Previously we’ve talked about solvents and how exposure to some solvents carries risks to health and well being. What is a solvent, though? In this blog we will answer that question and explain why water is the universal solvent.
What Is a Solvent?
A solvent is a liquid that dissolves a solute or a liquid into which other materials dissolve to form a solution. There are many types of solvents, including turpentine, benzene, trichloroethylene, ethanol, and – of course – water. A common rule of chemistry is “Like dissolves like.” There are polar and nonpolar substances and solvents. Water is the polar solvent we are all familiar with. Salt is also polar, and we know how salt dissolves into water. It dissolves so well that the majority of the earth’s mass is covered by salt water. Salt remains in solution in water indefinitely unless a process like desalinization is employed.
In contrast oil is non polar. It does not dissolve in water. When oil is added to water, it will float on top of the water. Any mixture of oil and water will quickly separate. To dissolve oil easily you must use a non polar solvent like benzene. Benzene has been in use since Michael Faraday isolated it in 1825. After it was discovered, people found a variety of interesting uses for it, including as an aftershave lotion, and over time they recognized as an effective solvent and degreaser. Benzene is very efficient at dissolving oils and pulling them off of the surfaces of industrial parts.
There’s only one problem: Benzene, like many other non polar solvents, is toxic to humans and the environment. The frequent use of benzene in industry resulted in many people becoming ill over time. The U.S. government banned the use of its pure form as a solvent decades ago.
In the mid-20th century when scientists and workers began noticing links between nonpolar solvent use and health problems like leukemia and brain impairment, they began searching for alternative ways to effectively remove grease and dirt from industrial parts and other items without the same risks and dangers.
Water, the Universal Solvent
Water is called the universal solvent because it is capable of dissolving more substances than any other liquid. People have been cleaning with water for millennia. It’s such a common and useful solvent that we reach for it it as a go to “solution” whenever anything gets dirty. By itself, however, water can’t compete with benzene or trichloroethylene in removing grease or oil. That’s why aqueous parts washers are designed to use heat, pressure, agitation and surfactants along with water to get parts clean.
AEC Systems, LLC designs our parts cleaners around the parts they must clean. Once we know what cleanliness challenges the part has, we can create a washer that will utilize mechanical processes like scrubbing, spraying, or agitation that, in combination with water, heat, and cleaners will accomplish the same task as solvents but without the exposure to toxins. If you have a part that you need cleaned to specification, we can design a washer that will get the job done and done right. We can help with a recommendation for reliable chemistry providers to assist your cleaning needs. Call us today to discuss which solutions we can design to meet your parts washing needs.