A solvent is a substance that dissolves another substance. For example, water is the most common solvent out there – it’s even called the “universal solvent” because most materials dissolve in water to some degree. You’ve seen water act as a solvent if you’ve ever seen sugar or salt dissolve when mixed with water.
However, when it comes to cleaning, water isn’t always enough. Oily, greasy stains don’t dissolve very much in plain water. That’s when other solvents are added to improve performance. Some solvents, such as short chain alcohols and glycol ethers, readily dissolve in water, creating a water-based solution that effectively penetrates and breaks down oily soils. Other solvents, such as d-limonene and pine oil, require the use of special surfactants called hydrotropes to stay in solution and deliver their performance benefit.
No soil left behind
Solvents play an important role in the cleaning process. They break up stains, dissolve soil particles, and help prevent grimy residue from returning on your freshly scrubbed surfaces. Solvents are present in many common cleaning products, including:
- Spot treatments for carpet
- Furniture dusting/polishing aids
- Tub and tile cleaner
- Glass cleaners
More than a stain remover
Solvents are sometimes added to cleaning products for reasons other than soil removal. They are used to ensure that a cleaner stays properly mixed and stable during storage – without solvents, a solution may become cloudy and separate over time. They are also used to make products thicker or thinner. Solvents also help surfaces dry faster, preventing spotting on your just-cleaned surfaces, and help your glass, mirrors, and furniture retain a lustrous, streak-free shine.