Guide

Using and managing solvents

What are organic solvents?

An organic solvent is a type of volatile organic compound (VOC). VOCs are organic chemicals which vaporise at room temperature. Organic solvents are useful for dissolving certain materials and substances.

What are organic solvents used for?

Organic solvents are often used in the manufacture of pharmaceutical products, footwear, paints, varnishes and adhesives.

Organic solvents in manufacturing are typically used:

  • to dissolve substances
  • to disperse coatings
  • as media for chemical reactions
  • as cleaning agents

Examples of organic solvents

Organic compounds used as solvents include:

  • aromatic compounds, eg benzene and toluene
  • alcohols, eg methanol
  • esters and ethers
  • ketones, eg acetone
  • amines
  • nitrated and halogenated hydrocarbons

Are organic solvents harmful?

Organic solvents react in the atmosphere in sunlight, producing an air pollutant known as 'ground-level ozone'. High concentrations of ground-level ozone seriously affect human, animal and plant health. They also harm building materials, forests and crops.

Many organic solvents are classified as toxic or carcinogenic. They can cause significant air and water pollution, and land contamination.

It is important for health and safety in your business to store organic solvents safely.