Solvents are liquid, gas, or solid chemicals that dissolve, extract, or suspend other substances. The most common and “universal” solvent is water, which dissolves more substances than any other.
Solvents are used extensively as a medium for chemical reactions and analytical separations and are available in various purity grades and packaging options. They are also essential for manufacturing cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, personal care items, textiles, paints, pesticides, and many other products.
Solvents are often categorized as polar or nonpolar, a factor of the solvent’s structure and charge that determines the types of substances that it can dissolve. Polar solvents have a “positive” and a “negative” charge at different places in their structures and will dissolve other polar substances. Water is a polar solvent; other polar solvents include acetone, acetonitrile, dimethylformamide (DMF), dimelthylsulfoxide (DMSO), ethanol, isopropanol, and methanol.
Nonpolar solvents include alkanes (pentane, hexane, and heptane) and aromatics (benzene, toluene, and xylene). Other common nonpolar solvents include acetic acid, chloroform, diethyl ether, ethyl acetate, methylene chloride, and pyridine. Nonpolar organic solvents are used as spot removers, paint thinners, nail polish removers, glue solvents, and in perfumes and detergents.