What are Solvents

VARIABLE NOUN: A solvent is a liquid that can dissolve other substances.

Solvents are chemicals that are used to dissolve oils, greases and paints, or are ingredients in paints, glues, epoxy resins, inks and pesticides. They are often used in cleaning and degreasing materials and tools and in spray painting. Examples include gasoline, acetone, alcohol, turpentine, paint thinner, kerosene, mineral spirits, toluene, xylene and methylene chloride. A solvent is usually a liquid but can also be a solid, a gas, or a supercritical fluid. The quantity of solute that can dissolve in a specific volume of solvent varies with temperature.

Types of Solvents: The chemical classification of a solvent is based on its chemical structure.

  • Hydrocarbon solvents are classified into three sub-groups based on the type of “carbon skeleton” of their molecules, giving us the aliphatic, aromatic and paraffinic solvents families. Paint thinner is a common example of a hydrocarbon solvent.
  • Oxygenated solvents are produced through chemical reactions from olefins (derived from oil or natural gas), giving us the following sub-groups: alcohols, ketones, esters, ethers, glycol ethers and glycol ether esters. The human body naturally produces ketones when it burns fat.
  • Halogenated solvents are solvents that contain a halogen such as chlorine, bromine or iodine. Many people recognize perchloroethylene as an example – a highly effective solvent used in dry cleaning.

 Federal agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publish health and safety information on individual solvents, which can find on their websites.