Does Water Really Conduct Electricity?

No, pure water doesn’t conduct electricity; by itself, it is a poor conductor of electricity. However, water contains charged ions and impurities that make it a very good conductor of electricity.

We are always told and taught that water conducts electricity. Indeed, this is the main reason why Water + Electricity is such bad news, as it can cause electric shocks for those who come into contact with the dangerous pair. But if you really think about it and delve into the depths of chemistry on this issue, you can see that pure water is actually not a good conductor of electricity, that is, it does not allow electricity to flow through it.


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Water: A universal solvent

Water dissolves many substances, which is why it is widely known as such a good solvent. In fact, water is often mistakenly referred to as the “universal solvent,” because it is able to dissolve more substances than any other liquid. Most water encountered in daily life contains a certain amount of dissolved substances. Whether the water comes from the kitchen tap, the shower, the swimming pool or elsewhere… one can safely assume that it contains a considerable amount of dissolved substances, chemicals and minerals. It is highly unlikely that the water you have is absolutely pure, i.e. free of all salts, minerals and impurities.

Pure water doesn’t conduct electricity

In order for electricity to flow through a liquid, a movement of charge must take place through the liquid. Fully deionized water, in other words, absolutely “pure” water has no ions. Consequently, no charge flows through water, so pure water does not conduct electricity. In distilled water, there are no impurities and thus no ions. There are only neutral molecules, and these neutral molecules lack a charge. For this reason, distilled water is also unable to conduct electricity.

Why is normal water a good conductor for electricity?

Tap water, rainwater and seawater contain innumerable impurities such as sodium Na +, calcium Ca2 + and magnesium Mg2 + ions. Since these are charged when they are present in water, electricity can flow through the liquid. Water does not need a large amount of impurities to function as a good conductor of electricity; even a small amount of ions can enable a water source to conduct electricity. In short, water is capable of conducting electricity due to the dissolved ions and impurities. When a battery with positive and negative poles is placed in water, the positive ions are attracted by the negative pole and the negative ions by the positive pole, creating a closed circuit. Water is amphoteric in nature, which means that it can act as both a base and an acid. It is a very good source of hydrogen, as electropositive elements reduce water to a hydrogen molecule, which is useful in redox reactions. Water has the highest surface tension of all liquids, except mercury. This property of water is formed by hydrogen binding in water molecules. Since the water we use in our daily lives is inevitably contaminated, it is best to keep all electrical appliances away so that they never come into contact with it.

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About the Author

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spearheads the content and editorial wing of ScienceABC and manages its official Youtube channel. He’s a Harry Potter fan and tries, in vain, to use spells and charms (Accio! [insert object name]) in real life to get things done. He totally gets why JRR Tolkien would create, from scratch, a language spoken by elves, and tries to bring the same passion in everything he does. A big admirer of Richard Feynman and Nikola Tesla, he obsesses over how thoroughly science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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