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What are they?

Solvents are liquids or gases that can dissolve or extract other substances. They are used to dissolve grease, oil, and paint; to thin paint, glue, and pesticides; and to clean electronics, automotive parts, tools, and engines.

Solvents are common in consumer products, including adhesives, cosmetics, household cleaners, spot removers, nail polish remover, lacquers, and dry-cleaning fluid.

Some solvents that deplete the ozone layer have been phased out.

See also: Construction Factories Dry Cleaning Healthcare Services Homes Agriculture Hair and Nail Salons

Where are Solvents found?

  • Consumer products – a variety of personal care and cleaning products
  • Air – emissions from using solvents or solvent products

How can I be exposed to Solvents?

Solvents commonly enter(s) the body through:

Ingestion (swallowing)
  • Swallowing liquid solvents or solvent products
Inhalation (breathing)
  • Breathing emissions from solvents and solvent products
Skin contact
  • Touching liquid solvents or solvent products

What happens when I am exposed to Solvents?

Exposure to high levels of solvents can cause:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Light-headedness and memory loss
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures

Exposure to very high levels of solvents can result in severe health consequences, including death. 

Skin contact with solvents can cause:

  • Skin burns, irritation, and rashes

Long-term exposure to solvents can cause:

  • Leukemia
  • Effects on cognitive function
  • Reproductive damage
  • Blindness
  • Kidney, central nervous system, and liver damage
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Cancer

Who is at risk for exposure to Solvents?

  • Consumers
    • Many consumer products contain solvents.
  • Children
    • Children exposed to high levels of solvents may have an increased risk of asthma.

Reduce your risk

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to solvents, contact your health care professional. 

Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling chemicals. For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • Do you use cleaning products, personal care products, nail polish remover, paints, glues, adhesives, or other household products that contain solvents?
  • Do you dry-clean your clothes or use a laundromat that contains dry cleaning machines?
  • Do you use well water contaminated by industrial processes?
  • Limit exposure to products containing solvents.
  • Use proper ventilation when you use solvents.
  • Air your clothes out when bringing them back from the dry cleaners. Take clothes out of the plastic bag and open the windows or hang them outside for a short time.
  • Routinely test your well water for solvents. 
  • If your well water has high levels of solvents, contact your local or state health agency or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for information on how to reduce your exposure.
  • If your well water contains solvent levels above EPA’s drinking water advisory levels, consider using bottled water for drinking and cooking or install an activated carbon filtration system or reverse osmosis system.
  • Keep children away from solvents or products that contain them.
  • Store household cleaners out of the reach of children. 
  • Don’t let children play in dirt near waste sites or factories.
National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases
Additional Resources
  • Substitutes in Cleaning Solvents (Environmental Protection Agency)

    Information about cleaning solvent substitutes used in industrial cleaning in vapor degreasing, cold batch cleaning, or automated cleaning equipment.

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