What Solvents Are Used Around the Home and Are They Safe?

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Solvents and cleaning products can be very useful around the house but it is good to know what you are using and what chemicals are in the various solvents.

Do you use solvents? Many people would probably say generally no. Many people think that solvents are just products like turpentine and wood strippers to name a couple. However, most households, small work shops and art studios have things like fingernail polish remover, silver polish, goof-off brand remover, paint thinner, rust remover, cleansers and cleaners of various kinds. These are all solvents. Many people do not recognize solvent properties in products around the house. It’s important to know about solvents because some are hazardous to your health and can also do damage to household objects as well if used improperly.

The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences offers a resource for researching solvents and their properties. You can search solvents by brand name and chemical name. 

Another website for researching chemicals of all sorts is Scorecard.org where they have a chemical profiles page that you can use to search the chemicals listed on the labels of products. Once you reach the page for that chemical you can scroll down to view the human health hazards and which products contain that chemical. You can also view how it is regulated and ranked along with other safety information.

Some Common Household Solvents

Xylene is used in paint thinners, varnishes, rust inhibitors, furniture stripping products and is also found in gasoline.

Toluene is a solvent used in paint, paint thinners, varnish remover, interior stains, adhesives, vinyl flooring, lubricants, furniture polish, shoe polish, some laundry starch and many other household items. Toluene is extremely toxic.

Acetic Acid is used in dishwashing detergent, window cleaning products, disinfectants, paint and varnish removers, some water based paints.

Acetone is what is generally used in nail polish remover and can also be used as a paint thinner. It is also used to remove super glue and other adhesives. Other household products containing acetone are insecticides, hair products, paint related products, art materials, and laundry pre-soak preparations.

Green Environmentally Friendly Solvent Products

Citragold is a degreaser cleaner that is orange oil based and claims to be non-toxic made with safe, natural non-petroleum based products.

Simple Green is another non-toxic non-hazardous multipurpose cleaner.

The Clorox Company puts out a line of products through Green Works which makes a line of house hold cleaners, detergents and stain removers.

Smart Strip by Peel Away is a biodegradable water based paint stripper that claims to be safe for the user.

There are now deck cleaning and treatment products that are safer and more environmentally friendly.

It always makes sense to know what is in the products you are using. Read the labels and call the number on the product label if you have questions. You might even want to get the Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or visit the NIOSH web page for more information. You can then make choices that will work best for you and for the task at hand.


Judith Barton
Posted on Sep 19, 2010
Maria Cecilia de Guzman
Posted on Sep 19, 2010