Solvent vs Solute – Difference Between Solvent and Solute

Solvent vs Solute – Difference Between Solvent and Solute

A solvent is the larger part of a solution, whereas the solutes are the smaller parts. They are both required to create a wide variety of cosmetic, mechanical and edible products.

Today, we are going to dive into the difference between solvent and solute. These two substances frequently get mistaken for one another, but they are actually completely different. They both form crucial parts of one overriding chemical process.

By the time we have reviewed the definition of each word and presented you with our quick reference table to help you summarise their variations, the solute vs solvent debate is going to make a lot more sense. Let’s take a closer look.

Definition of Solvent – So What Is Solvent?

The definition of solvent is “a liquid, solid or gaseous substance that absorbs solutes to create solutions.”

When reading the above definition of solvent, the difference between solvent and solute should become apparent straight away.

A solute is completely unproductive without the presence of a solvent when it comes to creating solutions. A solvent actually serves as the foundation and basis on which solutions can be created in the first place.

Although solutes exist as separate entities, they do not serve much purpose in their own right until they are fully absorbed by solvents in order to create a wide variety of solutions that can be applied to a wide array of circumstances and uses. The type of solution that is created depends entirely on the solute and solvent types involved in the solution-making process.

Here are some common examples of solvents.

  • Liquid – Can be mixed with the likes of coffee granules to make coffee
  • Gas – Can be mixed with oxygen to create fuel
  • Acetone – Can be mixed with water to create cleaning products
  • Milk – Can be mixed with various solutes to make different food and drink varieties
  • Ethanol – Typically used to create alcoholic beverages
  • Glycerol – Used to create electronic cigarette liquids

All of the above substances are frequently used to create a wide variety of everyday products including everything from food to cleaning solutions, fragrances and fuel types. You could almost view a solvent as being the “mixing bowl” required to add ingredients to and create a finished item. Solutes simply replace the ingredients in this analogy. In fact, they are ingredients in their own right.

Solvents are also split into two different categories known as “polar” and “non-polar.” The difference between these two varieties is as follows.

  • Polar – Polar solvents have something known as partial charges as a result of the different electromagnetic values of the molecules that form them. This allows them to accommodate the absorption of polar and non-polar elements more readily than non-polar solvents.
  • Non-Polar – Non-polar solvents do not feature partial charges as their molecular electromagnetic values remain constant. This restricts their ability to absorb polar substances. Non-polar solvents can however absorb other non-polar substances.

The solute vs solvent comparison will make more sense when we look at the definition of solute next.

Definition of Solute – So What Is Solute?

The definition of solute is “a substance that is absorbed by a solvent base to create a solution.”

As we mentioned in the section about solvents, a solute essentially serves as an ingredient that gets absorbed by a solvent to create a solution or product of some kind that can serve a wide variety of purposes.

Solutes take on many forms. Here are some examples.

  • Salt – Makes salt water when mixed with H2O
  • Oxygen – Creates fuel when mixed with gases
  • Ethyl – Helps to create perfumes and fragrances when mixed with water
  • Carbon dioxide – Creates carbohydrates to assist photosynthesis when mixed with water
  • Alcohol – Creates alcoholic beverages like beer and wine when mixed with water
  • Coffee powder – Creates coffee when mixed with boiling water
  • Sugar – Can be used to sweeten food or beverages when mixed with water
  • Chromium – Used to create stainless steel when mixed with metal alloy

Obviously, based on the above list, there are almost endless solution possibilities that we could create using the individual solute components. It is important to remember when you see anything liquid, solid or gaseous that what you are seeing in front of you is directly a result of the specific types of solutes used.

Salt water, for example, is a direct result of mixing salt with water (an example of a single-solute solution) whereas a coffee with sugar would be the result of mixing sugar and coffee granules (both solutes) with a solvent base (water). This would be an example of a complex solution due to the inclusion of two or more ingredients or solutes.

The difference between solute and solvent can get complicated when you read the label for the likes of cosmetic or cleaning products (and food) because you will see an enormous list of ingredients. All you need to remember is that initially, one base substance was taken (like water) to use as a solvent and that the rest of the items on the list are simply solutes that got absorbed by the base substance.

It could be compared to taking a foundation (which would be the solvent) and adding bricks (solutes) onto the top. In the next section, we will show you a quick reference table that clearly distinguishes the difference between solute and solvent visually so that you can come back to it for a refresh any time it is needed.

What Is the Main Difference Between Solvent vs Solute?

The below table visually highlights the key differences between solvent vs solute.

AppearanceTypically, is a liquid but can also be a gas or solidAppears as a gas, solid or liquid
Typical boiling pointUsually, has a boiling point that is much lowerTypically, has a boiling point that is much higher
MassUsually, much larger overallUsually, much smaller overall
Transfer of heatIn a finished solution, heat is always transferred away from the solvent.In a finished solution, heat is always transferred to the solute.
AbsorbencySolvents are not absorbed; instead, they perform the role of absorbing solutes.Solutes are absorbed into solvents.
PolarityPolar and non-polar can absorb both non-polar and polar substances depending on their constitution.Polar and non-polar can be absorbed by non-polar and polar solvents depending on their constitution.
ExamplesWater, milk and gasCoffee granules, salt, sugar and alcohol

For anyone asking the question what is the difference between a solute and a solvent, this table should spell out their variations very clearly.

Solvent vs Solute – FAQ

We will now answer the most frequently asked questions about the solvent vs solute debate.

Q: So, what is the difference between a solute and a solvent anyway?

A: A solvent forms the base of a solution, whereas a solute acts as an ingredient. The solvent absorbs solutes and leads to the creation of solutions with a wide array of different properties and intended purposes depending on the solutes included.

Q: How can you define a solute?

A: A solute is a substance that gets absorbed by a solvent to create a solution.

Q: How would you define a solvent?

A: A solvent is a substance that absorbs solutes to create solutions.

Q: So, what is the solvent part of a solution?

A: A solvent serves as the foundation required to create a solution by absorbing solutes.

So What Is the Difference Between Solute and Solvent? – Conclusion

In summary, you should finally be able to answer the questions what is a solute and what is a solvent convincingly now that you know what their separate definitions are and how they function when it comes to creating a solution.

Although they both appear to be similar, we can easily summarize them by saying that a solvent serves as the base required to develop a solution, whereas a solute is an ingredient that helps to determine the characteristics of a solution.

Should you get stuck on this subject at any point in the future, simply take a quick glance at the table we created in the last section for an effective overview of their two different natures without having to read through today’s post again in full.