OBJECTIVES: The role of occupational exposures in hairy cell leukaemia was investigated through a multicentre, hospital based, case-control study. This paper analyses the role of exposure to solvents other than benzene in hairy cell leukaemia. METHODS: The study included 226 male cases and 425 matched controls, exposure to solvents was evaluated by expert case by case review of the detailed data on occupational exposures generated by specific interviews. Also, exposure to solvents was evaluated with an independently constructed job exposure matrix (JEM). RESULTS: No association was found between hairy cell leukaemia and previous employment in a job exposed to solvents (odds ratio (OR) 0.9 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.6 to 1.3). ORs for the main occupational tasks exposed to solvents were around 1 and did not increase with the frequency or the duration of the tasks. No specific type of paint or glue was found to be significantly associated with hairy cell leukaemia. No association was found with exposure to solvents, taken as a whole, with either expert assessments or the JEM. No association was found with aromatic, chlorinated, or oxygenated subgroups of solvents. The ORs did not increase with the average intensity of exposure assessed by the experts, with the frequency of use, or with the duration of exposure. Finally, no association was found with non-occupational exposure to solvents. CONCLUSIONS: The study did not show any association between exposure to solvents and hairy cell leukaemia.