Solvent is the liquid in paint that suspends the pigment and resins and transports them from the paint brush to the wall. The solvent then evaporates and leaves the paint film behind. Solvents in paint can be water (for latex paint) or mineral spirits (for oil based alkyd paint). The less solvent in the paint, the higher the quality and the better the coverage.
A solvent is a solution that breaks down the essential properties of paints and varnishes, lacquer, shellac, oils, grease and adhesive residues. There are many different kinds of solvents, each performing a specific reaction (function) with a specific product. All solvents, except for water, have a toxic effect on organic tissue, biochemical, physiochemical and neurochemical. Use with care and always dispose of properly.
- It is important to use caution with solvents. Always use appropriate protective gear on all exposed body areas, especially the hands and eyes. Always work in a well-ventilated room. Refrain from smoking of working near heat sources as many solvents are flammable.
- All solvents should be properly disposed of through EHS.
Turpentine is an effective solvent for oil and alkyd based paints and varnishes, and removing tar, grease and tree sap. Genuine turpentine has a strong odor and is becoming less commonly used in the painting and art industries. Many substitute products have arrived on the market that performs essentially the same function, with less noxious vapors. Some of the substitutes include mineral spirits and turpenoid. EHS discourages the use of turpentine and should be disposed of by calling x81450.
Mineral spirits (White spirits)
Mineral spirits is a petroleum-based product. Mineral spirits is an oil based solvent ideally used for thinning oil based exterior and interior varnishes, such as oil varnish, and paint products, as well as an efficient solvent for artist’s oil paints.
Turpenoid is a turpentine substitute with limited odor, ideally suited for artist oil painting.
Used to dilute, dissolve and clean up of lacquer products. Typically too caustic for oil paints, lacquer thinner is often used additionally for removing inks on metal, and adhesive residue from a variety of surfaces. Lacquer thinner is very strong and rapidly deteriorates many surfaces and fabrics. EHS discourages the use of Lacquer thinner and should be disposed of by calling x81450.
A solvent primarily used to dilute and dissolve shellac and aniline dyes. Denatured alcohol also acts as a semi-aggressive cleaning agent.
MEK (methyl ethyl ketone or 2-butanone)
MEK is a highly caustic solvent and a known carcinogen. It is prohibited from use on NYU Campus.
Though typically used as a fuel, kerosene has very strong solvent properties. For ‘oil glazing’ in decorative finishing, kerosene is sometimes employed to make the glaze ‘hot’, increasing the workable time with the glaze, as well as ‘fusing’ with a glaze previously applied. EHS discourages the use and should be disposed of by calling x81450.
Kerosene is highly flammable. Always use in a well-ventilated area. Wear protective gear over all exposed areas of the body. Do not smoke or use near any open heat source.
Typically used as a fuel, gasoline has very strong solvent properties. Often used to remove grease, tar, and waxes. Gasoline makes an excellent solvent for cleaning tools and metal parts.
Gasoline is highly flammable. Always use in a well-ventilated area. Wear protective gear over all exposed areas of the body. Do not smoke or use near any open heat source.
A moderately aggressive solvent. Acetone is often used to clean glass, general dirt and grime. In restoration and conservation practices acetone is often used to clean dirt, soot and grime from paintings and furniture. It is also used for the slow dissolving of varnished paintings, to clean, then re-varnish the painting.
Water acts as general solvent and thinner with virtually all water based interior and exterior paints and varnishes. Most latex, acrylic products break down in water. Artist acrylic paints , watercolor, gauche, tempura paint all use water as the dilution agent.
Many other chemicals - including formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, and methylene chloride - can be present in paint and pose health risks to paint users and occupants of buildings. Formaldehyde, often added to paint as a preservative, is a known human carcinogen and respiratory irritant. Other organic solvents used in paint can be carcinogenic as well. The MSDS from the distributor provides important information on ingredients in the paint that are health hazards. However, it is only required to disclose chemicals in the paint that are more than 1 percent for non-carcinogens, and more than 0.1 percent for carcinogens. Exposure to chemicals present in paints that are below the mentioned non-disclosure levels can cause health effects depending on various factors such as the type of chemical(s) exposed to, exposure conditions, sensitivity of the exposed population, etc. Growing interest in worker and occupant safety has led to an increasing number of safer paint choices.
Generally, water-based latex paints contain fewer solvents and toxic materials than oil-based paints.
What to look for: Look for product information on latex paints showing the ingredients - avoid paints with the solvents and heavy metals listed above. Oil-based paints for renovation and construction purposes is prohibited.