We’ve all had those moments where we think we have all the supplies for our project, only to find that we don’t. Maybe the store is closed or maybe you don’t have time, but you are in a pinch and need a paint thinner immediately. Now you are wondering, is it possible to use gas as a paint thinner?
Gas can be used as a paint thinner. Despite this, it is not advisable to do so. This is because gasoline is highly flammable, and also very dangerous to breathe in. Additionally, there are environmental concerns when using gasoline in this manner.
Gasoline would not be the recommended substitute for paint thinner for several explicit reasons. It seems like an easy enough solution, but it really isn’t.
Gas as a Paint Thinner
Gas is technically a petroleum distillate. What is a petroleum distillate though? This is the process wherein crude oil petroleum (a mixture of hydrocarbons that is extracted from rock strata) is heated until vapors form. Those vapors are then pulled off and are cooled back into liquid form.
The different temperatures that are used to heat the original crude oil dictate what product will be formed. For instance, burning heptane and octane (hydrocarbons) at lower temperatures will produce the gasoline that we are discussing.
At higher temperatures, mineral spirits, which we will discuss later on in the article, will form.
Each time you distill petroleum, that is a fraction. So, therefore, the lower the temperature used to form the vapors will tell you that the product will be more flammable, will evaporate faster, and is less oily. In contrast, the higher the temperature is, the less flammable it is, the slower it evaporates, and the more oily it is.
Gasoline works to thin your paint because it is a solvent. A solvent, scientifically speaking, is a substance that has the properties required to dissolve a solute. So paint thinners are all solvents that can dissolve paint to create a thinner solution and reduce the viscosity.
How is it dangerous to use gas as a thinning agent?
Despite the above section where we discussed how and why gasoline could work to thin your paint in a moment of need, it is most definitely not a recommended solution. No matter how desperate you might be to get that paint job done this weekend, I would advise you to wait until the stores open if gasoline is your only option for thinning the paint.
This is because using gas as a paint thinner is highly risky. As mentioned before, gas is a lower fraction of petroleum distillate. This means that it is highly flammable. Gasoline is composed of hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, and xylene.
These three are all on their own extremely flammable and dangerous to breathe in, so imagine them all combined together.
Xylene alone can ignite at room temperature and the vapors can form to create an explosive mixture with the air. You do not want to play around with this.
Breathing in gasoline will do some nasty things to your body as well. Being consistently exposed to these vapors so much that it becomes a chronic occurrence will result in memory loss, nausea, seizures, hallucinations, and insomnia.
These are only a few of the symptoms that come from gas exposure. If you allow this to carry on for an extended period of time, it can bring on even more serious conditions such as nerve disorders, kidney disease, brain disease, and muscle degeneration.
If you are still determined to use gasoline after all this, know that all three hydrocarbons listed above evaporate at different rates. So when you mix gasoline with your paint and start applying it to the wall, you will see that there will be a non-uniform drying rate. This will create a mottled appearance of whatever you are painting, which is something I am sure you do not want.
Alternative Paint Thinners
So now you are thinking, well what can I use? Paint thinner is important because it helps to thin your paint so it spreads evenly and creates a smooth finish. A paint thinner can also clean brushes and any other paint splatters you don’t want. Another great thing about it is that it can revive paint that has been left out and hardened a little bit.
Well, you are in luck because there are alternatives to store-bought paint thinners that you might be able to make at home if you have the right ingredients. Be aware of the type of paint you are using. You should know if it is oil-based or water-based?
Oil-based: This is composed of either synthetic oils such as alkyd, or natural oil such as linseed. If you want the finish to last for a long time, plan on using this paint type.
It’s typically used for trim because these paints can withstand contact very well, meaning they are resistant to scuffs. They take a long time to try though and the area must be well-ventilated while you paint because it is dangerous to breathe in for a long time.
Water-based (latex paints): This is an environmentally safer option, it lasts a long time, and can be applied over oil-based paints. They are best used for rooms that see a lot of moisture such as bathrooms and kitchens. It is also less expensive and smells better than oil-based paints.
So now that you understand the two different types of paints, I will explain the different ways you have to thin each one.
There is an importance in knowing the difference between the two because latex paints cannot be thinned by using petroleum-based products. Most if not all of the paint thinners are petroleum-based solvents and they do not work with water-based paints.
You must use water for water-based paints. For everyone one gallon of latex paint, use 1/2 cup of room-temperature water. Keep in mind that adding water lightens color, so you may need to do several coats before you get the desired color.
For oil-based paint, you might hear that substitutes such as baby oil, vinegar, or vegetable oil will work to thin that paint. The truth is that although those might thin the paint, the chances of you getting a subpar result are extremely high.
It is not advised that you use a substitute for oil-based paints but instead use the recommended paint thinners that you can get at the store. These options can include:
- Mineral Spirits: Petroleum based, should most likely contain entirely minerals. It is the commonly seen alternative to the popular turpentine because it smells not quite as bad. It is flammable but the low pressure vapors make it less of a hazard.
- Naphtha paint thinner: Evaporates quickly and is non-oily. It has a high strength and evaporates faster than most paint thinners.
- Turpentine: Derived from living pine trees, this is a popular option for thinning paint. The odor though is highly dangerous and smelly, so a well-ventilated area is where turpentine is best used.
- Lacquer thinner: It has been said that this can be used on oil-based paints. Although, the result might not be what the manufacturer of your paint might have intended so keep that in mind.
People commonly quote acetone as a good thinning agent. This is both true and not true. Yes, it can work but like gas, it is highly flammable so is dangerous to use.
Also, it chills the paint, and therefore water will be attracted to the paint film and the consequence will be a white blush on your paint surface. But it does work great for cleaning your tools.
If you want the best finish for your paint, use the paint thinner recommended by the paint manufacturer.
How to safely use paint thinner
Inhaling paint thinners can cause headaches, dizziness, eye irritation, weakness, and muscle twitches. Since all paint thinners emit fumes that are extremely dangerous to breathe in, there are certain precautions one should take when utilizing them.
- Well-ventilated areas are very important to being safe. You can leave windows or doors open to allow for air circulation that will move the fumes out. You can also try exhaust fans.
- Safety equipment can be another great way to stay safe. This can include goggle, gloves, and a respirator.
- Keep thinning agents away from other acidic materials as a run-in between the two can create a dangerous chemical reaction.
- Do not eat food while painting because you could potentially contaminate the food and unknowingly ingest paint thinner.
- Do not smoke in the area because should an open flame land on the paint thinner, this could result in flames that you will have trouble putting out.
- Keep away from heat or combustible materials. This might seem obvious, but some people do not give the precaution enough heed and result in a fire or explosion.
What about Diesel fuel as a thinning agent?
Just like with gasoline, you can thin paint with diesel, but it is also dangerous. Besides that, it would take absolutely forever to dry as diesel is thicker than gasoline.
Although, there have been instances where it has been used to thin oil-based gloss enamel and worked out fairly well. This YouTube video gives a good overview of this.
Environmental Concerns with gasoline
Gasoline affects the environment, which is something you should definitely take into account.
Whenever gasoline is produced, burned, or evaporated, it releases vapors into the air. These vapors are added to air pollution. Burning gasoline also produces carbon dioxide (which is a greenhouse gas).
Gasoline gets into the environment in a variety of ways, such as leaks, spills, and/or improper disposal. And although you wouldn’t think it, gasoline can also be exposed when filling up your car or emptying/filling tanker trucks because it is released into the air.
So when you would make a move to pour this gasoline into your paint, mix it, and then paint it and let it sit, it is released into the air. As it was mentioned above, it affects your health negatively, but it also affects the environment negatively.
As you are pouring the gas into your paint bucket, you might happen to spill a little on the ground. This spill will emit vapors that damage the air around you. Using gas appropriately is imperative for a safe environment. Over time, studies suggest that small spills with gas at gas stations and for at-home uses are accumulating to create a dangerous result for water and soil in residential areas.
We normally focus on large-scale spills, but there are reasons to believe that maybe we should be focusing on the small-scale spills that will eventually lead to large-scale consequences.
A senior scientist in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Markus Hilpert, states that the concrete pads at gas stations through a series of repetitive small spills while filling up cars has resulted in the gasoline seeping through the concrete and reaching the soil that lies underneath.
This then affects those who use wells in nearby areas as a water source. Through observations, researchers estimate that 1,500 liters of gas are spilled at your everyday gas station each decade. That adds up.
Keep in mind that a small-service gas station only deals out 100,000 gallons per month. Times that number by ten and then you have an idea of how many gallons a high-volume retailer gives out. Although you might not have previously thought it possible, we could be seeing high dangers in living next to a gas station.
Knowing and understanding this information might help you to understand the dangers of using gasoline for something so mundane as thinning paint to paint a room. By minimizing our use of gasoline, we can make a change in our environment that will hopefully create a chain reaction and make the environment a safer place. Source
So there you have it, gasoline is not a recommended thinning agent. Even if you are wanting to get the project finished as soon as possible, waiting and going to the store to get the appropriate paint thinners will deliver you a much better result than gas ever would.
As a homeowner, I am constantly experimenting with making the structure of my house more energy-efficient, eliminating pests, and taking on DIY home improvement projects. Over the past two decades, my family has rehabbed houses and contracted new home builds and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I share my hard-learned lessons so that you can save time and money by not repeating my mistakes.
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