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Solvents are substances, mostly in the form of liquid, which can dissolve a solute and form a solution. Solvents can be broadly classified into two types, polar solvents (eg. Water) and non-polar solvents (eg. Hexane) based on their dielectric constant. Polar solvents have a strong dielectric constant. They have one or more electronegative atoms like N or O. Common functional groups present in polar solvents include alcohols, ketones, carboxylic acids and amides.
The polarity of the solvent increases with increasing dielectric constant. Solvents having dielectric constant value of below 15 are generally considered as non-polar.
The polar solvents can further classified into two sub-groups, protic and aprotic solvents. Protic solvents (water, methanol, ethanol etc.) solvate anions through hydrogen bonds whereas aprotic solvents (DMSO, DMF, acetone etc.) solvate cations through dipole moments.
An important property of solvents is the boiling point and density which is unique for each solvent and varies with temperature and pressure. Most solvents are flammable liquids. The exposure of solvents to the environment and humans have been extensively studied and the tolerance levels are established for individual solvents.
Solvents are used as cleaners to clean hard surfaces such as windows and floors. They are used in many beauty and cosmetic products including nail polishes. Solvents play a vital role in pharmaceutical industry for the production of many life-saving drugs. Solvents are used in the manufacture of automobiles. Solvents play an important role in the areas of chemical synthesis, as thinners in paint industry, in inks, and in varnishes and lacquers.