Waterlox and Solvents

There are many references to mineral spirits throughout our guides, tips and instructions. Mineral spirits is a solvent that is derived from petroleum and is considered an oil-based solvent (e.g.: dissolves oils and other non-polar substances). This guide helps to identify some common solvents and provides some general guidance on where they may (or may not) fit into the process. For a quick solvent guide, see the Quick Solvent Reference Guide.

There are two main uses for solvents: cleaning and thinning. Depending on how the solvent will be used, there may be a few options. Read and carefully follow all label instructions and safety information provided by the manufacturer.

Common Solvents (available at big box or paint stores):

  1. Paint Thinner (BEST)
  2. Mineral Spirits (BEST)
  3. Odorless/ Low Odor Mineral Spirits (BETTER)
  4. VM&P Naphtha (OK)
  5. Acetone (AVOID)
  6. Turpentine (OK)
  7. Citrus Solvent (OK)
  8. Denatured Alcohol (AVOID)
  9. MEK (AVOID)
  10. Xylene/Toluene (AVOID)
  11. Lacquer Thinner (AVOID)
  12. Water (See Water section)
  13. Specialty Blends/Custom Solvents (See Specialty Solvents section)

Paint Thinner vs. Mineral Spirits

Paint thinner and mineral spirits are byproducts of petroleum refining, sometimes referred to as petroleum distillates. In general, these terms are used interchangeably. In fact, on most paint thinner containers, it will usually state “made from 100% mineral spirits”. These solvents are a mixture of different compounds, some of which have more odors than others.

Used for: Cleaning and Thinning
These are the preferred solvents for cleaning surfaces and tools when using Waterlox products. They are also the recommended choice for thinning Waterlox products (excluding H2OLOX®).

Odorless/Low Odor Mineral Spirits

Traditionally, ‘Low Odor’ or ‘Odorless’ paint thinner or mineral spirits, are just more refined versions with more of the smellier molecules removed. This will make them slightly weaker, but should be fine to use anywhere that the regular version is recommended.

Used for: Cleaning and Thinning
These are suitable for cleaning tools and surfaces. They can be used to thin Waterlox products (excluding H2OLOX®) if you don’t intend to store the blend for long periods of time (e.g.: months) as the Waterlox may “kick out” of the weaker solvent over time.

VM&P Naphtha

Varnish Makers and Painters (VM&P) Naphtha is another solvent derived from petroleum distillates. It is slightly stronger and will evaporate quicker than mineral spirits, but has a stronger odor.

Used for: Cleaning
If VM&P naphtha is available, it can be used to wipe down raw wood surfaces or between coats of Waterlox finishes. It can be used for cleaning brushes or applicators, but should be thoroughly dry before reusing. This could be a few hours for a good quality brush.


Acetone is a very strong solvent, and it evaporates very quickly. It is the main ingredient in most nail polish removers. Acetone can be used to remove dried up Waterlox, but it may also damage the other finishes or surfaces – TEST or use carefully. It can be used to clean raw wood, but it will raise the grain.


Turpentine is distilled from pine sap, which gives it more of a pine smell. It has solvent strength similar to naphtha, but will evaporate a little slower. Turpentine can be used to wipe down surfaces or clean brushes, but is not recommended.

Citrus Solvent

D-Limonene, otherwise labeled as Citrus Solvent, is derived from the oils in the peels of citrus fruits. It has a pleasant citrus scent and is an effective solvent for oil-based products. It is a strong solvent and can be used for cleaning brushes, surfaces and thinning Waterlox products (excluding H2OLOX®) if it is the only choice available. Although it has a pleasant aroma, it is best to avoid in large, regular doses.

Denatured Alcohol

Denatured alcohol can be used to wipe down raw wood, but it may raise the grain slightly. It will evaporate quickly, but it is not effective at cleaning or thinning oil-based finishes. It should not be used between coats of Waterlox as it may soften the films.

MEK (Methyl Ethyl Ketone)

MEK is a very strong solvent, and it evaporates very quickly. MEK can be used to remove dried up Waterlox, but it may also damage the other finish or surface to TEST or use carefully. It is very flammable and should only be used in small quantities (not for wiping down surfaces).


Toluene and Xylene, sometimes labeled as Toluol and Xylol respectively, are strong solvents with a strong odor. They are relatively toxic and great care should be used if ever used. We recommend against using either during any Waterlox project.

Lacquer Thinner

Lacquer thinner is a blend of many different solvents that are usually tailored for certain industries or products. They should not be used at any point in a Waterlox project.


Water can be used to wipe down the raw wood, but it will significantly raise the grain. This will affect your stain color (positively or negatively, depending on personal preference) and may lead to a rougher final surface. You can use mild soap and water to clean up applicators with H2OLOX products and rinse thoroughly with clean water to remove any soap. H2OLOX can be thinned with water, but it is never recommended to do so. You can also use water between coats of Waterlox to pick up stubborn dust. DO NOT soak the floor, but use a lightly dampened, lint-free rag and allow plenty of time for the water to evaporate before applying the next coat.

Specialty Solvents (Brand Names)

There are many manufacturers that create custom blends and call them by a brand specific name that may or may not indicate its intended purpose (i.e.: Crown VOC Compliant Pro-Thinner by Sherwin-Williams). These products are usually tailored to meet VOC restrictions for certain states and regions. There are a wide variety of these specialty blends available on the market, but most companies will usually indicate what solvents the specialty solvent is trying to replace. As an example, the Crown VOC compliant Pro Thinner from Sherwin-Williams, clearly indicates that its intended use is to replace MEK and Toluene.

It is recommended to avoid using these on your projects as there are too many unknowns. If using, it is best to TEST FIRST to make sure they don’t cause any obvious defects. It is best to use solvents targeted to replace paint thinner or mineral spirits. Read all the instructions and recommendations carefully and TEST first before using during a sensitive project.