top of page

Click HERE to return to the Main Art Materials Q&A Page


I have conducted a small experiment using citrus solvent versus turpentine.  I diluted oil paint with both solvents to use them as a wash. I was not happy with the citrus solvent as opposed to the turpentine. The wash using citrus solvent was uneven. I am leaning toward using turpentine and rather like the smell of it.


The question involves a comparison between turpentine and a citrus-based solvent as a painting medium.  While both are solvents, the question posed is akin to asking which fruit tastes better, apples or pineapples.  (If the parameters of the question are which fruit is more appealing.)  Both solvents work very differently, but more importantly, they approach being diluents or oil-dissolving entities in separate ways. The performance of both solvents as a diluent to make a wash of color is very difficult to make because a citrus solvent behaves very differently from turpentine. It would be better to compare how turpentine performs versus citrus solvent in cleaning brushes.  They work differently and a comparison as a painting medium is fraught with potential misinterpretations.



If you don’t like the smell of turpentine, I have a solution that works. Cut a lemon into sections and put a slice in your container of turpentine.  The lemon will take away the smell of turpentine and it does not harm your turpentine.


This reply is straight from the “I know nothing about science/chemistry department.”  First, from a chemistry viewpoint, mixing a spirit-based solvent with a water-citrus fruit is not even remotely recommended. This introduces acid-laced water into an oil paint matrix that will influence drying and can have long-term negative effects on the formation of a stable paint film.  Second, I seriously doubt that a lemon will mask the strong smell of turpentine.  Third, and most importantly, if an artist is bothered by the smell of turpentine, then the concentration of harmful fumes is off the charts in terms of being hazardous to health.  Fourth, using turpentine in a studio space with poor ventilation is the likely cause of being bothered by the odor and needs to be addressed.


Finally, a theme emerges from many of the replies that deal with the use of turpentine. The most disturbing one is that turpentine is a pleasant, welcoming smell for artists.  It appears that a segment of the art community does not view turpentine as a health hazard.  This is a problem and, in my opinion, the root of it comes from a lack of basic education about science, coupled with instructors who are also ignorant about science and chemistry.  The degree of difficulty in obtaining sound information that is not mired in technical or regulatory language is another major factor that inhibits artists from learning to treat solvents with far more fear and respect than some of them do now.

Citrus solvent, odorless paint thinner and no odor solvents like Gamsol are all distilled from petroleum.  I have not idea why petroleum solvents are liked better than turpentine which comes from a pine tree. I agree that turpentine has an irritating odor but it does not leave any reside behind when it evaporates, unlike mineral spirits.  I can’t understand why people are afraid of their art materials and need to wear protective things like gloves or masks.  If painting scares you so much you should find other hobbies.


Petroleum distillation applies to Gamsol and odorless paint thinner, It does not pertain to citrus-based solvents, unless I am totally mistaken that oranges are harvested from oil wells.  I agree that the highly refined, (triple distilled) turpentine does not leave a residue.  But if you purchase many cheaply produced odorless paint thinners, they lack the quality control to provide clean cutoffs of specific distillation components so they contain byproducts that fail to totally evaporate.  


Shaming people for being deathly afraid of being poisoned by their art materials is the bullying tactic that is promoted by this commenter as well as many others.  Artist do not have to be deadly afraid but rather they should cautiously calculate how they handle their art materials.  You don’t have to quit painting because the materials are linked with health concerns. You responsibly deal with them.  Most people don’t refuse to use an automobile because it could be involved in an accident. You just need to take proper precautions when doing anything.  Would the comment author pull a pan out of a 350-degree oven without oven mitts?   By the same logic, I would tell the author to stop using their oven for anything and find another way to bake or roast their food.

Why avoid the smell of turpentine?  It is wonderful.  It is the smell of art being made.


See the previous comment about the absence of fear or respect for toxic materials. Sure, you are free to do as you please, and love the smell of turpentine.  Also, be prepared to embrace the news and have little regret when your physician informs you that you have advanced lung or liver cancer that may have been caused by repeated exposure to solvents.


My mother was an artist and used turpentine when she painted in a windowless space that had no ventilation. I am sure it caused her “harm.” She lived to be over 100 years old when she passed away.



This comment reminds me of the Today Show segment with jelly jars celebrating 100+ years of living.  So many of the announcer’s comments accompanying the images of those being honored will state that the secret of living to over 100 is a shot of whiskey each day or something similar. What worked for the person being highlighted could result in liver disease for many others. 


Turpentine odor is wonderful. The major problem is to find turpentine that is of high quality. A substitute like Oil of Spike Lavender is great but costs a lot.  I make my own version of DeMayern medium by adding Oil of Spike to  Canada Balsam, Brazilian Turpentine, and Sun Thickened Linseed Oil.  It has a pretty strong smell.  I avoid solvents like mineral spirits or orange-based liquids. Look for high quality solvents for your painting needs.


The classic workaround is to suggest another solvent that appears to smell better and that is more appealing. Who does not like the smell of lavender?  This path of reasoning ignores the warnings that come with  Oil of Spike about it being an irritant. Since Oil of Spike is not used industrially, it has not been listed in the NIOSH Pocket Guide to Hazards. It still needs to be used with caution and proper ventilation.  Adding an obscure reference to a dubious painting medium does not buttress the argument and the admission of its strong smell is another reason to ignore this advice. Exotic painting mediums have served as a crutch that provides a link to the “lost” secrets of the Old Masters. Unfortunately, most of them are either highly toxic, harm the paint film, and need to be made at home using toxic materials and a dangerous process.

bottom of page