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White spirit (aka mineral spirits or mineral turps in the US), methylated spirits (aka denatured alcohol in the US), and isopropyl alcohol are each used for preparing surfaces, or removing oily residues.

Other than 'whichever is to hand' or 'the cheapest', is there any reason to prefer one over the other for this application?

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You need to match the solvent to the type of material you trying to remove. Fundamentally there are polar and nonpolar molecules. Water and denatured alcohol are polar and mineral spirits is nonpolar. Oils are nonpolar, which is why oil and water don't mix. So to clean up an oily surface, you need mineral spirits. Somehow some dishwashing liquids also work (like Dawn).

YES...I know there is a LOT more to this subject, but just trying to answer the OP's question without going overboard.

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  • Interesting, thanks! So one might have a surface that requires a wipe with one of each, due to the mix of 'types of grime' on it. For completeness, Wikipedia says IPA also "dissolves a wide-range of non-polar compounds". Can you comment on IPA vs. white (mineral) spirit for non-polar grime - any other property to look for, or does it just come down to price and availability at that point?
    – OJFord
    Commented Apr 8, 2021 at 10:47
  • Maybe a bit of a language/terminology issue here, not sure what you mean by IPA? Here in the US, it's a type of beer! LOL Commented Apr 8, 2021 at 11:37
  • Ha, sorry, here (UK) too - but I meant isopropyl alcohol. (Not recommended drinking!)
    – OJFord
    Commented Apr 8, 2021 at 11:40
  • does this also imply that in preparing say a wooden surface for finishing, you'd want methylated/denatured spirit if you were going to apply a water-based finish, and white/mineral spirit for an oil-based finish? Either way it'd mostly evaporate of course, but thinking of any residue left behind.
    – OJFord
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 15:40
  • Also I'm still confused over isopropyl vs ethyl (incl. methylated/denatured) alcohol - assuming the denaturants themselves are not a concern (which they perhaps could be if they might leave a residue once evaporated) or if one was willing to buy pure ethanol (i.e. pay tax on it) is there any reason to prefer isopropyl alcohol (aka isopropanol, aka IPA)?
    – OJFord
    Commented May 23, 2021 at 13:45

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