Understanding solvents is family affair - Solvents for water-based finishes

Article Index
Understanding solvents is family affair
Lacquer thinner
Solvents for water-based finishes
All Pages

No other finish offers the versatility of lacquer and catalyzed lacquer because no other finish has a solvent with the characteristics of lacquer thinner.

Solvents for water-based finishes
Water is used as a carrier in water-based finishes, but it’s the solvent in these finishes that makes them cure. The solvent softens the microscopic droplets of finish so they stick together after the water evaporates.

This solvent has to be very slow evaporating so it remains in the finish longer than the water, even in humid weather.

The solvent family that best satisfies this requirement is the glycol-ether family. All of the individual solvents in this family evaporate very slowly.

Glycol ethers are large molecules (the reason they evaporate so slowly) and have very long names. For example, a commonly used solvent is “ethylene glycol mono-butyl ether,” also called “2-butoxy ethanol” in another naming system, and by the more user-friendly nickname “butyl cellosolve.”

You may see any of these names listed on cans or MSDSs. It’s helpful to know that the solvents used in water-based finishes are almost always in the glycol-ether family and to understand why.

Butyl cellosolve and also butyl carbitol are sometimes sold separately to use as a “flow additive” for water-based finishes and as very slow evaporating retarders for lacquer.

Solvents are the ingredients that make it possible to spray finishes. You will gain better control of your work if you have a basic understanding of the five families and what each does.