What is the Difference Between Turpentine and White Spirit

The main difference between turpentine and white spirit is that turpentine is a natural product derived from the resin of pine trees, particularly the longleaf pine, slash pine, and loblolly pine, whereas white spirit is a petroleum-derived solvent.

Turpentine and white spirit are two solvents with distinct properties. Despite their differences, both solvents play crucial roles in dissolving substances and are valuable in different contexts.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Turpentine
      – Definition, Features 
2. What is White Spirit
      – Definition, Features 
3. Similarities Between Turpentine and White Spirit
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Turpentine and White Spirit
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: Turpentine and White Spirit
      – Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

Turpentine, White Spirit

Difference Between Turpentine and White Spirit - Comparison Summary

What is Turpentine

Turpentine is derived from the resin of pine trees, particularly the longleaf of pine, slash pine, and loblolly pine. The primary source of turpentine is the oleoresin secreted by pine trees. This resin flows from wounds or cuts in the tree’s bark and serves as a protective mechanism against insects and disease. Once collected, the resin is subjected to a process known as distillation to extract the volatile components, leaving behind the turpentine oil.

The key component of turpentine is alpha-pinene, a terpene responsible for its distinctive pine fragrance. Other terpenes, such as beta-pinene and camphene, are also present in varying proportions. These compounds give turpentine its solvent properties, making it valuable in a range of applications.

Turpentine can be further classified into types based on its chemical composition and intended use. For instance, there are gum spirits of turpentine, which are primarily used as solvents in various industrial applications, and wood turpentine, often used in the production of paints, varnishes, and other coatings.

Turpentine vs White Spirit

Applications of Turpentine

Turpentine has been a staple in the world of art for centuries. It is commonly useful as a solvent for oil paints, allowing artists to thin paints, clean brushes, and modify the texture of their artwork. Turpentine is also a key ingredient in the formulation of varnishes and coatings. It acts as a solvent to disperse resins and other solid components, ensuring an even and smooth application. Varnishes containing turpentine offer a glossy finish and often help to protect and enhance the appearance of wood and paintings.

Turpentine’s solvent properties also make it valuable in cleaning and degreasing applications. It can effectively remove sticky residues, adhesives, and grease from surfaces and machinery. This versatility extends its use to industries such as automotive maintenance and metalworking. The pleasant aroma of turpentine, derived from its pine-derived terpenes, has led to its use in perfumery and aromatherapy. Pine-scented products, such as candles and air fresheners, often contain natural or synthetic pine fragrances, mimicking the aroma of turpentine.

What is White Spirit

White Spirit is a petroleum-derived solvent, and its production begins during the refining of crude oil. The distillation process of crude oil yields various fractions with different boiling points. White spirit is obtained as a middle distillate fraction and is then further treated to remove impurities and unwanted components. The result is a clear, transparent liquid with a relatively low odor. The term “white spirit” is commonly used in Europe and Asia, while in the United States and Canada, it is often referred to as mineral spirits or mineral turpentine. It is available in different grades and can be tailored for specific applications by adjusting its composition.

White spirit is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons, primarily consisting of aliphatic and naphthenic compounds. It may also contain a small proportion of aromatic hydrocarbons, depending on the specific grade and formulation. The absence of aromatic compounds is typically a defining characteristic of high-quality white spirits, as they tend to have a lower odor and are less harmful to health and the environment.

Compare Turpentine and White Spirit

Applications of White Spirit

One of the most common uses of white spirit is as a paint thinner and solvent. It is useful in thin oil-based paints, varnishes, and stains, making them easier to work with and facilitating smooth application. Additionally, it helps to clean brushes and equipment after painting projects.

White spirit is useful in degreasing and cleaning machinery, equipment, and parts in manufacturing and industrial settings. Its solvent properties help remove oils, greases, and other contaminants from surfaces effectively. In the printing industry, white spirit helps to clean printing presses and dissolve and remove residual ink from various components, including rollers and plates. Beyond industrial applications, white spirit is a common ingredient in household and commercial cleaning products. It is present in cleaning agents that help to remove stubborn stains, grease, or adhesive residues.

Similarities Between Turpentine and White Spirit

  • Both turpentine and white spirit are effective solvents.
  • Turpentine and white spirit are commonly used as solvents in the paint and coatings industry.
  • They are flammable solvents.

Difference Between Turpentine and White Spirit


Turpentine is a natural product derived from the resin of pine trees, particularly the longleaf pine, slash pine, and loblolly pine, whereas white spirit is a petroleum-derived solvent.


The primary chemical in turpentine is alpha-pinene, which gives it its characteristic pine odor, whereas white spirit is a mixture of hydrocarbons, including aliphatic, aromatic, and naphthenic compounds.


Turpentine has a strong, characteristic pine or resinous odor, whereas white spirit has a much milder and less noticeable odor.


Turpentine is traditionally used in art and painting as a thinner for oil-based paints, as well as a cleaning agent. White spirit is widely used as a paint thinner, degreaser, and cleaner in various industrial and household applications.

FAQ: Turpentine and White Spirit

What is the best alternative for white spirit?

  • One of the best alternatives for white spirit is methylated spirit.

Which is safer, turpentine or mineral spirits?

  • Mineral spirits are safer to use than turpentine because turpentine can be more harmful to use.

Is white spirit insoluble in water?

  • Yes, the white spirit is insoluble in water.


Turpentine is a natural product with a stronger odor, often preferred in artistic contexts, while white spirit is a petroleum-derived solvent valued for its versatility in various industrial and household applications. This is the main difference between turpentine and white spirit.


1. “Turpentine Oil.” WebMD.
2. “White Spirit.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Oil of turpentine” By Kriplozoik – 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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