Can You Use Paint Thinner on Wood? All You Need to Know Before Stripping Wood with Paint Thinner

Paint thinners are stripping solvent to thin finishes and paints. You can reduce the tackiness, stickiness, and thickness of paint.

Apart from thinning paint, this solvent removes grease, stains, and stubborn dirt. But strong thinners can damage some surfaces, which you might not know. So, can you use paint thinner on wood?

You can use thinners on wood for stripping paint or cleaning it. But you can’t casually put them on over a wooden surface as thinner is hazardously volatile. Protection for your skin and respiratory organ will be the first mandatory step here.

On What Surfaces Can You Use a Thinner?

You can use thinner on the plastic (except the soft ones), wood, hardwood floor, slightly on cloth, wall paint, etc. Avoid using strong thinner on delicate surfaces like skin and glass.

When to Use a Paint Thinner?

You will consider two things for using a paint thinner –

  1. What are you using it for?
  2. What kind of paint or residue your project has?

For the first question: You can choose a thinner for cleaning paint equipment, cleaning wood, restoring the dried paint, removing oil-based paints, removing gunk and paint stain residue. There are many oil-based thick paints and primers which you can’t spray paint without thinning.

For the second question: Paint thinner is for oil-based paints, not water-based. Lacquer thinner is for lacquer-based paint, and acrylic thinner is for water-based paint. So, choose your thinner according to your residue.

What Can Be Used as a Thinner?

Among several thinners, the most used ones are mineral spirits, acetone, toluene, true turpentine, etc. Some are discussed below:

Lacquer Thinner

Lacquer thinner can thin varnish coating and lacquer. It’s a cellulose thinner made from the combo formulae of butyl acetate, xylene, toluene, acetone, and other chemicals for paint.

Instead of removing paint, it’s ideal for diluting solvents. Lacquer thinner is strong enough to damage delicate stuff like wool.


Xylene is used as a sole thinner for strong potency. But if used in addition to another thinner, it can thin varnish and stains on wood.


Naphtha is a quality-grade thinner used for oil-based paints and coatings. You can use it over wood stains, enamel, and varnish. This thinner doesn’t work great on water-based paints. Remember that naphtha dries faster and so it won’t damage your paint easily.

How to Use Paint Thinner on Wood?

The process below describes how to prepare and apply thinner on a wooden surface with utmost precaution.

Step 01: Gather the Materials

  • Mask
  • Eyeglasses
  • Gloves
  • Drop cloth
  • Tape
  • Thinner
  • Steel wool
  • Nylon roller or brush
  • Paint scraper
  • Finish stripper
  • Mixing bucket
  • Sandpaper (80, 180, 220-grit)

Step 02: Protect Yourself!

Cover your exposed skin, eyes, nose, mouth, etc., with necessary stuff like protective gear, gloves, and mask. Many get themselves exposed to the strong smell of thinner. Even though the smell might not irritate you, remember it’s volatile.

Sniffing can damage the lung, kidney, liver, reproductive system, and nervous system. The oldest thinner contains a chemical named methylene chloride which is deadly. If you are using one of them, there is no chance of lacking protection.

However, the newest strippers don’t have the chemical, so it doesn’t smell that bad.

Step 03: Protect the Workspace

Replace your project in an open space or an open garage. If you must work indoors, place fans to take the gases outside. At all means, keep the area ventilated.

Step 04: Prepare the Workspace

Place a drop cloth under your project to avoid messing on the floor. Place something heavy at the corners to hold the cloth. A painter’s tape will help you with covering the edges.

Remember to cover the parts you don’t want to treat. Cover the nails, screws, hinges, doorknob, and other metals. Taking them out would be wise, or else cover them.

Step 05: Applying Thinner over Wood

You might be using the thinner to thin paint or clean grease and stain. Whatever your deal is, follow this process. The only difference could be the amount of thinner you will be using according to your project and stain size.

Choose a thinner that matches your wood’s paint. Shake the thinner’s can before opening.

Use the nylon brush to apply a thick coat of thinner over the wood exterior. You can use a roller as an alternative to brushing. The thickness of the layer needs to be somewhere between 0.32 to 0.64cm.

Work on a specific area at a time. Providing a wide layer at a time will be a waste. The chemical will dry out before you can work on it.

Step 06: Look for a Sign

After waiting for 10 minutes or, as per your product’s recommendation, you will notice dried cracks and bubbles on your project. Remember that you are letting the chemical soak in, not dry.

Didn’t see any crack?

Wait a bit longer as different products soak at different time lengths. Another trick could be putting a plastic drop cloth over the chemical to keep it wet while soaking.

Step 07: Removal of the Finish

Using a wood scraper, take off the dried paste of the finish. Scrape along the wood’s grain, or else you will have scratches. Keep wiping off the scrapper all along the process. Repeat Steps 06 and 07 till you have residue.


  • Try removing the finish when it is wet. Pour more chemicals to wet it if you aren’t done scrapping.
  • Avoid metal scrapper as it might cause permanent damage to wood grains. Use a plastic scraper instead.
  • While working with small recesses or curved projects, use steel wool to apply and scrub the chemical.

Step 08: Washing off the Wood

If any other process isn’t recommended by the manufacturer, you could follow the common washing process:

Mix ¼ tablespoon of mild soap with warm water and scrub the wood using it. Finally, dry the wooden surface.

Step 09: Applying Thinner Again

Now, if you have stubborn wood stain, grease, or oil-based paint residue, use thinner. Damp a rag with thinner, like – acetone or turpentine, and scrub off the gunk with pressure.

Remember to wear gloves while doing it.

Step 10: Final Washing and Storing

Finally, wipe off the surface with clean water and a cloth. Later on, dispose of the rags and wash the brushes quickly. Store the thinner in a cold place and out of any flame source.

What if your wood doesn’t have an oil-based finish?

When to Avoid Using Paint Thinner on Wood Exterior?

Using paint thinners on shellac or lacquer finishes isn’t a recommended job. Paint thinner is petroleum and won’t work with shellac. So, how would you know which finish your wood exterior has?

After running two tests, the result will be crystal clear.

Test 01

Watch the change after rubbing the wood surface with denatured alcohol using a rag or brush. If it softens like a sticky gum, the wood has a shellac finish.

Didn’t see any difference? Skip to the next test.

Test 02

If the finish starts dissolving after applying lacquer thinner, the wood has a lacquer finish.

Have some cloudy texture from lacquer or denatured alcohol?


It points toward the presence of both lacquer and alcohol finish. In such a case, mix both of the thinners into equal quantities for removal.


I hope you got the answer – can you use paint thinner on wood and solve the puzzle related to it. Now you won’t have any hindrance during the procedure if you follow the precaution.

Cleaning wood with thinner has been in use for a long time. But over time, for different paints, many thinners have been manufactured. And now, you need to know which one to choose. Once you get your hand on the suitable product, the rest are easy.

FAQs Section

Does paint thinner damage wood?

Thinner might react differently; like lacquer dries faster, denatured alcohol can make the wood grain raise a bit by absorbing water. But none of these will damage a block of wood. Whether it’s a lacquer thinner, mineral spirits, or any other paint thinner, the same goes for all.

Can I clean the wood with thinner?

Thinners are used for thinning paint layers on wood. You can as well clean the wood stain, grease, and oil during refurbishing.

Can I use thinner on wood to remove paint?

You can use thinner for wood to thin out the paint. In the process of thinning the paint, the layers will start to get soft. That’s when you will use a putty knife to scrape off the paint from the wood exterior. So yes, you can remove paint from wood using thinner.

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