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9 Paint Thinner Substitutes You Can Make At Home

Last Updated: October 2, 2020

DIY paint thinner substitutes

Have you ever started a painting project only to find the paint you are using is too thick for the job? If the stores are closed, or you’re strapped for cash, it can be a tough situation. Although you can stop the project and wait until you can get your hands on some paint thinner from the local hardware store, chances are you don’t want to do that.

Leaving a project while the wheels are turning is never a good idea. Thankfully, there are some thinner substitutes you can come up with at home that will solve the problem. Below, we will go over nine paint thinners you can make using everyday household products that you have lying around.

Not to worry, it is nothing too complicated or scary, just easy substitutions you can easily accomplish. We will also share some information on when a thinner should be used as well as what not to use. Keep reading to find out!

Painting a wall

Image credit: Painting a wall by kaboompics, Pixabay

When and Why You Need Paint Thinner

Paint thinner is an agent used to reduce the thickness of the pigment you are using on any given substrate. When the paint is too thick, it can be difficult to spread and create a smooth finish. It can also clog paint sprayers causing them not to work properly. Typically, people purchase thinner at their local paint or hardware store. Different thinners are also available for different types of paints and projects.

Thinning agents are also used to remove oil paint from brushes and other surfaces. That being said, oil-based pigments need thinner more often than any other type. As oil and water do not mix, you will need thinner to remove the oil from surfaces, painting supplies, and even your skin.

Lastly, thinner is also used in paint that has been left open. When the lid is left off the can or even open a little, the paint can thicken and harden. Thinning materials can bring it back to life and save you some money on replacing expensive paint.

9 Paint Thinning Recipes You Can Make At Home 

1. Linseed & Lemon


Image credit: Lemons by MiraCosic, Pixabay

Type of paint


What You Will Need

Lemons, Linseed Oil, Small and Large Bucket, Stirring Stick, Measuring Cup

How To Make It

To start, you want to gather all of your ingredients. You will need a ¼ cup of lemon juice and 1 cup of linseed oil for each gallon of paint. Start by mixing the lemon and linseed oil in the small bowl. Once it is mixed, add the gallon of paint to the large bucket, and add half the mixture little by little while stirring slowly.

After adding half the mixture, let the paint rest for about 10 minutes. Once it has settled, follow the same procedure for the rest of the mixture. Let the paint settle again for about ten minutes before painting.

You can also make extra mixture if you need to thin the paint more but add it slowly.

2. Acetone

acetone nail polish remover

Image: Kaushik Narasimhan, Wikimedia CC 2.0

Type Of Paint


What You Will Need

Acetone/Nail Polish Remover, Bucket, Goggles, Gloves, Ventilator or Well-Ventilated Area, Bucket, Stirring Stick

How To Make It

Acetone is a very hazardous liquid that emits toxic fumes. Before you begin, make sure to ventilate the area as much as possible. Also, where safety gloves, goggles, and a face mask if you are not using a ventilator.

You can use acetone or nail polish remover as long as it is acetone-based. You will need one part acetone to three parts paint which is roughly a cup and a half of acetone. Add the paint you wish to thin to the bucket. Then add half of the acetone and stir thoroughly for at least five minutes. Finally, pour in the second half and stir thoroughly again. Let stand for five minutes before painting.

3. Mineral Spirits

Turpentine mineral spirits substitutes

Image: Ellywa, Wikimedia, CC 4.0

Type Of Paint


What You Will Need

Mineral Spirits or Turpentine, Goggles, Gloves, Ventilator and Well-Ventilated Area, Large Bucket, Stirring Stick

How To Make It

Mineral spirits are more or less turpentine. You can use either one depending on what you have in the home. The procedure is very similar to the acetone. Start by protecting yourself by ventilating the area and putting on protective eyewear and gloves.

Add the paint to a bucket. You will need 1 cup of mineral spirits per gallon of paint. Add in half the thinner while stirring thoroughly. Test the consistency of the paint, then continue adding the rest while stirring. You can paint immediately after stirring.

4. Water

water paint thinner substitute

Image: Pickpik

Type Of Paint


What You Need

Measuring Cup, Large Bucket, Room Temperature Water

How To Make It

Though it is not ideal, you can use water to thin latex and acrylic paint. Start by putting the paint in the large bucket. This is important; you want to make sure the paint is added before the water. Use room temperature bottled water if you have it, otherwise, use water from the faucet.

Start with a ½ cup of water per gallon of paint. Add the water slowly while stirring. Test the paint thickness, and continue adding more a ½ cup at a time until you get the right consistency. You may paint as soon as the water is well blended.

5. Vinegar


Image credit: Vinegar by evita-ochel, Pixabay

Type Of Paint


What You Will Need

Regular Vinegar, Measuring Cups, Large Bucket, Stirring Stick

How To Make It

Vinegar can also be used to thin oil paint. The trick is to use straight vinegar as other types can have pigment. Start by adding the amount of paint you need to thin in the bucket. Measure about ¾ cup of vinegar per gallon of paint.

Pour half the contents of the vinegar into the paint and stir thoroughly. Let sit for five minutes then add the remaining portion while stirring. Let sit again for five minutes and check the consistency of the paint. You can add more vinegar a ⅓ cup at a time if the thickness is not right. Allow to sit for five minutes before painting.

6. Baby Oil

baby oil paint thinner

Image: StarsApart, Flickr CC 2.0

Type Of Paint


What You Will Need

Baby Oil, Measuring Cups, Large Bucket, Stirring Stick

How To Make It

Baby oil has a thinner consistency than oil paint, so it can be used to thin it in a pinch. Be advised, however, that adding additional oil can increase the sheen level of the paint. It can also extend the drying time. Start by adding the paint to the bucket.

You want to make sure the baby oil you are using does not have any additional pigments or ingredients. For example, tanning oils are not going to work. Also, make sure the baby oil and paint are both room temperature before mixing them together.

For every gallon of paint, add ¼ cup of baby oil while mixing consistently. Continue to stir for five to seven minutes to ensure it is well blended. Check the consistency again. You can add more, although it is not recommended that you use more than ½ cup of baby oil. Wait ten minutes before painting.

7. Sunflower Or Vegetable Oil

Sunflower oil

Image credit: Sunflower oil by Mareefe, Pexels

What Type Of Paint


What You Will Need

Sunflower or Vegetable Oil, Measuring Cups, Large Bucket, Stirring Stick

How To Make It

You can also use sunflower or vegetable oil to thin oil paint. The procedure is identical to the option above, however. Just make sure you do not use more than a ½ cup per gallon, and blend thoroughly before painting.

8. Isopropyl Alcohol

isopropyl alcohol paint thinner substitute

Image: Ryan Hyde, Flickr CC 2.0

What Type Of Paint


What You Will Need

Isopropyl Alcohol, Large Bucket, Stirring Stick, Latex Gloves, Goggles

How To Make It

This is a good option for latex paint in an emergency. We recommend using 91 percent Isopropyl, but you can use a lesser alcohol count if necessary. As always, start by adding paint to the bucket. Alcohol can be drying, so use gloves as well as goggles to protect your eyes.

The higher the alcohol count, the better it will thin, but if you use too much it can dull the paint. Start by measuring out ½ cup of alcohol and add it to the bucket. Stir well. Add the rest and stir again until well blended. Check thickness and paint.

9. The Concoction

Kitchen sink

Image credit: Kitchen sink by Kelly Lacy, Pexels

Type of Paint


What You Will Need

Dish Soap, Alcohol, Gloss-Medium, Boiling Water, Small to Medium Container, Large Bucket, Measuring Spoons, and Cups Stirring Stick, Tea Kettle or Container to Boil Water

How To Make It

This is a concoction that is good for latex paint if you happen to have all of the ingredients. Start by boiling 1½ cups of water. Add 1½ tbs of dish soap, a ½ cup of alcohol, and 2 teaspoons of gloss-medium (optional) to the small container. Add the boiling water to the small container and mix until well blended. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. 

At this point, you should have approximately 1 cup of the mixture which will work for a gallon of paint. Pour the paint into the large bucket. Slowly add half the mixture to the paint while stirring slowly. Continue to stir for five minutes. Add the remainder of the mixture in small portions while continuing to blend. Once it has all been added, allow it to sit for ten minutes before painting.

What Not To Use

The options above are meant to be used in a pinch if you do not have any other options. A few things to keep in mind is that you never want to add any type of oil to latex paint. Latex is water-based so the two will not blend together, and it will ruin your color. That being said, you also do not want to add anything water-based to oil paint, or you will end up in the same situation.

Also, as we mentioned above, ingredients that have a high alcohol content can dull the color of your paint. You want to make sure you use this substitution sparingly. The same is true for anything that has pigment, which you want to stay away from altogether.

Finally, there are a few recipes out there that should never be used. The top three are gasoline, kerosene, and vodka. Yes, all of these have been used at one point or another to thin paint. These options are all highly flammable and can cause serious health risks. That being said, do not add anything to your paint that is flammable, or that you are not sure about. You are better off waiting until you can make it to the hardware store.


We hope you have enjoyed the paint thinner substitutions above. Always be careful with your paint, so you do not ruin your project. If you need more information on paint versus primer? Check it out here. Also, learn more about oil-based primers here.

Written by Shannon MacDevine

Featured image credit: United Soybean Board, Flickr CC 2.0