The Importance of Handling Solvents Correctly


A solvent is liquid or gas that has the ability to dissolve or extract other substances.  They are used by a wide variety of industries including the cleaning industry.  Janitorial cleaning services use solvents in solutions that act as detergents or stain removers. 

Solvents can range from simple organic substances like acetic acid through to complex manmade chemical solvents like sulfuryl chloride fluoride.  Some solvents are dangerous to use and should only be handled with great care by professionals. 

This article will provide more information about solvents and how they are used.  Then we’ll take a look at how people are exposed to solvents and the health risks associated with this exposure.

More About Solvents

Solvents are very powerful chemicals that are used by a wide range of industries.  Professional janitorial services use solvents for many tasks including:

  • Carpet stain removal and stain prevention
  • Cleaning tile grout
  • Removing stains from non-washable fabrics
  • Dislodging and killing bacteria
  • Removing oil-based spills


Other professions use solvents to dissolve grease and oil, make paint thinner, and remove glues.  They are also often used to clean electronic devices, tools, engines and other automotive parts.  Solvents are used by almost every industry including agriculture, health, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and the building industry.

You can find solvents in dozens of items around your home including paint, household cleaning products, stain removers, pharmaceuticals, paint thinners and nail polish remover.


Organic solvents contain carbon and are split into three classifications:

  • Oxygenated solvents
    These are solvents that contain oxygen and other chemicals.  They include alcohol, esters, and ketones.
  • Hydrocarbon solvents
    These are solvents that contain hydrogen.  They are usually derived from petrochemicals and include acetone, gasoline, hexane, methanol, phenol, turpentine and xylene.
  • Halogenated solvents
    These are solvents that contain chlorine.  They include chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chlorobenzene, chloroform, ethylene dichloride, methylene chloride and perchloroethylene.


What Common Solvents Are Most People Exposed to?

There are many solvents present in most homes, including glues, cleaning products, paints and beauty products like nail polish.  You are exposed to solvents every time you have your clothes dry cleaned or fill up the car with fuel.

Many people are also exposed to solvents in their workplace.  For example, people who work for janitorial cleaning services may be regularly exposed to solvents in detergents and stain removers.

How Can Solvents be Dangerous?

Solvents that are inhaled, absorbed through the skin or swallowed can have dangerous repercussions for a person’s health.  Massive exposure to the most dangerous kinds of solvents can cause damage to organs, blindness, and in the worst cases — death. 

Scientists believe that some common solvents like Benzene can cause cancer in people who have had prolonged exposure.  Other solvents like glycol can damage a developing foetus and impact a person’s fertility. 

There is a range of other symptoms associated with exposure to different solvents including memory loss, dizziness, nausea, headaches, skin rashes, dermatitis, coughing, sneezing and shortness of breath.

Many solvents can cause a person to lose consciousness if inhaled in large amounts.  In fact, some solvents like diethyl ether and chloroform are used in medicine as anaesthetics or sedatives.  When ingested, common hydrocarbon solvents like methanol and propanol can cause blindness or death. 

Because there are health problems associated with some solvents, it is important to avoid over exposure.  When it comes to cleaning, many people hire professional janitorial services in an effort to reduce their exposure to cleaning chemicals that contain solvents. 

Other health and safety problems associated with solvents include:

  • Fire potential
    Many organic solvents are flammable and can explode.   
  • Explosive peroxide formation
    Some ethers can form explosive organic peroxides when exposed to light and oxygen. 
  • Environmental contamination
    Solvents can contaminate aquifers and ground soil.  Their effects can be long lasting and improper disposal of solvents is a significant environmental problem.

It is crucial to be very careful when using solvents or hire a professional who is experienced in their use.


What are Solvents - European Solvents Industry Group. (2016). Retrieved 9 May 2016, from

CDC - Organic Solvents - NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic. (2016). Retrieved 9 May 2016, from