Difference Between Solvent and Solute

Main Difference – Solvent vs Solute

A solution is a form of matter that is in the liquid physical state. It is composed of two components: solvent and solute. A solution is a homogeneous mixture of solvent and solute. The solute is dissolved in the solvent. The overall properties of the solution depend on factors such as the type of solvent, type of solution, amount of solute present in the solution, etc. These properties can be either chemical properties such as boiling point of the solution or physical properties such as density, color, etc. The main difference between solvent and solute is that solvent is the substance in which the solute is dissolved whereas solute is the substance which can dissolve in a solvent.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is a Solvent
      – Definition, Explanation of Properties with Examples
2. What is a Solute
      – Definition, Explanation of Properties with Examples
3. What is the Difference Between Solvent and Solute
      – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms: Density, Homogeneous, Solute, Solution, Solvent

Difference Between Solvent and Solute - Comparison Summary

What is a Solvent

A solvent is a substance in which different compounds can be dissolved in order to form a solution. Therefore the solvent is often the major component of a solution. The compounds that can be dissolved in a solvent depends on the properties of that solvent. Solutions are found mainly in two types.

Polar Solvents

Polar solvents are composed of polar molecules. These solvents can dissolve polar compounds.

Non-Polar Solvents

Non-polar solvents are made out of nonpolar molecules. Therefore these solvents can dissolve nonpolar compounds.

When compounds are dissolved in a solvent, the mixture of the solvent and this dissolved compound is called a solution. The chemical and physical properties of this solution are different from the properties of the solvent. Some solvents are colorful, and other solvents are colorless. Some solvents are flammable, and others are less/not flammable. Some solvents evaporate quickly while other solvents do not evaporate. 

Difference Between Solvent and Solute

Figure 1: Solvents can be used to dissolve different chemical compounds.

For example, let’s consider a cup of tea. Here, tea is the solution. Sugar and milk powder are dissolved in hot water. Therefore, hot water is the solvent here. In organic chemistry laboratories, purification of a compound through recrystallization is a common experiment. In this experiment, the impure compound in a solvent and the solvent dissolves only the compounds that need to be purified from the mixture and impurities are removed through filtration. Thus, determining the best solvent for recrystallization is very important in this experiment. Water is the best and most abundant solvent for many purposes.

What is a Solute

A solute is a substance that can be dissolved in a solution. A solute can be either a solid or a liquid. Most of the times, it is a solid compound. The concentration of a solution is the amount of solute present with respect to the amount of solvent. However, the solute is the minor component of a solution.

When a solute is dissolved in a solution, the chemical and physical properties of that solution are changed accordingly. Sometimes, a solvent may be composed of different solutes. When a water soluble ionic compound is dissolved in water, this compound gets separated into its aqueous ions. Then this ionic compound is the solute of that solution. When a covalent compound is dissolved in a solution, it is separated into its molecules.

Main Difference - Solvent vs Solute

Figure 2: Salt can be dissolved in water. Here, salt is the solute and water is the solvent.

Solutes can be either polar or nonpolar. Polar solutes can be dissolved in polar solvents whereas nonpolar solutes can be dissolved in nonpolar solvents. Solutes usually have higher boiling points compared to solvents. The solubility of a solute may depend on the temperature, type of solvent that is used and the surface area of the solute compound. Therefore, we can increase the solubility of the solute in a suitable solvent by increasing the surface area.

Difference Between Solvent and Solute

Definition

Solvent: A solvent is a substance in which different compounds can be dissolved in order to form a solution.

Solute: A solute is a substance that can be dissolved in a solution.

Physical State

Solvent: Solvents are in liquid phase almost all the time, but there can be solid or gaseous solvents as well.

Solute: Solutes are found in solid, liquid or gaseous phase.

Solubility

Solvent: Solubility of a solute in a solvent depends on the solvent properties such as polarity.

Solute: Solubility of a solute in a solvent depends on solute properties such as surface area of the solute.

Boiling Point

Solvent: The boiling point of a solvent is usually lower than that of a solute.

Solute: The boiling point of a solute is usually higher than that of a solvent.

Conclusion

A solution is composed of two components as solutes and solvent. The solvent is the major component whereas solute is the minor component. The main difference between solvent and solute is that solvent is the substance in which the solute is dissolved whereas solute is the substance which can dissolve in a solvent.

References:

1. “An Overview of Solvent and Solute and Their Key Differences.” ScienceStruck, Available here. Accessed 17 Aug. 2017.
2. Helmenstine, Anne Marie. “What Is a Solute? Definition and Examples.” ThoughtCo, Available here. Accessed 17 Aug. 2017.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Graduated cylinders and beaker filled with chemical compounds” by Horia Varlan (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
2. “SaltInWaterSolutionLiquid” 由 Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons,(CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Madhusha

Madhusha is a BSc (Hons) graduate in the field of Biological Sciences and is currently pursuing for her Masters in Industrial and Environmental Chemistry. Her interest areas for writing and research include Biochemistry and Environmental Chemistry.

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