Definition of Solvents

What Are Solvents?

Solvents are a class of chemicals that are used for the purposes of dissolving, extracting, or suspending materials, usually without altering their chemical make-up. Solvents are usually liquids, though they can also be in the form of a gas or solid, and generally work on the principle that the solvent will have similar properties to the substance it is attempting to dissolve, extract, or suspend.

Solvents are versatile substances and are used in a variety of consumer and industrial products:

  • Household and commercial cleaning products for removing particular kinds of substances
  • Added to some spray paints, correction fluids, and personal care products (like nail polish removers and hairspray) to give them quick-dry qualities
  • Found in spot removers and detergents (including those used for dry cleaning)
  • Added to outdoor paints to help them maintain their depth of color and appearance over a long period of time
  • Added to inks to prevent them from smudging
  • Used in gasoline and other fuels

There are both organic and inorganic solvents. Inorganic solvents are those based on carbon-containing structures, such as hydrocarbon and oxygenated solvents. Organic solvents, on the other hand, do not contain carbon and are often water-based. There are many solvents to consider. Here is a list of some of the most well known:

  • 1,4-Dioxane
  • Acetic acid
  • Acetone
  • Acetonitrile (MeCN)
  • Benzene
  • Chloroform
  • Cyclohexane
  • Cyclopentane
  • Dichloromethane (DCM)
  • Diethyl ether
  • Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO)
  • Dimethylformamide (DMF)
  • Ethanol
  • Ethyl acetate
  • Formic acid
  • Hexane
  • Isopropanol (IPA)
  • Methanol
  • n-Butanol
  • n-Propanol
  • Pentane
  • Tetrahydrofuran (THF)
  • Toluene
  • Water

While solvents have many uses, they are also connected to several important environmental and health issues:

  • Solvents can cause dizziness, nausea, rashes, headaches, and cancer
  • Solvents can be quite poisonous, contributing to brain, liver, endocrine, and kidney damage
  • Solvents are often considered volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and contribute to ground-level ozone and air pollution
  • Solvents are generally flammable and can explode when vaporized and combined with air
  • Solvents can travel long distances as air and soil pollutants and cause a variety of adverse impacts on environmental systems as they travel
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