To identify what we are talking about and to understand the how each group of products work and differ it is important to understand what “Solvent” and “Water Based” are. The word solvent refers to the base product in any mixture, so technically in a water based sealant, water is the solvent. In the coatings industry the word solvent is used to describe any chemical base excluding water. This has led to a definite split in Solvent (Chemical) based products and water based products..

Within both solvent and water based products the solvent and water are designed only to carry the active ingredient to the surface of the substrate to be protected. From here both the solvent and water evaporate leaving the active ingredient on the substrate to protect. From this point of view it is easy to see that the main indicator in the performance of a sealant is the active ingredient that the base carries.



  • Solvents will typically allow a deeper penetration into a substrate than water.

  • Solvents are generally cheaper as there has been greater research and development in solvent products.

  • Will require more product as the solvent typically carries product deeper into the substrate.


  • Surface must be bone dry for application, usually requires testing with moisture meter.

  • Long term solvent use has ever lasting impact on brain function and is strongly linked to cognitive impairment.

  • Generally solvent sealers are classified as Dangerous goods, and will come with warning symbols for

    • Toxicity,

    • Flammable,

    • Highly Flammable,

    • Corrosive,

    • Poison,

    • Skin Corrosion,

    • Skin Irritant,

    • Aspiration Hazard,

    • Dangerous to The Environment,

    • Carcinogenic,

  • High quantities of VOC’s

  • Has potential to increase slip resistance

Water Based Pros

  • Safe to use in Schools, in public areas, around children, pets, vegetation etc…

  • Non Hazardous, non-flammable, non toxic

  • Bio Degradable (for Guard Industry Products)

  • Faster Drying times

  • Surface does not need to be bone dry, therefore allows greater scope for applying.

  • Easy to apply

  • Difficult to remove.

  • Does not alter appearance or slip resistance

Water Based Cons

  • Due to required Research, development and production water based sealers can be expensive to achieve a high performing sealer.

  • Difficult to remove



The long-term performance of water based and solvent sealers is dependent on the active chemical that they are carrying. So, without evaluating performance the main difference between water based and solvent sealers are the health and environmental impacts.



In an age where there is a huge emphasis placed on both short and long-term health and safety of workers the benefits of water based are too good to overlook.


So, what exactly are the impacts of a solvent on a person’s health?


Short term impacts.

Exposure to solvents for short periods of time is known to cause. Nausea, headaches, dizziness lack of coordination, stomach pains, skin irritation, eye irritation, irritation to the nose and throat. It must also be noted that one large exposure to solvent can be enough to cause death.

"Its fine, I feel good when I stop spraying!!"

Long term impacts

Continued exposure to solvents can harm the liver and kidneys, impact the nervous system, contribute to blindness, cause cancer, reduce fertility, brain damage, increased likelihood of spontaneous abortion. Solvents have also been linked to being ototoxic, which means in noisy environments solvents actually contribute to hearing loss, (Source)

Long term impacts have been proven to still be evident in people whose last exposure was up to 50 years before testing. That is correct, if you have solvent damage today and you stop using solvents, in 50 years time you may still show signs of cognitive impairment. (Source)


People with Mild Cognitive Impairment will have declined memory and thinking skills, but they are also at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. (Source)

"But it is alright, I wear my mask!!"



Solvents enter the body through 3 main methods,


INHALATION – Where the fumes, gasses and vapors are inhaled and passed through the lungs to the blood stream. This is the most common method, and is usually negated through the use of a breathing mask. Note that a simple dust mask wont protect against solvent inhalation, use the standard rule, if you can smell it then it is impacting you.

INGESTION – Solvent can form small droplets on nose hairs, and be sniffed in or swallowed. When something smells so strong you can taste it, quite often you are actually tasting it.

Ingestion also occurs through contaminated hands passing solvents on to food, cigarettes etc…

ABSORPTION – Usually the most overlooked method of impact, in Australia’s excellent weather you will often find sealant installers wearing a simple shorts and singlet combo. What they don’t know is any straying/misting solvent particles that land on their skin can be absorbed by the blood stream.


To install solvents the correct PPE procedure should include

  • Full disposable chemical protection suit,

  • Eye protection,

  • Filtered breathing equipment,

  • Hearing protection,

  • Chemical resistant boots

  • Chemical resistant gloves.

We cannot forget that these solvents are what drug users use to get a high, they are designed for industrial purposes and to get a job done. They are not designed with your short or long term health in mind, and if you are exposed you are placing yourself at a very high risk of illness or worse.

"OK so I don’t want to die early/develop cancer/get Alzheimer’s/go blind/ go deaf etc… "


The simplest, easiest way to reduce all risk is to switch to water based, non toxic products. Further to health benefits, we can look at other financial and productivity benefits

  • Reduction in requirement for PPE,

  • Quicker less expensive tool cleaning,

  • Less requirement for tool replacement,

  • Surfaces not required to be bone dry, can install in more conditions,

  • No costs for disposing of chemicals,

  • Can be applied in public spaces, schools, hospitals, airports etc… without requiring out of hours or restricted works.

See below links for some further information.

OHS Reps advice on working with solvents -

Mild Cognitive Impairment information -

Solvent Exposure linked to brain damage -

Case Study of Occupational Solvent Exposure -


“I have got a big calendar on my fridge and five sheets of paper listing everything I am supposed to do each day of the week,”

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PO Box 3890


WA, 6964