Having properly functioning solvents is an absolute necessity for fine home chemistry work, especially for those interested in organic chemistry. Removal of water and other impurities from these which is often required for store-bought or homemade solvents, can be accomplished by many means, depending on the solvent.
Drying with an anhydrous salt
Probably the most commonly used method for removing water from a solvent is by using the anhydrous form of a salt as desiccant. In this process, which is useful for both polar and nonpolar solvents, involves adding the salt (such as anhydrous magnesium sulfate, sodium sulfate, calcium sulfate, calcium chloride or compounds that react with water forming precipitates such as calcium oxide, calcium hydride) directly to the solvent, followed by one or more careful distillations to avoid drawing water out of the hydrated salt. If water is present, a finely powdered anhydrous salt tends to "clump up" upon absorbing the water. Desiccants used for this process typically need to be checked beforehand to ensure that they will not react with the solvent in any way. Though it isn't a salt, sodium metal is often used in the form of shavings in the same manner with nonpolar organic solvents due to its extreme reactivity towards water. Sodium should only be used in very clean solvents with a LOW water content, otherwise the risk is run of explosions and fire.
Salting out is a technique that takes advantage of one solvent's reduced solubility in a solution of some compound relative to its solubility in pure water. This is mostly used for polar solvents that are miscible or highly soluble in water, especially when normal distillation produces an azeotrope. This technique is often used prior to distilling with a salt, as it cannot remove all of the water, but is a convenient way to remove most of it without having to use any anhydrous compounds, and it is one of the only ways to break an azeotrope outside of vacuum distillation. Examples of salting out include the separation of ethanol and water using potassium carbonate, the removal of isopropanol from water using sodium chloride, sodium hydroxide, or a mix of the two.
Molecular sieves are precise tools for the removal of water or other liquid components of a mixture. Using precisely sized pores in a material such as silica, clay, or alumina, they selectively trap molecules of a certain size by adsorption. While they may not be particularly cheap and can be difficult to re-dry after their use, molecular sieves have the advantage of being able to remove a significant amount of water from a solvent without introducing any of their own impurities. A disadvantage of molecular sieves, however, is the long amount of time they must be given to complete the water-removal process, often in excess of 24 hours.
Solvents and their principal method(s) of water removal
This section includes a commonly used method for drying a solvent that is sufficient enough for that solvent's typical use, either for solvation or as a reagent. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, and other methods can most likely be used.
|Methyl ethyl ketone||
Compatibility of desiccants with solvents
While most desiccants can be used safely to dry most common solvents, some cannot be used as they will either react with the said solvent or dissolve in it.
|Alkali metals||Alkanes, arenes, ethers||Acetone, alcohols, halogenated solvents, DMSO, nitromethane||Reacts violently with halogenated solvents, less so with alcohols and DMSO; air sensitive|
|Alkali metal hydroxide||Amines and pyridines||Acids, base-sensitive solvents, nitromethane||Reacts with acids releasing water|
|Alkaline earth metals||Alcohols, alkanes, arenes, ethers||Acetone, alcohols, halogenated solvents, DMSO||Reacts violently with halogenated solvents, less so with alcohols and DMSO; Reaction with alcohols give their respective alkoxides, that can be regenerated back to alcohol by adding water; air sensitive (except magnesium)|
|Alkaline earth metal oxides||Alcohols, alkanes, arenes, basic solvents, ethers, halogenated solvents||Acetone, esters, dipolar aprotic solvents||May react with alcohols in excess, will cause aldol condensation with ketones; not useful with dipolar aprotic solvents|
|Alumina||Alcohols, alkanes, arenes, esters, ethers, halogenated solvents||Acetone, acids||Reaction with acetone and acids|
|Boron trioxide||Acetone, acetonitrile, esters, ethers, halogenated solvents||Alcohols, basic solvents||Reacts with alcohols and basic solvents|
|Calcium chloride||Alkyl and aryl halides, esters, ethers, halogenated solvents||Acetone, acids, alcohols, aldehydes, amines, carbonyl compounds||Reaction of CaCl2 with acetone forms an addition compound|
|Calcium hydride||Alcohols, alkanes, amines, DMF, ethers, HMPA, pyridines||Esters||Reacts with esters; air sensitive|
|Calcium sulfate||Acetone, alcohols, aldehydes, halogenated solvents, ketones and pretty much all solvents||Inert||Drying may be strongly exothermic|
|Cement (Portland)||Alcohols, alkanes, arenes||Acids, esters||Reacts with acids, esters; after hydration results in a very hard mass|
|LiAlH4||Alkanes, arenes||Alcohols, esters, halogenated solvents||Reaction with alcohols, esters, halogenated solvents|
|LiBH4||Alkanes||Alcohols, halogenated solvents, esters||Reaction with alcohols, halogenated solvents, esters|
|Lithium chloride||Alkanes, arenes, halogenated solvents||Butanol, propanol, methylformamide, hydrazine||Dissolution in alcohols, methylformamide, hydrazine|
|Magnesium sulfate||Acetone, alcohols, aldehydes, alkanes, arenes, esters, ethers, halogenated solvents, ketones, pretty much all solvents||Inert||May cause small traces of aldol condensation with acetone|
|Molecular sieves||Alcohols, ethers||Acetone, acids||Will cause aldol condensation of acetone; reacts with acids|
|Phosphorus pentoxide||Halogenated solvents||Alcohols, amines, organic acids and carbonyl compounds; HMPA, DMSO, acetone||Reaction; decomposition|
|Potassium carbonate||Acetone, alcohols, aldehydes, halogenated solvents, various ketones, methyl ethyl ketone||Acids||Reaction with acids releases carbon dioxide and water|
|Silica gel||Alkanes, arenes, esters, ethers||Acetone||May cause self-condensation with acetone|
|Sodium sulfate||Acids, alcohols, esters, ethers, halogenated solvents||Acetone, ketones||Will cause some aldol condensation with ketones|