What is the Difference Between Acetone and Mineral Spirits

Acetone and mineral spirits are two liquid solutions that can dissolve various substances.  They have different origins, chemical properties, as well as different uses. However, both are commonly used for cleaning purposes and as thinners.

What is the difference between acetone and mineral spirits? Acetone is made of an organic compound derived from isopropyl alcohol, whereas mineral spirit is a petroleum-based solvent.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Acetone
      – Definition, Features 
2. What are Mineral Spirits 
      – Definition, Features 
3. Similarities Between Acetone and Mineral Spirits
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Acetone and Mineral Spirits
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: Acetone and Mineral Spirits
      – Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

Acetone, Dimethyl Ketone, Mineral Spirits, White Spirit

Difference Between Acetone and Mineral Spirits - Comparison Summary

What is Acetone

Acetone is the simplest ketone. It is also called dimethyl ketone. It is a colorless liquid with a pungent odor. Acetone has a carbonyl group positioned between the two central carbons. As it has a carbonyl group, the molecule becomes polar with unevenly distributed electrons.

The carbon-oxygen double bond in the carbonyl group is highly polar due to oxygen’s greater electronegativity. The electron density is pulled towards oxygen, making it slightly negative on the oxygen atom. The other end of the carbon becomes slightly positive. This gives the molecule a dipole moment, which makes it polar.


Acetone can dissolve a wide range of compounds. It breaks down fats, oils, waxes, many glues, and some plastics. This makes it ideal for tasks like removing nail polish, cleaning paintbrushes, and degreasing metal surfaces. Lacquers also contain acetone. It thins lacquer and helps it adhere to surfaces. Acetone has a rapid evaporation rate, allowing it to dry quickly. This feature is useful in various applications.

What are Mineral Spirits

Mineral spirits are petroleum-derived liquid solvents that are clear, colorless liquids with slight odors. It is also called the white spirit. It is a mixture of various aliphatic hydrocarbons (straight-chain or branched carbon molecules) and alicyclic hydrocarbons (ring-shaped carbon molecules). Its composition can vary depending on the source and processing. The specific distribution of these hydrocarbons influences the properties of the final product. The specific range of hydrocarbon molecules present in mineral spirits is determined by the distillation process.

Mineral Spirits

It is a non-polar molecule. Therefore, it does not dissolve in water but dissolves in oils and greases. It has a moderate evaporation rate, slower than acetone but faster than some other solvents. Mineral spirits have a flash point of 100°F (38°C), hence it is considered a flammable liquid.

Mineral spirits are used as a thinner for oil-based paints, varnishes, and stains. It is also effective in removing grease and oil from various non-porous surfaces like metal tools, garden equipment, and machinery. It is also used for degreasing metal surfaces before painting.

Similarities Between Acetone and Mineral Spirits

  1. Both dissolve a variety of materials.
  2. They are both used for cleaning tasks.
  3. Both can be used as thinners.
  4. They evaporate at a moderate rate.
  5. Both are flammable liquids with lower flash points.

Difference Between Acetone and Mineral Spirits


  • Acetone is a single organic compound derived from isopropyl alcohol, while mineral spirits are a complex mixture of hydrocarbons derived from petroleum distillation.


  • Acetone is a stronger solvent, whereas mineral spirit is a gentler solvent.


  • Acetone evaporates faster due to its simpler structure, whereas mineral spirits have a slower evaporation rate compared to acetone.


  • The odor of acetone is much stronger than the odor of mineral spirits.

Solubility in Water

  • Acetone is completely soluble in water, whereas mineral spirit is not soluble in water.


Acetone and mineral spirits are two liquids with many uses. Acetone is an organic compound that is derived from isopropyl alcohol, while mineral spirits is a petroleum-based solvent.

FAQ: Acetone and Mineral Spirits

1. Can you use acetone instead of mineral spirits?

In some cases, you can use acetone instead of mineral spirits, but acetone is stronger. It can damage surfaces, but mineral spirits wouldn’t. Mineral spirits are safer for oil-based paints and cleaning brushes. Acetone is better for nail polish or superglue.

2. What is stronger than acetone?

Methyl ethyl ketone is much stronger than acetone. This is due to its slower evaporation rate and higher boiling point.

3. Can acetone remove paint?

Acetone dissolves the paint layers, so it can remove paint. But it’s important to note that acetone is strong and can even damage surfaces.

4. What is a good replacement for acetone?

The best replacement for acetone depends on what it is being used for. Non-acetone nail polish removers with ingredients like ethyl acetate or butyl acetate are gentler on nails. For removing adhesives or super glue, rubbing alcohol or citrus-based solvents can work well.

5. Will mineral spirits remove paint?

Mineral spirits will only remove fresh, wet, oil-based paint. It won’t touch cured or dry paint. For that, you’ll need a stronger solvent like acetone. However, acetone is harsher and can damage some surfaces.


1. “White Spirit.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation. 
2. “Acetone.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation. 

Image Courtesy:

1. “Sample of Acetone” By LHcheM – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “White spirit” By Sweetie candykim – Own work (CC0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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