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solvent (from the Latin solvō, “loosen, untie, solve”) is a substance that dissolves a solute, resulting in a solution. A solvent is usually a liquid but can also be a solid, a gas, or a supercritical fluid. Water is a solvent for polar molecules and the most common solvent used by living things; all the ions and proteins in a cell are dissolved in water within the cell.

The quantity of solute that can dissolve in a specific volume of solvent varies with temperature. Major uses of solvents are in paints, paint removers, inks, and dry cleaning.[2] Specific uses for organic solvents are in dry cleaning (e.g. tetrachloroethylene); as paint thinners (tolueneturpentine); as nail polish removers and solvents of glue (acetonemethyl acetateethyl acetate); in spot removers (hexane, petrol ether); in detergents (citrus terpenes); and in perfumes (ethanol). Solvents find various applications in chemical, pharmaceutical, oil, and gas industries, including in chemical syntheses and purification processes.

Uses and Benefits

Solvents are critical to the effectiveness of many products consumers use every day:

  • Solvents in Paints and Coatings: In paints, solvents dissolve or disperse the components used in the paint formulation, to make paint the desired consistency for application and to avoid clumps or globs. Glycol ether esters are added to some spray paints to prevent them from drying in mid-air. The slow evaporation of this powerful group of solvents means that cars, for example, can get several smooth, flawless applications of paint for a beautiful, more durable finish.
  • Solvents in Inks: Many inks, used to print everything from magazines to food packaging and labels, rely on solvents to be applied properly, stay in place, and achieve their vivid colors. The hydrocarbon solvent toluene is used as the ink solvent in a specialized type of magazine printing, because it evaporates quickly enough to prevent smudging and leftover toluene is easily recycled.
  • Solvents in Personal Care Products: Many cosmetic products rely on solvents to dissolve ingredients and enable them to work properly. Solvents are used in lotions, powders and shaving creams to provide appropriate consistency for the product. Ethanol is used by perfume manufacturers as their solvent of choice because of its low odor. The low boiling point of ethanol means that the solvent evaporates quickly and does not remain on the skin. Ethyl acetate or acetone is used in nail polish and is especially valued for its fast-drying properties. It is also used in nail polish removal fluids, and its high solvency power means that the polish can be removed easily from the nail.
  • Solvents in Cleaning Products: Glycol ethers are highly effective as an active component of heavy-duty glass, floor and other hard surface cleaning formulations. These solvents have good water compatibility, high solvency for greases and oils and good biodegradability. Isoparaffins are used to dry-clean clothes. These solvents are valued for their low odor, favorable health and environmental profile, safe handling characteristics and excellent cleaning efficiency.




  • Solvents in Healthcare Applications: Solvents are used in hundreds of pharmaceutical products and contribute to many of the medicines people use today, from penicillin to aspirin, cough syrup and topical ointments. Butyl acetate is used to purify penicillin by keeping impurities in solution while the penicillin is selectively removed from the reaction mixture by extraction.
  • Solvents in Automotive: Solvents help washer fluid remove dirt and grime from the windshield. Isopropyl alcohol is used as a windscreen de-icing and cleaning solvent because it stays in liquid form well below the freezing point of water and therefore helps to remove the ice. It removes stains that appear on the windscreen and is also used in the home in window cleaning products. Aliphatic hydrocarbons are used in the production of tires. The solvent softens and cleans each rubber layer before the next one is applied, and its adhesive qualities help bind together the various components of the tire for increased safety and improved performance.