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Solvents Used by Artists

An Informational Article on the Nature of and Ingredients in Solvents Used by Artists and their Toxicity


A solvent is a substance that dissolves or makes a solution of another substance. In oil painting and printmaking, organic solvents are used to dissolve oils, resins, inks, waxes, varnishes, paints and lacquers, as well as to clean brushes and tools.


Studio Safety

Because solvents are volatile liquids, they are classified according to their flash points, or the lowest temperature at which their vapors will ignite momentarily when in contact with a small flame in the presence of oxygen. Substances with a flash point under 100° F are considered flammable. Those with a flash point above 100° F are considered combustible. (Flammable solvents are more volatile because they can ignite under lower temperatures.) During the summer months, extra precautions must be taken to store solvents in a cool environment. Solvents should be stored in their original containers or in approved storage containers with labels. Solvent-soaked rags and papers should be stored in a covered metal waste container until ready for disposal. Never store them open containers or next to a heat source, such as a vent, radiator, furnace or stove. The safest place to store solvent containers is in a protective metal cabinet. Never smoke in the presence of solvents.

Solvents are potentially toxic substances which should be used in a well-ventilated work area. They can be harmful if inhaled or absorbed through the skin. The use of an organic vapor respirator and solvent-resistant gloves are highly recommended. Three simply studio practices which greatly reduce solvent inhalation are:

  • Keep solvent containers closed when not in use
  • Use the smallest amount of solvent possible
  • Refrain from eating, drinking or smoking while using solvents

Commonly Used Solvents

Turpentine
Turpentine is the traditional material for diluting oil paints. Artist should use only pure gum turpentine, manufactured from pine tree resin and carefully distilled. Industrial grade turpentine is produced from tree stumps and contains impurities, as well as a strong, unpleasant odor. For any recipes containing damar, turpentine is the most appropriate solvent. The gummy residue of turpentine left after evaporation is harmless, though turpentine is best when its fresh.

Toxicity rating:

  • Skin contact: moderate.
  • Inhalation: moderate.
  • Ingestion: high.
  • Flammable

Turpenoid®
Turpenoid is classified as a petroleum hydrocarbon and is essentially odorless mineral spirits. It can be substituted for turpentine in all painting functions which do not include damar. For artists who do not like the odor of turpentine, or are sensitive to it, Turpenoid is a practical alternative for paint thinning and general cleanup.

Toxicity rating:

  • Skin contact: moderate.
  • Inhalation: moderate.
  • Ingestion: high.
  • Combustible.

Mineral Spirits
Mineral spirits is a petroleum distillate with properties similar to turpentine. Some artist prefer mineral spirits to turpentine because it leaves no gummy residue, it does not deteriorate with age, it is cheaper and it causes no apparent reaction in people sensitive to turpentine. Mineral spirits can used as an oil painting medium in place of turpentine, but not in recipes containing damar, which is not completely soluble in it. Mineral spirits can also be used to clean brushes and other tools.

Toxicity rating:

  • Skin contact: moderate.
  • Inhalation: moderate.
  • Ingestion: high.
  • Combustible.

Citrus Thinner
Citrus thinner is a citrus distillate and a byproduct of the manufacture of citrus peel liquor. It has a yellowish color and a slight lemon odor. It can be used as a turpentine substitute for thinning paint and cleaning brushes. Citrus thinner speeds the drying time of oils.

Toxicity rating:

  • Information not available.
  • Combustible.

Dantine
Dantine is a turpentine substitute with a pine oil smell. It is not intended for use as a painting medium, but rather as an economical solvent for cleaning brushes and other tools.

Toxicity rating:

  • Skin contact: moderate.
  • Inhalation: moderate.
  • Ingestion: high.
  • Combustible.

Lithotine
Lithotine is the lithographer's substitute for turpentine. It is essentially mineral spirits with pine oil and can be used for washing-out and for general cleanup in lithography.

Toxicity rating:

  • Skin contact: moderate.
  • Inhalation: moderate.
  • Ingestion: high.
  • Combustible.

Dancolite
We have recently reformulated Dancolite, replacing toluene with a weaker hydrocarbon. It also contains acetone and methanol. Lithographers use it for washing-out and etchers use it as a degreaser before applying an aquatint or ground. Dancolite can be substituted for all applications requiring lacquer thinner.

Toxicity rating:

  • Skin contact: moderate.
  • Inhalation: high.
  • Ingestion: high.
  • Flammable.

Roller and Plate Wash
Roller and Plate Wash is a highly refined petroleum distillate used by printmakers to clean and preserve the life of quality rollers.

Toxicity rating:

  • Skin contact: moderate.
  • Inhalation: moderate.
  • Ingestion: high.
  • Combustible.

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