Paint Thinner in a Gas Tank: What REALLY Happens?! (Explained)

If you plan on cleaning your catalytic converters, you may come across some claims that a paint thinner can do the job. Whether it’s from a youtube video or a random post on social media, you probably think of doing such. However, you may wonder if it’s true. Moreover, you may worry if it won’t hurt your engine. So, you may ask:

If you put paint thinner in a gas tank, what really happens? If you put paint thinner in a gas tank, you can damage your entire fuel system. Most fuel systems these days have rubber and plastic parts. Since paint thinner is highly corrosive, it can damage your engine. Thus, it would be best not to pursue it and have your engine cleaned by a professional.

Paint thinners vary in components for every brand. While some formulas contain less corrosive materials, some contain acetone and similar substances. Such components can harm your engine, particularly by melting the rubber and plastic parts. Thus, it would be best not to mix thinners with your fuel.

In this article, you’ll see our in-depth take on paint thinner and how it can damage your gas tank if you put some in it. This way, you can understand the possible risks it involves and how you should deal with it if someone puts thinner in your gas tank. 

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

Paint Thinner in a Gas Tank

What happens if you put paint thinner in a gas tank?

If you put paint thinner in a gas tank, you risk your engine of significant damage through rust, corrosion, and eventual degradation from the inside of your tank.

One thing to note about paint thinner is that it contains highly corrosive components such as acetone. Thus, it can lead to damaging most of the parts in your fuel system.

For instance, you can damage stuff such as the wires in the tank, the fuel pump, and the fuel filter. Moreover, you can even melt the adhesive that binds all the parts together.

In short, you can damage even the essential parts such as the fuel pressure regulator, oxygen sensors, and even the fuel injector per se.

If the temperature of your car continues to increase, the paint thinner can also burn exhaust valves and even the core in the converter.

In short, it can cause a lot of damage. Here are some short and long-term effects of putting paint thinner in a gas tank.

Short term effects

The short-term effects of paint thinner in a gas tank will vary based on how much you use. A tiny amount of paint thinner put into a gasoline tank, for example, is unlikely to create any problems.

However, you may notice a smokey exhaust and poor engine performance. Although the tiny amount of paint thinner may not be harmful, it is still not a smart move.

Long term effects

Assume you have leftover paint thinner in your petrol tank. You risk contaminating your gasoline in such a scenario, resulting in poor performance and eventually wear out of your engine system.

Paint thinner is not a suitable substance in the engine. Therefore it will cause long-term and short-term damage to your car.

Can you mix paint thinner and gasoline?

Technically, yes. You can mix paint thinner and gasoline. However, it’s not something you should do, especially if you plan on using it for your engine.

The paint thinner can contaminate the gasoline, degrading its value and causing poor performance. Thus, it would be best not to add such a substance to your gas tank.

Furthermore, the mixture of such can lead your engine to stall and eventually shut down. For this reason, you need to avoid it at all costs.

Can paint thinner in a gas tank damage an engine?

Yes, paint thinner in a gas tank can damage an engine. Acetone and other corrosive chemicals are present in lacquer thinners. 

Your gasoline system is full of delicate rubber fittings and plastic parts, especially in newer models. Thus, you can damage it if you use a corrosive chemical like a paint thinner. 

In short, it can harm such components, causing the rubber fittings and lines to degrade and the plastic pieces to melt.

How much paint thinner in a gas tank will ruin it?

Even a single can of paint thinner can ruin an engine. For example, assume you continue to operate your engine with paint thinner-contaminated gasoline after completing two fills. In that scenario, it may temporarily deactivate your engine.

The contamination of the whole engine system can be caused by a simple combination of paint thinner and gasoline. As a result, it will affect your vehicle’s general performance and cause serious troubles and problems.

Because paint thinner is a lighter diesel blend, it will not spark-ignition engines. As a result, a paint-thinner tank is unlikely to start. As a result, your car will not perform appropriately after two fills of paint thinner-contaminated fuel.

Paint Thinner in Gas Tank

Can you tell if someone put paint thinner in your gas tank?

Yes, you can tell if someone put paint thinner in your gas tank. The paint thinner will combine with the fuel if this occurs. As a result, when the engine runs and the gasoline begins to burn, the paint thinner may create inefficient combustion and smoky exhaust.

Because of the poor combustion, your engine will produce a lot of smoke. If your car is running and producing a lot of smoke, you should shut it down and inspect it. Another risk is that the paint thinner will clog the engine if it is not burnt.

Paint thinner would leave residues in your engine, which can cause clogging. As a result, your vehicle will likely stop, causing damage over time.

To avoid issues, switch off your gas tank and get it checked as soon as possible if you believe someone has put paint thinner in it.

How to get the paint thinner out of a gas tank?

If you detect paint thinner in your gas tank, you must remove it right away. However, it may be a challenging task.

You should turn off the engine and empty the gas tank. Further, you’ll likely need to change the fuel filter.

It’s ideal if your gas tank has a cap or access from the trunk’s top. If that’s the case, you’re free to look inside. It’s usually located beneath the back seat in certain cars.

If this is the case, the paint thinner in the tank may mix with the fuel. As a result, you’ll need to drain the fuel and replace it with fresh.


In a nutshell, paint thinners have no place in a gas tank. You can destroy your entire fuel system if you put paint thinner in a gas tank. Most modern gasoline systems have rubber and plastic components. Paint thinner is extremely corrosive and might harm your engine. As a result, it’s better not to pursue it and instead get your engine professionally cleaned.

Every brand of paint thinner has different ingredients. While some recipes use less caustic ingredients, others use acetone and other comparable chemicals. Such components can harm your engine by melting rubber and plastic components. As a result, it’s advisable to avoid mixing thinners with your gasoline.

As always, keep in mind that paint thinner is not a substitute for fuel, nor can you mix it with such. Further, it wouldn’t do any good to your engine’s health if you put some in your tank.



Image credits – Canva

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My name is Hank, and I've been in the automotive industry for 27 years. I've been working in my own auto repair shop for the last 13 years, and now I want to help you here, on my blog. Let me know if you have any questions. Read more