Turpentine is a strong-smelling, flammable solvent made from the resin and oil of pine trees. Pure turpentine is marketed for use as a paintbrush cleaner and paint thinner. Turpentine is also an ingredient in some varnishes and in waxes and polishes for floors and furniture.
Turpentine contains terpenes, which are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or substances that easily evaporate into the air, producing smelly fumes. Turpentine vapors can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract and may cause headaches, coughing, nausea, dizziness and other symptoms. Children can inhale turpentine fumes when paint thinners or other products containing turpentine are being used.
If you chose to use turpentine, open windows and provide plenty of ventilation, and keep children away during use.
Immediate Health Effects
- If SWALLOWED, turpentine is Highly Toxic
- If ABSORBED THROUGH SKIN, turpentine is Moderately Toxic
- If INHALED (SNIFFED OR BREATHED IN), turpentine is Moderately Toxic
Longterm or Delayed Health Effects
- This chemical is considered an Unclassifiable Carcinogen by the World Health Organization, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or another agency.
- Neurotoxin = Can harm brain and central nervous system
- If inhaled, turpentine can irritate the nose, throat and lungs, causing coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and sore throat. Breathing vapors may affect the brain or nervous system, causing headache, dizziness, confusion and nausea. Vapors are also irritating to the eyes.
- If swallowed, turpentine can cause burning and pain in the mouth, throat, and abdomen; nausea; vomiting; diarrhea; central nervous system effects including confusion and stupor; and/or rapid pulse.
- Turpentine has not been evaluated as to carcinogenicity.
- Skin contact with turpentine can cause irritation and redness, and longer term exposure can cause may cause eczema and dermatitis. Turpentine can be absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream.
- Repeated or longterm exposure may damage the kidneys, bladder and central nervous system and cause skin allergy and eczema. Workers exposed to terpenes for longer than five years may also be at greater risk of developing lung cancer.
How to detect turpentine
How to minimize exposure to turpentine
For More information
Books, articles, factsheets and reports
Other government agencies
National Library of Medicine Household Products Database
Environmental Defense Chemical Scorecard