Naptha, also spelled naphtha, is a type of hydrocarbon that is produced through a distillation process. A major source of naptha is crude oil, which is processed in refineries to break down the chains of hydrocarbons. Coal tar also can be processed to yield this hydrocarbon, and it can be extracted from wood. There are many uses for naptha, including as a solvent in laundry soap or cleaning fluid. People have been using this compound for a long time; at least one culture, for example, used it in primitive grenades.
There is some irregularity in how the word “naptha” is used. Historically, it was often used generally to refer to crude oil. The modern usage, however, refers to an array of hydrocarbons of different compositions that share some structural similarities. The word — usually using the spelling "naphtha" — is often seen in the names for other hydrocarbon compounds, illustrating the fact that it is often a component ingredient or base in hydrocarbon processing and production.
This chemical is often categorized into one of two categories: aliphatic, or "light," and aromatic, or "heavy." Aliphatic compounds contain more of a chemical compound called paraffin. They are sometimes called paraffinic compounds.
One common use of this chemical is as a solvent. Naptha is a very strong and versatile solvent which can be used in hydrocarbon cracking, laundry soaps, organic chemistry, cleaning fluids, and many other applications. Fels-Naptha® is a particularly famous brand of soap that contains this chemical as a solvent. The product also is used to make varnish and to fuel camping cook stoves and lamps, as well as in the processing of fuels such as gasoline and kerosene.
Some forms of this chemical can be dangerous. A few forms can cause cancer, and many of them cause skin irritation, stomach upset and other health problems when people are exposed to them. Naptha also is unstable and flammable, making it important for people to handle it with care. People who inhale or ingest it should see a doctor as soon as possible, and people who have experienced skin contact with it should shower well to reduce the risk of developing skin irritation.
Many refineries produce various forms of naptha. Each comes with its own material safety data sheet (MSDS) that provides specific information about its chemical composition, handling precautions, health risks and other characteristics. It is important for anyone who uses this chemical to read this information carefully so that he or she is as knowledgeable as possible before using the chemical. The MSDS also has information about what should be done if someone is accidentally exposed to the chemical or if another emergency situation arises.