Difference Between Kerosene And Turpentine

Kerosene and turpentine are two distinct liquids with unique properties and applications. While both have been used for centuries, their origins, compositions, and uses set them apart. This article explores the key differences between kerosene and turpentine, shedding light on their specific roles in various industries.

Kerosene is a flammable hydrocarbon liquid derived from petroleum, primarily used for heating, lighting, and as jet fuel. Turpentine, on the other hand, is a solvent distilled from the resin of pine trees, commonly used as a paint thinner and in medicinal applications. Understanding these differences is crucial for selecting the right substance for your needs.

Both kerosene and turpentine have significant historical importance and continue to be relevant today. Kerosene’s role in providing affordable lighting and heating solutions, especially in remote areas, contrasts with turpentine’s niche applications in art, cleaning, and healthcare. Each substance has specific properties that make it suitable for its respective uses.

What is Kerosene?

Definition and Composition

Kerosene is a flammable hydrocarbon liquid derived from petroleum. It is composed mainly of alkanes and cycloalkanes, which are saturated hydrocarbons. The chemical formula for kerosene can vary, but it generally falls within the range of C10H22 to C15H32. This versatile fuel is known for its stability and high energy density.

Historical Background

Kerosene has a rich history dating back to the mid-19th century. It was first distilled from coal by Canadian geologist Abraham Gesner in 1846. The discovery of kerosene provided a safer and more efficient alternative to whale oil for lighting. By the late 19th century, kerosene became widely used for lamps, heating, and cooking, particularly in rural areas without access to electricity.

Common Uses

Kerosene has various applications, making it an essential energy source worldwide. Some of the most common uses include:

  • Heating and Lighting: Kerosene heaters and lamps are still used in many parts of the world, especially in remote and rural areas.
  • Aviation Fuel: Kerosene is a key component in jet fuel, providing the necessary energy for commercial and military aircraft.
  • Cleaning Solvent: Kerosene is used as a solvent in industries for cleaning and degreasing machinery and tools.

What is Turpentine?

Definition and Composition

Turpentine is a volatile liquid obtained by distilling resin from pine trees. It consists mainly of terpenes, including pinene, camphene, and limonene. Turpentine is known for its strong, pungent odor and is commonly used as a solvent and in medicinal applications.

Historical Background

Turpentine has been used for centuries, dating back to ancient civilizations. It was originally obtained by tapping pine trees and collecting the resin. The resin was then distilled to produce turpentine oil. In the 18th and 19th centuries, turpentine production became a significant industry in the southern United States, particularly in states like North Carolina and Georgia.

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Common Uses

Turpentine has a variety of applications, primarily due to its solvent properties. Some of the most common uses include:

  • Paint Thinner: Turpentine is widely used as a paint thinner and cleaner for brushes and other painting tools.
  • Medicinal Uses: Turpentine has been used in traditional medicine for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Cleaning and Degreasing: It is effective in removing grease and tar from machinery and surfaces.

Production Processes

How Kerosene is Made

The production of kerosene involves several steps, primarily within the oil refining process. Here is a simplified overview:

  • Crude Oil Extraction: Crude oil is extracted from underground reservoirs through drilling.
  • Distillation: The crude oil is heated in a distillation column. Different components are separated based on their boiling points. Kerosene is typically collected in the middle distillate fraction.
  • Hydrotreating: The kerosene fraction undergoes hydrotreating to remove sulfur and other impurities.
  • Blending and Additives: The purified kerosene is blended with additives to improve its performance and stability.

How Turpentine is Made

Turpentine production involves extracting and distilling resin from pine trees. The process includes the following steps:

  • Resin Collection: Pine trees are tapped, and the resin is collected in containers.
  • Distillation: The resin is heated in a distillation unit. Turpentine oil is separated from the solid rosin during this process.
  • Purification: The turpentine oil is further purified to remove impurities and enhance its quality.

Chemical Properties

Kerosene Properties

Kerosene has several important chemical properties:

  • Hydrocarbon Composition: Mainly composed of alkanes and cycloalkanes.
  • Boiling Range: Typically between 150°C to 300°C.
  • Flash Point: Approximately 38°C, making it relatively safe to handle compared to gasoline.

Turpentine Properties

Turpentine’s chemical properties include:

  • Terpene Composition: Contains compounds such as pinene, camphene, and limonene.
  • Boiling Point: Ranges from 150°C to 180°C.
  • Solubility: Soluble in alcohol and other organic solvents, but not in water.

Physical Properties

Appearance and Odor

  • Kerosene: Clear to pale yellow liquid with a characteristic odor.
  • Turpentine: Clear liquid with a strong, pungent pine-like odor.

Boiling and Freezing Points

  • Kerosene: Boiling point ranges from 150°C to 300°C; freezing point is around -40°C.
  • Turpentine: Boiling point ranges from 150°C to 180°C; freezing point is around -55°C.

Density and Viscosity

  • Kerosene: Density is approximately 0.78 to 0.81 g/cm³; viscosity is low, allowing it to flow easily.
  • Turpentine: Density is around 0.86 g/cm³; viscosity is higher compared to kerosene, making it thicker.

Uses and Applications

Kerosene Applications

Heating and Lighting

Kerosene is widely used for heating and lighting in areas without reliable access to electricity. Kerosene heaters provide efficient heating for homes and outdoor spaces. Kerosene lamps offer a reliable light source, especially in remote regions.

Aviation Fuel

Kerosene serves as the primary component in jet fuel. Its high energy density and stability make it ideal for powering commercial and military aircraft. Jet-A and Jet-A1 fuels are standard types of aviation kerosene used globally.

Cleaning Solvent

In industrial settings, kerosene is used as a cleaning solvent. It effectively removes grease, oil, and dirt from machinery, engines, and tools. Its low viscosity helps it penetrate and dissolve contaminants.

Turpentine Applications

Paint Thinner

Turpentine is a popular paint thinner used by artists and professionals. It effectively dilutes oil-based paints and varnishes, making them easier to apply. It also cleans brushes and other painting tools, ensuring they remain in good condition.

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Medicinal Uses

Turpentine has been used in traditional medicine for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is sometimes applied topically to treat minor cuts, wounds, and muscle pain. However, its use in medicine has declined with the advent of more modern treatments.

Cleaning and Degreasing

Turpentine is effective in cleaning and degreasing. It can remove tough stains, tar, and adhesives from surfaces. Its strong solvent properties make it suitable for heavy-duty cleaning tasks in industrial and domestic settings.

Safety Considerations

Handling and Storage

Kerosene and turpentine require careful handling and storage due to their flammability and potential health hazards. Here are some key points:

  • Kerosene:
    • Store in a cool, well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight and heat sources.
    • Use approved containers with proper labeling.
    • Keep away from open flames, sparks, and other ignition sources.
    • Ensure containers are tightly sealed to prevent leaks and evaporation.
  • Turpentine:
    • Store in a cool, dry place, away from heat and direct sunlight.
    • Use containers made of non-reactive materials, such as glass or certain plastics.
    • Keep turpentine containers tightly closed when not in use.
    • Avoid storing near strong oxidizers or acidic substances.

Health Risks

Both kerosene and turpentine pose health risks if not handled properly.

  • Kerosene:
    • Inhalation: Breathing kerosene vapors can cause dizziness, headaches, and respiratory irritation.
    • Ingestion: Swallowing kerosene can lead to severe internal damage, including lung aspiration, which can be fatal.
    • Skin Contact: Prolonged skin contact can result in irritation, redness, and dermatitis.
  • Turpentine:
    • Inhalation: Inhaling turpentine vapors can cause respiratory issues, including coughing, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
    • Ingestion: Swallowing turpentine can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, and severe internal damage.
    • Skin Contact: Direct contact with turpentine can irritate the skin, leading to redness and blistering.

Environmental Impact

Both substances have environmental impacts that must be considered.

  • Kerosene:
    • Spills and leaks can contaminate soil and water.
    • Burning kerosene releases pollutants, including carbon dioxide (CO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), contributing to air pollution and climate change.
  • Turpentine:
    • Improper disposal can harm aquatic life and soil health.
    • Turpentine vapors contribute to air pollution and can affect local air quality.

Differences in Composition

Chemical Structure

Kerosene and turpentine have distinct chemical structures.

  • Kerosene: Composed primarily of alkanes and cycloalkanes. It contains molecules with 10 to 15 carbon atoms.
  • Turpentine: Consists mainly of terpenes, such as pinene, camphene, and limonene. These are organic compounds with strong odors.

Source Materials

The source materials for kerosene and turpentine differ significantly.

  • Kerosene: Derived from petroleum, a fossil fuel obtained through drilling and refining crude oil.
  • Turpentine: Sourced from the resin of pine trees. The resin is harvested and distilled to produce turpentine oil.

Differences in Uses

Industrial Applications

Both kerosene and turpentine have industrial applications, but they serve different purposes.

  • Kerosene:
    • Used as a fuel for jet engines and certain types of lamps and heaters.
    • Employed as a solvent in cleaning and degreasing operations.
  • Turpentine:
    • Used as a solvent in the paint industry, particularly for thinning oil-based paints.
    • Employed in the chemical industry to produce fragrances, flavors, and resins.

Household Applications

Kerosene and turpentine also have various household applications.

  • Kerosene:
    • Used in heating stoves and lamps, especially in areas without reliable electricity.
    • Employed as a cleaning agent for removing grease and oil stains.
  • Turpentine:
    • Used as a paint thinner for cleaning brushes and thinning paint.
    • Applied in traditional medicine for its antiseptic properties, although modern use is limited.
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Market and Availability

Global Production and Demand

The production and demand for kerosene and turpentine vary globally.

  • Kerosene:
    • Produced in large quantities as a byproduct of petroleum refining.
    • High demand in regions with limited electricity access and in the aviation industry.
  • Turpentine:
    • Production is concentrated in regions with abundant pine forests, such as the United States, Russia, and China.
    • Demand is steady in the paint, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries.

Cost Comparison

The cost of kerosene and turpentine can fluctuate based on several factors.

  • Kerosene:
    • Generally more affordable due to its widespread production and multiple uses.
    • Prices can be affected by crude oil prices and geopolitical factors.
  • Turpentine:
    • Tends to be more expensive due to the labor-intensive process of resin collection and distillation.
    • Prices can be influenced by the availability of pine trees and environmental regulations.

Environmental Impact

Pollution and Emissions

Both kerosene and turpentine contribute to pollution and emissions, but in different ways.

  • Kerosene:
    • Burning kerosene releases greenhouse gases and pollutants, such as CO2 and SO2.
    • Spills can lead to soil and water contamination, affecting ecosystems and wildlife.
  • Turpentine:
    • Evaporation of turpentine contributes to air pollution, particularly in urban areas.
    • Improper disposal can lead to soil and water pollution, harming aquatic life.

Sustainable Alternatives

There are sustainable alternatives to both kerosene and turpentine.

  • Kerosene Alternatives:
    • Biofuels: Produced from renewable resources like plant oils and animal fats, offering a cleaner alternative.
    • Solar Energy: Solar-powered lamps and heaters can replace kerosene in areas with ample sunlight.
  • Turpentine Alternatives:
    • Water-based Paints: These paints reduce the need for turpentine as a solvent.
    • Eco-friendly Solvents: Derived from natural sources, these solvents offer a greener option for cleaning and paint thinning.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main uses of kerosene?

Kerosene is primarily used for heating and lighting in households, particularly in regions without access to electricity. It also serves as a fuel for jet engines and as a solvent in various industrial applications. Its versatility and availability make it a popular choice for multiple uses.

How is turpentine produced?

Turpentine is produced by distilling the resin obtained from pine trees. The process involves collecting the resin, which is then heated to separate the turpentine oil from the solid rosin. This method has been used for centuries and remains the standard way to produce turpentine.

Are kerosene and turpentine interchangeable?

No, kerosene and turpentine are not interchangeable due to their different chemical compositions and uses. Kerosene is a petroleum-based fuel, while turpentine is a plant-derived solvent. Each has specific applications, and using one in place of the other could result in ineffective or dangerous outcomes.

What safety precautions should be taken when handling kerosene and turpentine?

When handling kerosene, it is important to store it in a well-ventilated area away from open flames and heat sources due to its flammability. For turpentine, proper ventilation is crucial to avoid inhaling harmful fumes. Both substances should be kept out of reach of children and used according to safety guidelines to prevent accidents and health risks.

How do the environmental impacts of kerosene and turpentine compare?

Kerosene combustion releases pollutants that contribute to air pollution and climate change. Turpentine, while more environmentally friendly in its production, can still pose environmental risks if not disposed of properly. Choosing sustainable alternatives and adhering to environmental regulations can mitigate these impacts.


Kerosene and turpentine, though similar in some aspects, serve different purposes and have distinct properties. Kerosene is widely used for heating and lighting, especially in remote areas, while turpentine finds its niche in the arts, cleaning, and medicinal fields. Understanding these differences helps in making informed decisions regarding their use.

In conclusion, knowing when to use kerosene or turpentine can significantly impact the effectiveness and safety of your projects. By considering their unique properties and applications, you can choose the right substance for your needs, ensuring both efficiency and safety.

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