Hexane (or its cheaper, less well-defined cousin, petroleum ether) is the proto-solvent. Light and thin, it’s the weakest at actually dissolving anything, so it’s the background to most stronger mixtures in a purification. Like most other solvents, though, it’ll strip the oils right off your skin, leaving you spiderwebbed with white lines across your fingers and in need of some lotion. Its smell isn’t pleasant, but it doesn’t really stink, either. A nonchemist would easily place it in the oil / kerosene / gasoline end of things, which is exactly where it belongs.
When I first encountered ethyl acetate back in college, little did I realize that I was picking up the scent of the rest of my life. I've been in the lab ever since, and so has it. Pleasant, unspecifically fruity, vaguely bubblegum-like, the smell of that solvent is a daily companion to almost every synthetic organic chemist in the world. Mixed with hexane in different proportions according to your needs, it runs the majority of chromatographies in the world. Squirt bottles of it sit around on benches. By now, it’s an old, old friend, and the smell of it says that I’m actually getting something done.
Ether (the real ether, diethyl ether) seems like it’s close to not being there at all. No long for this world, it’s supremely light, and evaporates so quickly, that it just barely holds on to the liquid state. It has a slightly dangerous overtone to it, since it can ignite so easily and forms explosive peroxides if it’s left sitting around. The somewhat smothering smell can’t quite be described, but is instantly recognizable. Its oxygen atom gives it more dissolving power, so ether/hexane mixtures are good for delicate separations, although often impractical on a larger scale. To me, ether is sort of a lighter, stronger hexane, in the relationship that titanium has to steel.
Methanol, on the other hand, has no smell – no smell whatsoever to me, at any rate, despite what that Wikipedia link says, although I think I can tell it from air. Pure lab ethanol smells great, but methanol is a blank to me. It’s the most watery of the common solvents – it’s lighter, but that OH group gives it some surface tension, which (along with its bizarre weight) is one of water’s defining characteristics. You notice the difference, compared to thin, slippery hexane or ether – methanol is a solvent with some body to it. It’s powerful stuff in chromatography, too – one per cent added to a weaker solvent will totally change things.
Do you call it dichloromethane or methylene chloride? The latter probably gets more use, and rolls off the tongue a bit more easily. This stuff is like the demon form of hexane – it has no oxygen atoms like ether or ethyl acetate, but is a pretty strong solvent, in what always seems a mysterious way. With another immediately recognizable but hard to describe smell, its odor is the prototype of “chlorinated”. But the thing that stands out the most is its weight. This is the only common solvent that’s heavier than water, and you can build up your arms doing curls with jugs of the stuff. We don’t use its even denser cousin chloroform all that much; it would be even better bodybuilding material.
Acetone is one of the solvents familiar both in and out of the lab: nail polish remover, without the added scents. You hardly ever run an actual reaction in the stuff, though, and when you do it feels a bit odd. That’s because acetone has become the default flask-rinsing solvent of the chemistry world. I’m not sure when that was settled, but it was decades ago: a perfectly respectable solvent, stuck in the role of janitor to all that brown, red, and yellow stuff stuck to the inside of a million round-bottom flasks.