Turpentine (oil)

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A volatile, flammable liquid used for thinning oil paints. Turpentine is obtained as the steam distillate from the thick resinous extract from coniferous trees (gum turpentine). The crude resin contains about 65 percent Rosin (solid residue) and 18 percent oil of turpentine. The volatile distillate, or oil of turpentine, is a mixture of cyclic monoterpene hydrocarbons, with the major component being pinene. The current sources of turpentine are primarily the United States (Carolinas, Georgia) and France. Turpentine has been known since classical times. It is primarily used as a solvent for artist paints and varnishes and as a cleaner for paint brushes. It is also a good solvent for many natural resins, waxes, oils, plastics and rubber. The best quality turpentine is fresh, clear and thin. Turpentine thickens and yellows with age; moisture can cause cloudiness in varnishes. Three major grades of turpentine are:

- Pure Gum Spirits of Turpentine (double distilled, rectified) is pure, and without water. This is the grade of turpentine used by artists.

- Wood turpentine is made from ground or chipped pine wood.

- Sulfate turpentine is obtained as a byproduct of the paper pulping industry.

The chief varieties of turpentine are:

- common turpentine (Pinus abies, Pinus sylvestis, etc.),

- Venice turpentine (Larix Europea),

- Bordeaux turpentine (Pinus maritime),

- Strasbourg turpentine (Abies picea),

- China turpentine (Pistacia lentiscus),

- Canadian turpentine (Abies balsamisfera),

- Chian turpentine (Pistacia terebinthus), and

- American turpentine (Pinus australix, Pinus taeda).

Synonyms and Related Terms

spirits of turpentine; esencia de trementina (Esp.); huile de terebenthine (Fr.); essence de térébenthine (Fr.); Terpentinol (Deut.); gum spirits; wood turpentine; gum turpentine; olio di trementina (It); acqua ragia (It); turpentine; oil of turpentine (before WWI); turps


  • Skin contact may cause irritation or allergies.
  • Flammable. Fire risk. Flash point 32-46 C (90-115 F)
  • Toxic by ingestion, inhalation and skin absorption.
  • Fisher Scientific: MSDS.

Physical and Chemical Properties

Soluble in ethanol, chloroform, ether, glacial acetic acid. Insoluble in water.

Composition C10H16
CAS 8006-64-2
Density 0.85-0.91 g/ml
Refractive Index 1.463-1.483
Boiling Point 155-174 C

Resources and Citations

  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 831
  • Richard S. Lewis, Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 10th ed., 1993
  • R. J. Gettens, G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966
  • Matt Roberts, Don Etherington, Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: a Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 1982
  • Dictionary of Building Preservation, Ward Bucher, ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York City, 1996
  • Reed Kay, The Painter's Guide To Studio Methods and Materials, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1983
  • Hermann Kuhn, Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art and Antiquities, Butterworths, London, 1986
  • Susan E. Schur, Conservation Terminology: A review of Past & Current Nomenclature of Materials, Technology and Conservation, Spring (p.34-39); Summer (p.35-38); Fall (p.25-36), 1985
  • Michael McCann, Artist Beware, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York City, 1979
  • John S. Mills, Raymond White, The Organic Chemistry of Museum Objects, Butterworth Heineman, London, 2nd ed., 1994
  • Thomas B. Brill, Light Its Interaction with Art and Antiquities, Plenum Press, New York City, 1980