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What Is the Difference Between a Solvent & Diluent?

J. Lang Wood

Solvents are commonly used in chemical formulas both in highly specialized laboratories and everyday life. Solvents allow solid substances to be made into liquid form for ease of use. A diluent is another type of material used to alter the consistency or form of a chemical. When choosing materials for changing the forms of chemicals for practical use, it's important to know the difference between a solvent and a diluent.

What Is Solvent?

Mixing chemical components requires an understanding of solvents and diluents.

Generally liquid or gas, a solvent is used to dissolve a substance. The general rule in choosing solvents for dissolving chemical compounds is "like dissolves like." The closer the solvent is in chemical composition and polarity, the easier it is to dissolve the compound into the solvent. Solvents break the chemical atomic bonds within the compound, forming new ones to hold it into solution.

Examples of Solvents

Solvents may be organic or inorganic. Organic compounds contain carbon and include acetone and benzene, according to Purdue University. Inorganic solvents don't contain carbon and include water and liquid ammonia. Water, the most common solvent found in everyday life, dissolves foods, household cleaning products and many chemicals for industrial processes.

What Is Diluent?

A diluent is a substance added to a compound to change its concentration. Diluents don't alter the chemical bonds of the substance; they just makes them weaker. Diluents make many products easy to use or easier to flow through tubes, pipes or mechanical equipment. Diluents are also called fillers or thinners. Chemists add diluents using a dilution factor that gives them a reliable, measured outcome for particular purposes, according to University of California professor David B. Fankhauser.

Examples of Diluents

Common diluents people use every day include water, nail polish remover, paint thinner, kerosene, benzene and other compounds. The purpose of a diluent is not to change the chemical composition in any way but only to weaken the composition. Diluent simply changes the concentration of the chemicals within the product but not the physical form of it.

Summary of Differences

Solvents may or may not make the chemical compound thinner and easier to use. Diluents are used for this purpose. Conversely, diluents will not necessarily put a compound into solution. An appropriate solvent is needed for this purpose.