Solvent Meaning & Definition | EcoOnline
Health & Safety Glossary


A solvent dissolves substances to create solutions, commonly used in various industrial processes.


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What is a Solvent?

A solvent is any substance, usually liquid, which is capable of dissolving one or several substances, thus creating a solution. One of the most common examples of solvents is water, which is generally used for dissolving polar molecules. 

Water is widely regarded as a universal solvent, since it can dissolve virtually any solute. In the workplace, certain organic solvents may pose harm to them and to the environment. 

There are two types of solvents depending on polarity: non-polar and polar. Polarity simply defines the ability of a specific solvent to dissolve a solute. 

Water molecules, for instance, have a very high polarity, which is why it’s capable of dissolving polar solutes. This also applies to other polar solvents like methanol too. 

Non-polar solutes include grease, oil, or fat. These don’t dissolve in water at all. Non-polar solvents are used instead, including benzene and carbon tetrachloride. 


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What is the Importance of Implementing Appropriate Safety Measures When Working with Solvents?

Solvents are commonly used in a variety of different industries, including:

  • Pharmaceutical manufacturing 
  • Foodstuffs
  • Textile
  • Rubber 
  • Engineering
  • Construction
  • Ink or paint manufacturing plants

Harmful solvents can enter a person’s body through several ways. For instance, workers can inhale vapors or fumes which are then absorbed through the lungs before passing into the bloodstream.

Then, if certain solvents come in contact with a person’s skin, there’s a risk that they’ll be absorbed into the body. There’s also the risk of a person swallowing liquid solvents, which could result in injury or illness. 

If proper safety measures are not implemented while working with solvents, there’s a risk to worker health and safety. It’s important to note that different solvents can impact a person’s health in various ways. Short-term effects commonly include:

  • Irritation in the lungs, eyes, or skin
  • Headaches
  • Light-headedness or nausea
  • Dizziness 
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Affects movement and hand-eye coordination, thus increasing the chances of an accident

Moreover, some solvents may result in long-term effects too, including dermatitis or illnesses.


Taking Precautions to Mitigate the Risks Posed by Harmful Solvents

Companies can take several precautions to mitigate the risks posed by harmful solvents in the workplace. Here are some important precautions.

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Controlling Vapors

Employers can look at implementing controls to mitigate the release of vapors. For instance, by diluting the vapors or investing in better filtration and ventilation technology, companies can reduce the release of vapors in the work environment.

Provide PPE to Employees

To prevent any kind of harmful exposure to employees, it is important for employers to provide adequate PPE to the employees, and to train them on how to use it. It’s also important that the PPE is fit to use and is regularly checked. 

Reduce Unnecessary Solvent Evaporation

Companies can mandate the usage of solvents, thus reducing the amount used, and also ensure that all solvents are kept in sealed containers so that they don’t evaporate regularly. 

Reducing Skin Contact

Certain solvents can cause irritation if they come into contact with skin, and can even lead to issues like dermatitis. It’s important to reduce skin contact, and companies can do that by requiring workers to:

  • Use paint scrapers instead of paint strippers that contain solvents
  • Use water-based paints instead of those that contain solvents
  • Check and replace PPE regularly
  • Use procedural controls like splashguards
  • Use automated handling tools 

Prepare a List of all Solvents in the Workplace and the Dangers That They Pose

It’s also important for organizations to prepare a list of all the solvents that workers might come in contact with. This is possible by reviewing Safety Data Sheets of different materials. Then, the organization can highlight all of the dangers that they pose, and what employees should do instead. 

It’s also important to regularly update this list and to offer training to employees after regular intervals. Using a central portal to record all information about the solvents in use in the workplace is also a good idea. 


Reduce Workplace Incidents by Managing Chemical Risk

Empower your team to handle chemicals with confidence. Download Your FREE Guide to Effective Chemical Risk Management!



Use EcoOnline’s Chemical Safety Software to Highlight Solvent Risks and Ensure Safety

EcoOnline’s Chemical Safety Software can help companies prepare records of all harmful solvents in use in the workplace. 

The platform makes it easy for companies to provide workers with relevant information about harmful solvents and other chemicals that they might be exposed to and take appropriate steps to keep them safe.