AskDefine | Define turpentine

Dictionary Definition



1 obtained from conifers (especially pines) [syn: gum terpentine]
2 volatile liquid distilled from turpentine oleoresin; used as paint thinner and solvent and medicinally [syn: oil of turpentine, spirit of turpentine, turps]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • IPA: /ˈtɝ.pɪn.ˌtain/
  • Schoolbook Phonetics: (tûrʹpĭntīnʺ)
  • Last Resort Phonetics: TIRR-pin-tighn


turpentine (or turps)
  1. a volatile essential oil obtained from the wood of pine trees by steam distillation; it is a complex mixture of monoterpenes; it is used as a solvent and paint thinner

Extensive Definition

Turpentine (also called spirit of turpentine, oil of turpentine, wood turpentine, gum turpentine) is a fluid obtained by the distillation of resin obtained from trees, mainly pine trees. It is composed of terpenes, mainly the monoterpenes alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. It has a potent odor similar to that of nail polish remover. It is sometimes known colloquially as turps, but this more often refers to turpentine substitute (or mineral turpentine).
The word turpentine is formed (via French and Latin) from the Greek word terebinthine, the name of a species of tree, the terebinth tree, from whose sap the spirit was originally distilled.


One of the earliest sources was the terebinth or turpentine tree (Pistacia terebinthus), a Mediterranean tree related to the pistachio.
Important pines for turpentine production include:

Industrial and other end uses

The two primary uses of turpentine in industry are as a solvent and as a source of materials for organic synthesis.
As a solvent, turpentine is used for thinning oil-based paints, for producing varnishes, and as a raw material for the chemical industry. Its industrial use as a solvent in industrialized nations has largely been replaced by the much cheaper turpentine substitutes distilled from crude oil.
Canada balsam, also called Canada turpentine or balsam of fir, is a turpentine which is made from the resin of the balsam fir.
Venice turpentine is produced from the Western Larch Larix occidentalis.
Turpentine is also used as a source of raw materials in the synthesis of fragrant chemical compounds. Commercially used camphor, linalool, alpha-terpineol, and geraniol are all usually produced from alpha-pinene and beta-pinene, which are two of the chief chemical components of turpentine. These pinenes are separated and purified by distillation. The mixture of diterpenes and triterpenes that is left as residue after turpentine distillation is sold as rosin.
Turpentine is also added to many cleaning and sanitary products due to its antiseptic properties and its "clean scent".
In early 19th Century America, turpentine was sometimes burned in lamps as a cheap alternative to whale oil. It was most commonly used for outdoor lighting, due to its strong odor.


Turpentine is an organic solvent, and thus poses many of the same hazards as do other such substances. Its vapor can burn the skin and eyes, damage the lungs and respiratory system, as well as the central nervous system when inhaled, and cause renal failure when ingested, among other things. It is highly flammable.

Medicinal elixir

Turpentine and petroleum distillates such as coal oil and kerosene have been used medicinally since ancient times, as topical and sometimes internal home remedies. Topically it has been used for abrasions and wounds, as a treatment for lice, and when mixed with animal fat it has been used as a chest rub, or inhaler for nasal and throat ailments. Many modern chest rubs, such as the Vicks variety, still contain turpentine in their formulations.
Though internal administration of these toxic products is no longer common today, it was once administered by masking the taste by dosing sugar cubes, molasses, or honey, or when unavailable, straight. It was touted as treatment for intestinal parasites due to its alleged antiseptic and diuretic properties, and a general cure-all.


turpentine in Bulgarian: Терпентин
turpentine in Catalan: Trementina
turpentine in Danish: Terpentin
turpentine in German: Terpentin
turpentine in Spanish: Trementina
turpentine in Esperanto: Terebinto
turpentine in French: térébenthine
turpentine in Italian: Trementina
turpentine in Hebrew: טרפנטין
turpentine in Dutch: Terpentijn
turpentine in Japanese: テレビン油
turpentine in Norwegian: Terpentin
turpentine in Polish: Terpentyna
turpentine in Portuguese: Terebintina
turpentine in Russian: Скипидар
turpentine in Finnish: Tärpätti
turpentine in Swedish: Terpentin

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

chromogen, coat, coat of paint, coating, color, color filter, color gelatin, colorant, coloring, dead-color, distemper, drier, dye, dyestuff, exterior paint, flat coat, flat wash, floor enamel, ground, interior paint, medium, opaque color, paint, pigment, prime coat, primer, priming, stain, tempera, thinner, tinction, tincture, transparent color, turps, undercoat, undercoating, vehicle, wash, wash coat
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