Orapi Asia

A Comprehensive Analysis: Water Based and Solvent Cleaners

what is solvent cleaning

As water-based and solvent cleaners gain popularity, the debate for suitability for cleaning and degreasing increases. Choosing between these options is crucial for businesses in various sectors. In this article, we compare their properties, performance, costs, safety, and regulations to help you make an informed decision for your needs.

Water-Based and Solvent Cleaners Differences

mechanical parts cleaning
In our exploration, a solvent cleaner or degreaser employs a liquid to dissolve grime. It may use a single solvent, a mixture of solvents, or multiple solvents and compounds to optimize efficacy for specific tasks. Solvents can be categorized into basic functional compounds like alcohols, ketones, and aliphatic hydrocarbons, each possessing distinct characteristics conducive to varying solvency profiles. The combination of different compounds yields the spectrum of solvency observed in commercial products. These diverse solvents and cleaning solutions can be tailored to eliminate particular contaminants while minimally affecting other materials. Notable solvents include acetone, butyl acetate, isopropanol, ethanol, and even gasoline, which are readily available in hardware stores due to their hydrocarbon composition.
Water, also classified as a solvent, constitutes a subset within the solvent classification. As mentioned earlier, water-based degreasers rely on water as the primary solvent, augmented by detergents, pH modifiers, builders, chelating agents, and various other additives. Incorporation of these additional compounds renders water-based cleaners capable of exerting either potent or gentle cleansing actions, potentially posing hazards or remaining relatively benign, albeit typically necessitating a rinsing step. The diversity and intricacy of water-based cleaners are vast. Both types of cleaners find utility across various applications, encompassing but not restricted to degreasing, precision cleaning, ultrasonic cleaning, and medical device assembly cleaning.

Solvent Cleaners

solvent cleaner engine cleaning
Solvent cleansers dissolve contaminants, break them into smaller particles, and remove them from the surface during cleaning. This method is renowned for its swiftness, eliminating the need for prolonged preparation, processing, or drying periods.
These cleaners are favoured in industrial settings for their efficacy in eliminating stubborn substances like oils, dirt, solder flux, and grease. Notable examples include acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, toluene, nPB, and trichloroethylene (TCE) for robust cleaning and isopropyl alcohol, glycerin, and propylene glycol for milder tasks. However, the classification of “strong” or “mild” is subjective and contingent upon factors such as soil type, quantity, and desired cleanliness level.
Solvent-based cleaners come in various formulations, offering fast or slow evaporation, strong or subtle odours, and varying degrees of aggressiveness. This diversity enables tailored solutions for specific cleaning needs, such as targeting particular contaminants on specific substrates while leaving others unaffected.


  • ORANGE SOLVENT is a unique biodegradable solvent cleaner formulated from derivatives of orange oils and synthesized mineral oil with a flash point of 69°C. 
  • ORANGE SOLVENT replaces chlorinated and paraffin-based solvents in most applications, thus offering a safer alternative for effective cleaning. 

Flammable Solvent Cleaners vs Non Flammable Solvent Cleaners

When considering solvent cleaners, the initial decision often revolves around choosing between flammable and nonflammable options. If conditions allow for the safe use of flammable solvents, with proper ventilation, absence of ignition sources, and adherence to safety protocols, they typically offer a cost advantage over nonflammable alternatives. However, if safety concerns such as inadequate ventilation or the presence of ignition sources arise, numerous nonflammable solvents are available as alternatives.

Divergent Evaporation Rates of Solvent Cleaners

Solvents exhibit diverse evaporation rates: some swiftly volatilize at ambient conditions, while others necessitate elevated temperatures for evaporation. Rapidly evaporating solvents minimise process downtime, whereas slower-evaporating counterparts are optimal for high-temperature soak applications. No single solvent universally suits all tasks. Additionally, slower-evaporating solvents tend to produce fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) but might require supplementary drying procedures.

Understanding Solvent Surface Tension

Surface tension, a fundamental property of liquids, quantifies their capacity to coalesce into cohesive droplets. Lower surface tension denotes a reduced tendency for the substance to form droplets, facilitating its spread and adhesion to surfaces, resulting in a uniform coating. Conversely, liquids with higher surface tension exhibit a propensity to form droplets. Typically, solvents exhibit lower surface tension compared to water-based cleaners, enabling them to penetrate confined spaces for effective soil removal without becoming trapped.

Safety Precautions Regarding Solvent Cleaners

It is imperative to handle all solvents and cleaners with care, utilising personal protective equipment and operating in well-ventilated environments to minimise exposure. Adhere strictly to the safety guidelines provided in the manufacturer’s Safety Data Sheets (SDS).
A mounting concern surrounding many solvents is their Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) content. VOCs readily evaporate at room temperature, posing risks to environmental health and personal well-being by contributing to smog formation. This underscores the increasing importance of low or zero-VOC solvent options, which not only aid in meeting air quality standards but also enhance worker safety.
While opting for VOC-free solvents presents advantages, there are inherent tradeoffs to consider. One drawback is the potential prolongation of drying times for cleaners, applicable to water- and solvent-based systems. To mitigate the environmental impact of VOCs, incorporating slow-evaporating solvents into the mixture can be beneficial. These additives, such as certain oil-like substances or water mixtures, minimise the overall VOC emissions. However, this approach may necessitate additional processes like rinsing, drying heat tunnels, or reclamation procedures to ensure compliance with process parameters.
Another tradeoff arises when utilising VOC-exempt materials like acetone, siloxanes, and PCBTF. While these solvents exhibit strong cleaning properties, they have drawbacks such as flammability and strong odours, which are particularly noticeable with acetone and PCBTF. While acetone is relatively cost-effective, PCBTF and siloxanes entail higher expenses. Additionally, certain VOC-exempt materials like HFC-43-10mee may lack sufficient cleaning efficacy on their own and require blending with more potent solvents to enhance cleaning performance.

Water-based Cleaners

water based cleaners for precision cleaning

Water-based cleaning solutions dissolve contaminants and chemically interact with them, rendering them more soluble in water. For instance, certain materials react more readily in an acidic environment (pH below 7), found in substances like lemons (citric acid), vinegar (acetic acid), carbonated beverages (carbonic and phosphoric acid), and car batteries (sulfuric acid). Conversely, some substances are more reactive or soluble in alkaline solutions (pH above 7), such as ammonia, bleach (sodium hypochlorite), lye (sodium hydroxide), and oven cleaners (which often contain sodium hydroxide).

Additionally, aqueous cleaners often include various components to improve their efficacy:

  • Detergents or surfactants: These substances possess wetting and emulsifying properties, facilitating the dissolution of soils into the solution.
  • Builders: These materials enhance the effectiveness of detergents by increasing the alkalinity of the solution.
  • Emulsifiers help carry oils into water solutions, creating a liquid-in-liquid solution.
  • Saponifiers: These substances react with fatty acids and carboxyl groups, forming water-soluble soaps that dissolve into the solution.
  • Sequestering agents: These bind with metals like calcium, magnesium, and others found in hard water, which can hinder the cleaning process. Sequestering agents can bind with multiple metal ions simultaneously.
  • Chelating agents: Similar to sequestering agents, they bind with individual metal ions.

While the combination of water, solvents, surfactants, and saponifiers can rival solvent cleaning in effectiveness, it often necessitates a change in the cleaning procedure. Rinsing with water-based chemistries becomes essential in precision applications where residue tolerance is minimal. Batch or in-line cleaning systems typically incorporate rinse and dry cycles to address these concerns.

Varied Attributes of Water-Based Cleaners

Water-based cleaners can match the cleaning efficacy of solvent-based counterparts, yet they exhibit distinct characteristics: 


Unlike solvent cleaners, water-based ones operate within a narrower evaporation time range. While solvents can evaporate over milliseconds to months, water-based degreasers typically require active application, either cold or hot soak. 

Temperature Range

Water-based chemistries clean effectively within a temperature spectrum from room temperature to approximately 80°C. This variability, while significant, pales in comparison to the wide range solvents offer, spanning below freezing to over 200°C.

Surface Tension

Water-based cleaners generally have higher surface tensions than solvents. Adjustments like temperature modulation, surfactant variation, and system enhancements can mitigate this limitation. However, for intricate spaces, solvents with lower surface tension excel at penetrating and evaporating.

Reactive Additives

Certain additives in water-based cleaners can react aggressively with diverse materials such as metals, plastics, or inks. Post-cleaning validation is crucial to ensure material compatibility, avoiding residual reactive agents that may induce defects like electrical leakage or coating irregularities.

Rinsing and Drying

Water-based systems typically involve more elaborate rinse and dry processes, particularly in vapor degreasing applications, to eliminate cleaner residues and dissolved contaminants.

Environmental Impact

Environmental concerns, governed by global, national, and local regulations, shape cleaner choices for manufacturers:

  1. Protocols like Montreal and Kyoto restrict substances like CFCs, HCFCs, and HFCs due to ozone depletion and global warming.
  2. Regulatory bodies like the EPA and state agencies enforce limits on personnel exposure to toxic chemicals.
  3. CARB mandates restrictions on smog-producing VOCs in cleaners for specific cleaning applications.
  4. Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) regulations aim to mitigate pollutants known to cause environmental damage or health issues. While some solvents fall under this category, water-based chemistries generally do not.
  5. Priority Pollutant List, regulated by the EPA under the Clean Water Act, includes several solvents but excludes aqueous cleaning chemistries.


  • SUPA CLEAN is a powerful renovator, blend of balance surfactants, safe solvents and inhibitors. 
  • SUPA CLEAN liquefies and emulsifies grease, oil, grime and traffic films. 
  • SUPA CLEAN is formulated to bridge the gap between conventional hard surface cleaners and strong solvent systems. 

Which Cleaning Chemistry Suits Your Needs Best

what is ultrasonic bath cleaning
While both cleaning technologies boast significant potential in terms of performance, their efficacy hinges on various factors, such as the nature of the surface contaminants, the substrate being cleaned, and the specific constraints and demands of the cleaning process. Achieving optimal cleaning outcomes necessitates a harmonious interplay of all three parameters.
When deliberating between an aqueous cleaner and a solvent, it is important to assess your unique application, requisites, and objectives. Safety, efficacy, and cost considerations should also weigh heavily in your decision-making process. What works adeptly for eliminating handling residues might prove ineffectual for dissolving machine greases; a cleaner formulated for stainless steel might not be compatible with glass lenses, and a solution effective against machining oil may fall short of the cleanliness standards required for a liquid oxygen line.
In essence, a definitive verdict on the superiority of solvent or water-based cleaners is contingent upon a thorough evaluation of the end-user’s specific circumstances. Fortunately, despite the increasingly stringent regulatory landscape, a diverse range of options spanning both solvents and water-based cleaners remains available.
Should you still require guidance in selecting between a solvent cleaner and a water-based alternative, don’t hesitate to consult one of our dedicated product specialists. They stand ready to assist you in procuring the ideal solution for your unique application.

Conclusion: Water-based vs Solvent Cleaners

This article has examined their properties, performance, costs, safety, and regulatory aspects in the discourse between water-based and solvent cleaners. Empowering readers with knowledge facilitates informed decisions tailored to specific needs. Whether prioritising solvent speed or water-based environmental benefits, evaluating individual requirements is paramount. Amid regulatory pressures, a diverse range of options ensures both solvents and water-based cleaners remain viable. Expert assistance is available to help you select the ideal chemistry. Thus, this comparison concludes, welcoming further inquiries for tailored solutions.

We also have a full list of lubricants and greases in the guide
Lubricant And Grease Buying Guide Opt-In Hero Image
Lubricant And Grease Buying Guide Opt-In Hero Image

Unlock Invaluable Grease & Lubricant Insights!

By completing the form below Packed with essential knowledge crucial for making informed decisions when choosing the perfect grease or lubricant for your application. Don’t miss out on this indispensable resource!