Pure Water is NOT a Conductor

N. Sun By N. Sun, 11th Dec 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/1f6pbh1i/
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Science>Chemistry

Contrary to public belief, distilled water is actually unable to conduct electricity.

Properties of Water

Today children are being raised to believe that water can conduct electricity super-easily. Well, that is part true, and part false. It is true that most of the water in are world are conductors, but distilled water is. What is the difference? Well, to find out, one must take a look at the properties of water, the atom, and molecules.

All atoms have little tiny subatomic particles called electrons. Electrons are negatively charged, and they whiz around the center of the atom. In fact, flowing electrons make up electricity. The center of the electron is called the nucleus. It is made up of positively charged protons, and neutrons with no charge. Protons and neutrons have about the same mass, while electrons have almost no mass (even in subatomic terms).

All atoms have electrons. And if you take a look at the periodic table, you will see how electrons affect the order of the atoms. Unfortunately I couldn't find any good non-copyrighted pictures of the periodic table, but a good site is Ptable. Atoms usually have the same number of electrons as protons, but sometimes electrons jump from one atom to the other. Specifically, that is what electricity is—electrons jumping from one atom to the next along a circuit. But, back on topic. When there are more electrons than protons, or more protons than electrons, then that atom is called an ion. As you can see on a periodic table, hydrogen usually has one electron, helium usually has two, and so on.

Now, electrons in an atom are arranged in orbits. However, only a certain number of electrons can fit in a single orbit. That is what the rows are for. In the first row, only two electrons can fit. That is why there are only two elements on the first row. The second orbit can fit eight, and so can the third. The fourth orbit holds a max of 18. And so on. The point is, all atoms want to have a full number of electrons in the last row. That means that all the atoms in the last column on the periodic table already have a full number of outer electrons (called valance electrons). They are happy. They don't want to gain or lose any electrons. That is why they are almost always stable. Those elements don't want to react with others, for they don't want to change their number of electrons. However, elements in the first row are the most reactive. They want to lose one electron, so they can have a full outer orbit. They will do whatever possible to lose that last electron.

One way to gain or lose an electron is to combine with other elements. For example, the compound KCl, or potassium chloride, makes it so that both elements are stable. Potassium wants to lose one electron, and chloride wants to gain one electron. This type of bonding is called ionic bonding.

The other type of bonding is called covalent bonding. This is when atoms share electrons. So, for out distilled water, H2O, oxygen has six valance electrons. It wants to gain two more electrons. And there are two hydrogen atoms. They each want to gain one electron. There obviously aren't enough electrons for everyone, so they need to share. So one electron goes around the oxygen and also around one hydrogen atom, and another goes around oxygen and the other hydrogen atom. Refer to the image at the top of the page for a diagram.

Ok, now we can get down to the fun stuff. Or was the bonding the fun stuff? No matter, now we can proceed to water. Distilled water is covalent compound. Now there are certain properties of covalent compounds. Almost all of them are not conductors, while most ionic compounds are. Pure water is not an exception to the rule. Therefore it is conductive. But water in swimming pools, sewers, tap water, they all contain some impurities. These include chloride, fluoride, bromine, calcium, etc. Those materials can cause the water to be negatively charged, helping electrons move, and causing electricity to flow through the water.

As a general rule, the water in our society is conductive, while the water of scientists is not conductive. So be careful during thunderstorms; stay away from water.


Ato, Atom, Bond, Bonds, Clean Water, Conduct, Conducters, Conductor, Covalent Bonds, Distilled, Distilled Water, Electric Charge, Electricity, Electrons, Ionic Bonds, Molecules, Neutrons, Nucleus, Periodic Table, Protons, Ptable, Pure Water, Triond, Water

Meet the author

author avatar N. Sun
Hi! I enjoy online writing, and like the concept of meeting new friends. I write also mostly on Triond. I am new, so feel free to comment on my content. Friend me, and I will friend you!

Share this page

moderator laluls212 moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar Denise O
11th Dec 2010 (#)

Hmmm, I never thought there would be a difference.
Good read.
Thank you for sharing.:)

Reply to this comment

author avatar Jerry Walch
11th Dec 2010 (#)

This article is very well written but it is incomplete.

Everything you say is true but you omitted one very important factor, the potential or voltage that you are dealing with. Place a positive and negative electrode in a vacuum and an arc will form between the electrocutes provided the voltage applied to them is high enough. Electrons travel between the Cathode and Anode in a vacuum tube because the positive potential on the Anode is high enough to cause them to flow through the near perfect vacuum that separates it from the Negative Cathode which emits them.

Articles like this one really worry me because a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous.

Reply to this comment

author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
11th Dec 2010 (#)

Good information, and good for Jerry for adding a few points too.

Reply to this comment

author avatar hieroglyph
11th Dec 2010 (#)

Excellent write!

Not to electrocute you're article but just want to add or ask... tubings and canisters or any material which encloses and holds the distilled water also affects conductivity? therefore an amount of pure water placed on holders and bins which are probable to electric charges causes indirect bonding, so still it overkills the notion of zero percentage conductivity on distilled?

Reply to this comment

author avatar Jerry Walch
11th Dec 2010 (#)

@hieroglyph Yes, absolutely, any metal container holding or transporting the distilled water will conduct electricity.

In all fairness to N. Sun, I understand what he was doing and as I said in my first comment, he was correct as far as he went. My point being that there really is no such thing as a "perfect nonconductor. Even a vacuum as near perfect as man can create will conduct an electric current under the right circumstances. Rubber is an insulator but place it between two plates with a high enough potential difference on them and the electricity will punch a hole right through it.

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?