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solvent,constituent of a solution that acts as a dissolving agent. In solutions of solids or gases in a liquid, the liquid is the solvent. In all other solutions (i.e., liquids in liquids or solids in solids) the constituent that is present in larger quantity is considered the solvent. The most familiar and widely used solvent is water. Other compounds valuable as solvents because they dissolve materials that are insoluble or nearly insoluble in water are acetone, alcohol, benzene (or benzol), carbon disulfide, carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, ether, ethyl acetate, furfural, gasoline, toluene, turpentine, and xylene (or xylol). Solvents are often organic compounds. They may be divided into polar and nonpolar types. Polar solvents, of which water is an example, have molecules whose electric charges are unequally distributed, leaving one end of each molecule more positive than the other. Nonpolar solvents, of which carbon tetrachloride is an example, have molecules whose electric charges are equally distributed.
a chemical compound or mixture that dissolves various substances, that is, it combines with a substance to form a homogeneous system of variable composition, which is made up of two or more components. For liquid-gas and liquid-solid systems the solvent is considered a liquid component, whereas for liquid-liquid systems it is an excess component.
In principle, any substance may be a solvent for any other substance. In practice, however, only those substances meeting specific requirements are termed solvents. For example, solvents should exhibit good dissolving action and be sufficiently inert chemically in relation to the dissolved substance and the apparatus. Industrial solvents should be easily accessible and inexpensive. Solvents must meet the specific needs of a particular industry. For example, extraction requires solvents that exhibit selective dissolving action, whereas matched solvents are often used in other processes to improve mutual solubility.
A chemical classification dividing all solvents into inorganic and organic types is most commonly used. The most widely used inorganic solvent for numerous inorganic and organic compounds is water. Other inorganic solvents are liquid ammonia (for alkali metals, phosphorus, sulfur, salts, amines, and other substances), liquid sulfur dioxide (for many organic and inorganic compounds, used particularly in industry for refining petroleum products), and fused metals and salts. The numerous organic solvents that are highly valuable include petroleum solvents (including hydrocarbons and their halogen derivatives), alcohols, ethers, esters, ketones, and nitro compounds. Organic solvents are widely used in the manufacture of plastics, paints, varnishes, synthetic fibers, resins, and adhesives (in the rubber industry). They are also used in the extraction of vegetable fats, in dry cleaning, in the purification of chemical compounds through recrystallization, in the chromatographic separation of substances, and in the preparation of a specific medium.
It is also possible to classify solvents on the basis of boiling point, relative evaporation rate, and polarity. Hence there are low-boiling (ethyl alcohol, methyl acetate) and high-boiling (xylene) solvents, rapidly evaporating and slowly evaporating solvents (the evaporation rate of butyl acetate is often used as a standard), and nonpolar (hydrocarbons, carbon disulfide) and polar (water, alcohols, acetone) solvents. The specifications for solvents usually contain data on the flash point, the limits for explosive concentrations of vapor in air, the vapor pressure at standard temperatures, and solvent power. The data are used to determine for what substances a given solvent may be used (for dissolving oils and fats, resins, dyes, or natural and synthetic rubbers).
Other widely used solvents are mixtures of various substances, for example, benzines, petroleum ether, and alcohol and ether mixtures. In addition, plasticizers are often included in the solvent category; they improve the mechanical and physical properties of rubbers, natural resins, polyamides, and many other macromolecular compounds.
Nearly all organic solvents are physiologically active. Large concentrations of certain ones—aromatic hydrocarbons, chlorine derivatives, amines, or ketones—may cause severe poisoning. Some solvents cause various skin diseases (dermatitises). Safety precautions have been developed for many industrial organic solvents to protect workers from fire and from harmful physiological effects.
REFERENCESSpravochnik khimika, 2nd ed., vol. 6. Leningrad, 1967. Pages 118–54.
Nevodnye rastvoriteli. Moscow, 1971. (Translated from English.)