Ordourless Solvents for Painting

Solvents are paint thinners which are very commonly used by oil painters. They are used in order to thin paints to make more flowing oils to be used for an art piece and also to clear up mistakes on the canvas and to clean brushes and materials afterwards.

For most oil painters, a good solvent is an absolute necessity. There are ways to get around using one, but your paintings will turn out differently and your brushes will require more work to keep clean.

Thus, it’s rare for artists who work with oil to not use solvents. But many artists are uncomfortable with the amount of noxious fumes they are exposed to by way of the most common solvent in the industry: turpentine.

For a long time, turpentine was the only solvent available for oil painters. It has withstood the test of time and remains the most popular choice among artists today, because its strength allows it to work for all types of oil paints and clean tools very effectively and efficiently.

But turpentine can only be used in a very well-ventilated area because long term, heavy exposure to its fumes is enormously dangerous for your health. In extreme circumstances, overexposure to turpentine can be a cause of death.

Today there are some other options available besides turpentine. One common alternative is odorless solvents, popular because they don’t make your workspace smell like a chemical factory and are much safer to work with.

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These solvents are commonly known as OMS, or Odorless Mineral Spirits. This kind of solvent was created by W. J. Stoddard, who intended them for use in the dry-cleaning industry. The most popular provider of these spirits in the art world is Gamblin, though many other brands sell comparable products. You can buy them from any painting supply store in the same place you’d usually buy turpentine.

Odorless solvents will usually have toxicity ratings on the bottle, so make sure to choose one of the lowest ones you can find. Though still toxic, these are some of the mildest solvents you can get today—far milder than the traditional turpentine. They won’t produce those terrible chemical smells that turpentine does, but it’s still important to ventilate your area.

The reason they are less toxic is because they evaporate more slowly. Because of this, fewer vapors are created for you to breathe in. But since there is still vapor, breathing in too much of them will still be bad for your health, smell or not. In general though, the lower vapors and lack of smell make for a much better working environment.

Another bonus of an OMS is that it is far less damaging to your skin, should you spill a bit on yourself. Turpentine can absorbed into your blood stream via your skin (which will be burned on the surface from the exposure) and cause serious health risks.

An OMS on the skin will cause some redness and irritation, but is far less damaging long-term. Either way, always be very careful when using solvents and try as hard as possible to avoid spillage.

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