Water, in its most basic form, is often seen as the harbinger of life, carrying vital nutrients to living organisms, creating rain to nourish the earth, or presenting itself as a resource for a myriad of our daily needs. But beneath its simplicity lies a plethora of fascinating scientific phenomena that have perplexed and intrigued researchers for centuries. Among them is the intriguing query: does distilled water conduct electricity?
Many of us are aware of the fact that water conducts electricity. But one thing that we all should know is that chemistry is full of exceptions. Most people have doubts about the conductivity of distilled water. So, in this article, I will try to make you guys understand the properties and conductivity of distilled water.
Does distilled water conduct electricity? No, distilled water doesn’t conduct electricity. Distilled water is a pure form of water that does not contain any dissolved impurities, due to which no free ions are present to conduct electricity. Distilled water has a neutral PH value (neither acidic nor basic).
Distilled water is free of any other impurity apart from the water molecules, and they do not have the free ions in it to flow through which electric current is produced.
We can define Ions as positively or negatively charged molecules or single atoms. They flow towards the oppositely charged particle so as to become stable because they are not stable or neutral. Na+ (Sodium-ion), Cl- (Chloride ion), S2- (Sulphide ion) are some of the common examples of the ions.
Basically, free ions are responsible for passing the electric current through the water. Free ions are mobile in nature and flow from the negative terminal to the positive terminal when a potential difference is applied across the water.
Electrons have a negative charge. Hence they repel negative charges and attract positive charges.
Therefore, distilled water is an insulator because it has no free electrons to flow across it.
Distilled water only contains neutral water molecules which have no charge. Thus, doesn’t conduct electricity.
In high school laboratories, students often perform the electrolysis experiment. Electrolysis is the process of chemical decomposition by passing an electric current through a salt solution (water containing sodium chloride salt).
As we pass an electric current through it, the water dissociates into hydrogen and chlorine gas.
Hydrogen gas and chlorine gas turns into tiny bubbles and Na+ and H+ move towards the cathode (negatively charged terminal), and Cl- and OH- move towards anode (positively charged terminal) and thus electric current flows through these free ions (Na+, H+, Cl-, OH-).
Now, the flow of electric current was made possible because of the NaCl which dissolves in water and dissociates into 2 oppositely charged ions that are Na+ and Cl-. If we had distilled water and no salt dissolved we couldn’t perform this experiment.
The Question of Distilled Water’s Conductivity
Given that distilled water is devoid of these ions and impurities, the question arises: does distilled water conduct electricity?
In theory, since distilled water lacks ions, it shouldn’t conduct electricity.
However, it’s important to consider that achieving 100% pure distilled water is nearly impossible, as water readily absorbs carbon dioxide from the environment, which causes it to ionize slightly and develop minor conductivity.
This is a far cry from the conductivity levels of regular or tap water, but it does mean that distilled water is not a perfect insulator.
Why is Distilled Water a Poor Conductor of Electricity?
Distilled water is the purest form of water that does not have any other dissolved impurity added to it. It contains only H2O molecules that are bound together by covalent bonds, due to which there are no free ions present in it. Therefore, It is a poor conductor of electricity.
To conduct electricity, it is necessary for the solution to contain free electrons or free ions. H2O molecules itself is completely unionized.
Usually, normal water contains water molecules with dissolved impurities in the form of salts
The main reason for the poor conductivity of distilled water is the absence of free ions ( positive or negative), as ions are only responsible for the flow of electric current.
Distilled water only contains a stable molecule of water H2O and has no other free electrons to flow across the water.
Therefore, Distilled water makes it an insulator. On the addition of salts such as NaCl (Sodium chloride) or other impurities, it will act as a conductor because salt contains Na+ and Cl- that flow through the water, and electric current will flow through it.
Salt acts as an impurity in water that provides free ions to produce an electric current.
What Affects the Conductivity of Distilled Water?
Presence of Ions:
The primary factor that influences the conductivity of distilled water is the presence of ions. Distilled water, in its purest form, is free from ions and thus an extremely poor conductor.
However, it’s challenging to maintain this level of purity as water easily absorbs gases and impurities from its environment, including carbon dioxide, which, when dissolved, forms weak carbonic acid and can dissociate into ions.
These ions, although few in number, can carry an electrical charge and hence increase the conductivity of the distilled water.
The temperature of the water can also affect its conductivity. As temperature increases, water molecules can dissociate into hydrogen ions (H+) and hydroxide ions (OH-) at a higher rate, leading to increased conductivity.
However, this factor plays a very minor role in distilled water as compared to ionized water due to the scarcity of ions.
Exposure to Air:
Distilled water left exposed to air will start to absorb gases, notably carbon dioxide, which, as mentioned above, can ionize and increase the water’s conductivity.
Presence of Other Contaminants:
The presence of any other contaminants, such as dust or other substances, can also increase the conductivity of distilled water. Even the slightest contamination can introduce ions, leading to increased conductivity.
Though less common in everyday settings, exposure to radiation can also affect the conductivity of distilled water. Ionizing radiation can lead to the formation of ions, increasing conductivity.
Does Tap Water Conduct Electricity?
Yes, tap water is not pure water. It contains minerals and other dissolved salts that can ionize into the tap water. These ions help in the flow of electric current to flow through it.
The higher the number of ions present in the water, the higher will be the conductivity. Therefore, distilled water is an insulator because there are no ions present in it to conduct the electricity.
And also to filter tap water, chlorine compounds are also added to the water. This process of adding chlorine to tap water is also known as chlorination.
Due to the chlorination of tap water, there are sufficient Cl- ions (chloride ions) that act as free ions to conduct the electricity.
Basically, chlorination of tap water is done to prevent health problems such as typhoid, cholera, etc., by filtering tap water.
Does Rainwater Conduct Electricity?
Yes, rainwater conducts electricity because it contains impurities such as oxides of sulfur which are acidic in nature and they furnish H+ ions. And these free ions will conduct electric current with their movement by applying a voltage across the rainwater.
The conductivity of rainwater is directly proportional to the amount of dissolved salt in it. The more salts present in the rainwater, the more will the free ions conduct the electricity in it.
In some areas around the world, the death news of humans is heard due to electric currents seeping into the water bodies.
Therefore, it is generally advised to avoid touching electrical appliances during the rainy season. As the electric sockets or wires can be wet and can give you a sudden electric shock.
Cattle should not be tied to electric poles in the case of rain. It can be life-threatening for animals.
How can we make Distilled Water Conduct Electricity?
As we know, distilled water is a pure form of water. With the addition of impurities such as salts such as NaCl and any other salt compound in it, distilled water is turned into a salt solution.
The salt present in the distilled water contains free ions that can move inside the liquid. If we put that water inside a container and apply a voltage across it, the electric current will flow through it.
So, with the addition of impurities to the distilled water, we can make the distilled water conduct electricity. The more amount of salt present in the distilled water, the greater will be the conductivity of it.
In this article, I tried to cover the topic of poor conductance of distilled water with the logical reason behind them.
I hope you guys got enough information about the conductivity in distilled water.
In conclusion, while distilled water, due to its lack of ions, is a poor conductor of electricity, it’s not an absolute insulator. Factors like the absorption of atmospheric gases and the influence of temperature can cause slight ionization, leading to minimal conductivity.
Understanding the science behind distilled water and its conductivity helps dispel common misconceptions and ensures safer practices in situations where water and electricity might intersect. It also emphasizes the remarkable complexities hidden within the water, one of the simplest yet most vital substances in our lives.
Science is a never-ending journey, and with each question we answer, we realize that nature, in all its forms