex gloves keep contaminants and chemicals from skin absorption
  • All rags used should be laid out flat, wadded up is a fire hazard and could easily ignite
  • All open flames such as pilot lights for water heaters, stoves, furnaces should be turned off

First main solvent used by painters nearly 100 years back, still available today is Turpentine. Used to clean brushes, keeping bristles moist storing brushes over a longer spans, also cleaning paint splatters. Turpentine gum base should be in every painter's tool box today. Safety precautions should be implemented using Turpentine as well as those listed below.

Since then, many others have taken over nearly all Turpentine sales, having many other unique qualities, listed below. We still stock Turpentine keeping bristles pristine, storing for indefinite periods. Matter of fact, keeping a can on my workbench, not having smelled it for a few, I may unscrew the cap, using it instead of Afta, smells so good.

1. Mineral Spirits: Aliphatic Hydrocarbons similar to Lighter Fluids

  • Typically used to thin varnishes, shellacs, and most alkyd oil based paints.
  • Another name for Mineral Spirits is Paint Thinners.
  • Used to clean paint splatters, brushes, spills, adding to paint only when recommended.
  • Not as "Hot" as Lacquer Thinners

2. VM&P Naphtha:  Stands for Varnish Maker's and Painters Naphtha Solvent

  • Similar to Mineral Spirits, VM&P Naphtha used by Professional Painters as paint thinner
  • VM&P Naphtha's are faster drying allowing quicker second coats for some Alkyd Paints.

3. Lacquer Thinner Solvent:  Strong "Hot" Solvent based of Different Mixtures

  • Used to thin Urethane, Alkyd, or Polyurethane Varnishes
  • Being "Hot" Lacquer Thinners can melt Styrofoam, plastics, fiberglass. This product is extremely flammable.
  • Great to use Lacquer Thinner cleaning brushes with dried oil based paints and stains.
  • Lacquer Thinners can revive some wood fillers which have dried and hardened, being Lacquer Thinner based.

4. Denatured Ethyl Alcohol / Denatured Alcohol Solvent

  • Ethyl Alcohol is drinkable, Denatured is not
  • Denatured Alcohol used in Shellac based primers
  • Cannot substitute with rubbing alcohol or methanol

5. Xylene and Toluene Solvents

  • Xylene and Toluene primarily used in mixing with certain manufactures enamels, varnishes, also conversion varnishes.
  • Xylene and Toluene are very strong, these are some chemicals used within Lacquer Thinners, and some paint removers.
  • Use only Xylene and Toluene when paint manufacture recommends it's specific addition for exact measurement.

All Solvents should have containers tightly closed in metal containers, placed into a fireproof metal cabinet when not in use. When using them, all attention must be given when lids are open. Turn off TV's, radios, phones, trying not being distracted what you are doing.

Keeping air quality to it's highest is extremely important, having adequate ventilation. If spraying these solvents, proper breathing aids, many having charcoal filters is recommended. Making sure all open flames in the area are turned off. All rags, cloths used needs to be draped hanging like on a clothesline to properly dry.

Use Extreme Care Working With Paint Solvents

  • Keep caps tightly closed when not in use
  • Pour only what you need, never leave open containers unattended
  • Rags soaked with some solvents are extremely flammable, so stretch out
  • Make sure any open flames are out in same air space using solvents

These solvents mentioned are commonly found at local paint stores in your area. Also found at box stores such as Lowe's and or Home Depot.

Other Solvents Used By Painters & Contractors

Paint Conditioner

A very common solvent used by painting contractors who really know their business, putting in every painter's toolbox is Flood's Floetrol®.

A conditioning product used helping a heavy bodied latex paints level itself using a fine roller or brush is Floetrol®

Even having the best lamb's wool roller or China bristle brush will help, but not always the answer for a completely smooth finish.

Some latex paints are premium, such as Sherwin-Williams™ Pro Classic®, however adding a couple cap-fulls to your gallon will reduce brush marks, lines, or strokes.

FLOETROL® is a latex paint additive to improve flow and leveling of water-based paints.

  • Makes latex paints, primers, stains and textured coatings flow more smoothly

  • Improves flow to reduce brush and roller marks

  • Reduces wear and tear on spray guns

  • Restores luster to faded, weathered fiberglass

  • Inhibits rust on metal surfaces

Using these thinners, additives, & conditioners properly will enhance final outcome, also keeping your tools and equipment in great order.

Solvents Painting Black Cabinets & Trim


If you're wanting to paint kitchen cabinets black, using a high-gloss latex enamel, best having all the solvents & paint conditioners available at your fingertips. Even using a fine spray tip can cause fish-egg look after it has dried. Nothing wrong with the paint, nor airless rig, but could be spraying knowledge, never conditioning the paint.


Modernizing kitchen cabinets, painting black is the new paint trend. So, from one painting contractor to another, having these helpful solvents in your arsenal, giving a deep, smooth finish is all the most important. You'll be just as happy as your paint client.

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