There are more petroleum distillates than you can shake a stick at: mineral spirits, white spirit, Stoddard solvent, naphtha, and Varsol are all products that overlap, and things can get confusing. Here’s your go-to source for the difference between them, and when to use which product.
Mineral Spirits, also known as White Spirit in the UK, Australia, and Ireland, serves as an umbrella term for petroleum-derived hydrocarbon solvents. Subsets of these petroleum-derivatives include Stoddard Solvent and naptha. This clear liquid is a mixture of aliphatic and alicyclic hydrocarbons, usually in the range of C7-C12. The most common use is as a paint thinner or component thereof, but it is also be used as a degreaser or cleaning product, especially for cleaning wood surfaces or windows without leaving streak marks.
Similar to Mineral Spirits but of purer form (and therefore more expensive), Varsol is trademarked by Exxon Mobile. Setting aside price and purity, Varsol is used in much the same way as Mineral Spirits: as a degreaser, paint thinner, or cleaning agent of painting tools, wood surfaces, and glass.
Naptha Solvent, Solvent is yet another type of petroleum distillate. It is a colorless liquid with gasoline-like odor. Compared to mineral spirits, it is typically of higher grade and “more powerful” – meaning drier and more volatile. It is in industrial operations, for example to dilute crude oil to facilitate pipeline transport. It is also used as a fuel (e.g. lighters and camping stoves), and a component in plastics.
Still another subset of mineral spirits, Stoddard solvent is unique in that it contains a higher proportion (>65%) of longer chain (>C10) hydrocarbons. It was developed in the 1920s to be a less flammable petroleum-based distillate.
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