White spirit is a transparent, clear, and petroleum-derived clear liquid with a detectable characteristic odor. It is composed of complex hydrocarbon mixtures produced by hydro-treating petroleum cut. It is first developed in 1924 by Atlanta dry cleaner W. J. Stoddard and Lloyd E. Jackson who worked in the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research. Now there are three common types and grades of white spirits depending on its applications and the crude oil used for the first starting component.
All types of white spirit are obtained by the distillation from naphtha and kerosene components of crude petroleum. In terms of white spirit type 1, the most common and traditional white spirit, 25 percent of its aromatics are obtained from the straight-run kerosene and straight-run naphtha by the fractional distillation process. Additionally, either after or before the distillation, a hydrodesulfurization step needs to be taken.
As a petroleum distillate, white spirits most common applications are mild solvent and paint thinner. It is also used as an organic solvent due to its solvent properties. White spirit is used as an extraction solvent, as a degreasing solvent, and as a cleaning solvent.
It is used to clean and degrease machine tools and parts in industry. It can also be used to cut oil as a reaming lubricant and thread cutting. White spirits are an inexpensive petroleum-based replacement for the vegetable-based turpentine. It is commonly used as a paint thinner for cleaning brushes.