8 Solvent Examples in Everyday Life


In our daily life, we come across several mixed liquids that we call solutions. These solutions are composed of a solute dissolved in a solvent. A solvent is the component of a solution that is present in a greater amount than solute, and hence, determines the phase of the solution. Oftentimes, a solvent is a liquid; however, it can be a gas, solid, or supercritical fluid. The amount of solvent required to dissolve a solute depends on temperature and the presence of other substances in a sample. The word “solvent” comes from the Latin solvō, which means to loosen or untie. Based on polarity, solvents are classified into two categories: Polar solvents (e.g., water) that favor the formation of ions, and nonpolar ones (e.g., hydrocarbons), which do not. They can be either acidic, basic, amphoteric (both), or aprotic (neither). There are several organic compounds including aromatic compounds and other hydrocarbons, such as alcohols, esters, ethers, ketones, amines, and nitrated and halogenated hydrocarbons, which are used as solvents. Organic solvents are predominantly used as media for chemical syntheses of industrial chemicals, and they are also used in extractive processes, pharmaceuticals, inks, paints, varnishes, and lacquers. Water is by far considered a universal solvent due to its ability to dissolve more substances than any other chemical. While many compounds can be used as solvents on their own, several industrial solvents comprise combinations of chemicals that affect the miscibility of solutes and may improve solubility. Such solvents are given alphanumeric names; for example, solvent P-14 consists of 85% xylene with 15% acetone, and solvent RFG is made with 75% ethanol and 25% butanol. Discussed below is the list of some most common solvents that we may come across in our daily life.

1. Water (The “Universal Solvent”)

We all are familiar with the fact that water is one of the most essential elements for any known lifeform to exist. In fact, water makes up approximately 62% of the human body and around three-fourth of the surface of the earth. Water has many exceptional physicochemical properties; for instance, it is the only compound on our planet that can exist in all three forms, solid, liquid, and gas, naturally. Before we discuss why water is known as the “universal solvent,” we need to understand the basic molecular structure of water. A water molecule is composed of one oxygen atom attached to two hydrogen atoms by covalent bonding, forming a bent shape. Due to its electronegativity, oxygen attracts the shared pair of electrons, leaving the hydrogen with a partial positive charge while itself being partially negative. It gives the water its polar character and ability to form hydrogen bonds with other water molecules. Water is known as the “universal solvent” because it tends to dissolve more solutes than any other chemical, even the strongest superacid {HSbF}_{6}, fluoroantimonic acid. When we dump an ionic compound in water, e.g., NaCl, the negatively charged oxygen atoms attract the positively charged Na ions, whereas the positively charged hydrogen atom attracts the negatively charged Cl ions. Water molecules pull the sodium and chloride ions apart, breaking the ionic bond that held them together. After that, the sodium and chloride ions get homogeneously mixed with water molecules, creating a solution.  The polarization lets water attract many different types of molecules. Other molecules, like sucrose and glucose, may not dissociate like NaCl, but they get evenly dispersed in water. The water present in our cytoplasm helps to dissolve several minerals and nutrients to make them accessible to our body.

2. Acetone

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Acetone, also known as propanone, is an organic compound with the chemical formula ({CH}_{3})_{2}{CO}. It is a colorless compound with a pungent odor that can commonly be found in nail paint remover. The reason why acetone is used in the manufacturing of nail paint remover is that it’s an excellent solvent, which can dissolve the nail paint and even take it off. Acetone is chemical of great importance in chemistry. While performing chromatography, acetone is preferred over water because it can dissolve both polar and nonpolar pigments in the analysis. The two methyl groups present in the acetone molecule are non-polar and dissolves the non-polar compounds, whereas the carbonyl group present in the center is polar and dissolves the polar compounds. Another factor that makes acetone a good solvent is its miscibility with other polar compounds, especially water and several other organic compounds. This allows us to make several kinds of industrial, household, and laboratory solvents based on the required application. Since acetone is less toxic, organic, potent, and easily miscible with other substances, it is a great option and a necessity for many industries, such as pharmaceuticals, scientific testing, sterilization, medical tools, cosmetics, textiles, etc.

3. Acetic acid

Acetic acid, also known as ethanoic acid, is an important carboxylic acid with the chemical formula {CH}_{3}{COOH}, a distinctive pungent odor, and a sour flavor. Acetic acid has a variety of uses, including as raw material and solvent for the production of other chemicals. It can be found in the kitchen in vinegar; however, the acetic acid present in the vinegar is a solute (5-8% as a volume) and not a solvent. Generally, acids and bases are not used as typical solvents but to either dissolve other compounds or to increase or decrease the pH content of a particular compound. Liquid acetic acid is a hydrophilic polar protic solvent, just like water and ethanol. It does not only dissolves ionic salts and sugars, but also non-polar compounds such as oils as well as polar solutes. Acetic acid forms azeotropes with many organic solvents, such as benzene, pyridine, and dioxane, and it is miscible with water, ethanol, acetone, benzene, ether, and carbon tetrachloride. The solvent and miscibility properties of acetic acid make it a useful industrial chemical, for example, as a solvent in the production of dimethyl terephthalate (DMT).

4. Ethanol

Ethanol, otherwise known as ethyl alcohol, is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid with a slight characteristic odor, and the chemical formula {C}_{2}{H}_{6}{OH}. It is a versatile solvent that can be used on its own, mixed with water, and with many organic compounds, including acetic acid, acetone, benzene, carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, diethyl ether, ethylene glycol, glycerol, nitromethane, pyridine, and toluene. It is also miscible with light aliphatic hydrocarbons, such as pentane and hexane, and with aliphatic chlorides, such as trichloroethane and tetrachloroethylene. Ethanol is used frequently in the medical sector to dissolve several medications and related compounds. For instance, tincture, a certain medication, is made by dissolving extracts of plant or animal material specifically in (25-60%) ethanol. It is present mainly as an antimicrobial preservative in over 700 liquid preparations of medicine, including acetaminophen, iron supplements, ranitidine, furosemide, mannitol, phenobarbital, trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole, and over-the-counter cough medicine. The polar nature of the hydroxyl group causes ethanol to dissolve many ionic compounds, notably sodium and potassium hydroxides, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, ammonium chloride, ammonium bromide, and sodium bromide. Due to the presence of a non-polar end in the ethanol molecule, it can also dissolve nonpolar substances, including most essential oils and numerous flavoring, coloring, and medicinal agents.

5. Chloroform

Chloroform, also known as trichloromethane, is a colorless, non-combustible, strong-smelling, and dense organic compound with the chemical formula {CHCl}_{3}. Most of us are familiar with its anesthetic properties from on-screen media; however, due to its lethal impacts on the heart, liver, and other internal organs as well as its suspected carcinogenic properties, chloroform is not currently used as an anesthetic. Chloroform was once widely used as a solvent, but safety and environmental concerns have reduced this use as well. Nevertheless, chloroform has remained an important industrial chemical. It is used globally as a solvent for fats, oils, rubber, alkaloids, waxes, gutta-percha, and resins, as a cleansing agent, grain fumigant, in fire extinguishers, in the rubber industry, and pesticide formulations. Deuterated chloroform ({CDCl}_{3}) is a common solvent used in NMR spectroscopy, an investigative technique for the analysis of organic compounds in labs.

 6. Solvents in Everyday Cooking

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Cooking is one of the many processes of our daily life that are primarily based on mixing and dissolving things. The basic procedure in any kind of culinary arts is to mix things in such proportions that they produce the most desirable blend of flavors. For simplicity, let’s take the example of tea. While making tea, the amount of tea leaves, sugar, honey, and other solute depends directly on the amount of the solvent, i.e., water. Similarly, deglazing, the process of removing and dissolving browned food residue from a pan to flavor sauces, soups, and gravies, is done by adding water, alcohol, milk, or some other liquid food item as a solvent. Since heat is involved in the process, both polar and non-polar solvents work to dissolve the sticky and burnt substance on the bottom of the pan.

7. Solvents in Paints


Paints and coatings are the liquid substances that form adherent films when applied layer by layer to a substrate with the help of several types of equipment. The majority of paints are made by dissolving chemical pigments, additives, and binders in various solvents. The solvent evaporates after the paint is applied, allowing resin and pigment to form a film of paint (a coat) after drying quickly. The application conditions, drying temperature, and drying duration of the paint determine the composition of a paint-solvent mixture. The type of binder also influences the nature of the solvents in the mixture. Solid and other viscous binder components are dissolved by solvents, as they make it possible to overcome incompatibilities between paint components and increase pigment wetting, dispersion, storage stability, and coating viscosity. Organic solvents are employed in the majority of liquid coatings systems, including waterborne coatings, where they play an essential role. Paint makers must ensure that paint dries quickly after being applied. To achieve quick drying, the solvent combination is prepared in accordance with the solubility and hydrogen-bonding parameters of binding agents. To guarantee proper flow, the solvent mixture’s characteristics should be identical to those of the binder. The most common solvents used in paints and coatings formulations include aromatic hydrocarbons, aliphatic hydrocarbons, ketones, esters, alcohols, and glycol ethers.

8.  Solvents in Aerosols

The term aerosol (short for “aero-solutions”) encompasses many kinds of little bits of stuff that end up suspended in the air (or other gases). Aerosols offer a wide range of products from mass-market goods, such as cosmetic and household products, to specific aerosol types dedicated for industrial or medical purposes. Solvents used in aerosol cans (spray cans for hair lacquer, cleansing agents, paints) dissolve the substances that are to be sprayed. They must also be miscible with the propellants without causing the dissolved substance to precipitate. Previously, chlorofluorohydrocarbons were mainly used as propellants, but they have a damaging effect on the stratospheric ozone layer and have now been largely replaced by alternatives, such as butane, diethyl ether, fluorocarbon, etc.

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