Does tap water conduct electricity? No, seriously, have you ever stopped and wondered if your tap water can conduct electricity?
If the answer is yes, it begs the question, “Why does tap water conduct electricity?”
Not many people give it a second thought.
Still, it is actually quite fascinating to discover the reason why everyday tap water in your home is actually a good conductor of electricity.
Yes, tap water can conduct electricity, and that is mainly because of the dissolved minerals and salts in tap water, which boost its conductivity by delivering ions.
Understanding a Bit about the Science of Conductivity
Electrical conductivity is a measurement of how well a material conducts electricity.
It describes how much voltage is needed for a current to be transmitted by passing through it.
It is a basic property of materials and is determined by an atom’s electrons and how easy it is to excite them.
Electrical conductivity is measured in microsiemens per centimeter (µs/cm) or micromhos per centimeter (µmhos/cm).
The Greek letter κ is used in electrical engineering.
Measurements of conductivity are taken using a meter and probe.
They help calculate the water resistance as a current is passed between two electrodes when submerged in a standardized aqueous solution.
When measuring, you will discover that the best materials for conducting electricity include:
There is no water resistance as the current passes through them, their electrons are free to flow, and the charge transfers from one material to another.
Other materials are semi-conductors or insulators.
Fact: Microsiemens per centimeter (S/cm) conductivity measurements are crucial for checking on water quality and finding contaminants.
Does Tap Water Conduct Electricity?
Yes, tap water can conduct electricity, which is mainly because of the composition of water.
When you dig deeper, you realize that tap water is not pure.
And it is due to those contaminants, minerals, and other stuff, you notice tap water to become a good conductor of electricity.
The Impure Tap Water
Tap water is not pure. It has solid inorganic chemicals added such as chlorine, that kill bacteria and viruses.
Chlorine occurs naturally as can fluoride, another chemical that is added because it prevents dental cavities.
Similarly, it may also contain minerals like:
Tap water can also carry contaminants such as nitrates, only harmful to humans in large amounts.
It also contains VOCs and heavy metals, including lead, copper and arsenic which, although present naturally in trace amounts, are usually in quantities associated with agricultural and industrial runoff.
How Does Tap Water Conduct Electricity?
The inorganic solids in tap water are chemicals whose atoms are either negatively or positively charged.
As a current is passed through the water the ions attract positive to negative and create flow.
Chloride, nitrate, sulfate, and phosphate carry a negative charge.
On the other hand, sodium, magnesium, calcium, iron and aluminum are positive.
Tap Water vs. Distilled Water
When tap water is boiled and distilled, 99.9% of the inorganic chemical solids it contains precipitate out.
Void of the essential minerals that are its chemical makeup, distilled water is of no nutritional benefit to life.
It is an extremely poor electrical conductor whereas tap water is very good.
Fact: Water conductivity can be increased by chemicals and heavy metals found in industrial and agricultural runoff, which can be an indicator of environmental dangers.
Electrical Conductivity and the Quality of Water
How well water conducts electricity is related to the quality of the water.
When the usual conductivity of a body of water, a lake or the water supply, is established and known, it can be used as the baseline for those with interest in monitoring water quality.
A change outside the normal range indicates a new contaminant could be present or the usual ratio of water to inorganic solids has become imbalanced in some way.
In tap water, this has obvious implications for public health since many of the chemicals present in tap water are harmful in large amounts.
But, it can also have an impact on its electrical conductivity.
The Number of Ions and Electrical Conductivity of Water
The main factor affecting tap water’s conductivity is how many and what kind of ions there are.
The water’s temperature and pH have less of an impact.
The greater the number of ions, the better conductor water becomes.
How well tap water conducts depends on how many ions from the outer shells of its atoms are free to interact with the water to form electrolytes so the current flows.
Inorganic ions vary in size and weight and in how they interact with a water molecule.
Heavy ions move slowly.
The smaller ions attract more water, although they slow as they become heavy and hydrated.
The Role of Temperature in the Electrical Conductivity of Water
As temperature increases, conductivity increases.
For every degree Celsius conductivity increases by around 1.9%.
When monitoring water, hydrologists report by comparing temperature-compensated values.
This value is a constant so that when conductivity is measured it is always with the assumption that the water temperature is 25°C.
If temperature differences were not compensated for, the conductivity readings would be unreliable.
An Important Consideration
In terms of electrical conductivity, organic matter is often disregarded.
The conductivity of organic-substance-containing solutions, on the other hand, rises when the pH rises.
This happens because the organic matter in water has a propensity to retain its ions, which can then take part in acid-base interactions.
More electrical conduction occurs as the pH rises because more ions are discharged.
What it means is that the presence of ions in solution greatly improves the conductivity of organic material, which may not be a great conductor on its own.
Fact: Due to the high concentration of dissolved salts, seawater is an excellent electrical conductor.
The Potential Risks of Conductive Tap Water
In tap water, good conductivity is usually due to water filtering through rock and picking up inorganic material.
And it may pose potential risks in a number of ways:
Damaging Effects Due to Hardness
It is true that mineral- rich waters taste different but are not unhealthy.
That said, when water is filtered through limestone, its ‘hardness’ and acidity damages plumbing systems, machinery and equipment as limescale precipitates out.
Limescale is destructive. It is the combo of calcium and magnesium that is as hard as rock.
It corrodes its way through its container be it a tea kettle, washing machine or the pipework of a plumbing system.
It spreads evenly, reducing the rate at which water flows, especially the hot.
In hard water areas homes are equipped with water softeners that add salt but by adding sodium and chloride ions they increase the conductivity.
Damaging Effects of Ions
In the home, puddling ion rich water and a spark of electricity are a dangerous combination.
It is equally dangerous in a wet field during a lightning storm.
In either case, electricity passes with ease through the water and any conducting human being, taking the path of least resistance on its way to earth.
Water does not hold the charge being a conductor, so the water only stays electrified until someone turns off the electricity at the source.
Monetary Effects of Conducive Water
As mentioned already, the electrical conductivity of water may have a damaging effect on appliances and pipework.
Repairing pipework and replacing appliances affected by limescale is expensive.
Although it can be seen on shower heads, taps and in kettles, for the most part it collects unseen.
It is sensible to add salt and use decalcifiers. With regular servicing by a qualified professional, they extend an appliance’s serviceable life.
An Important Consideration
Every home has possible sources of electrocution, in the bathroom especially.
Water vapor is too light to be a good conductor, but there is still a risk of electrocution if lights and sockets are incorrectly installed.
They should be as far as possible from the water sources.
Fact: Water quality, pollution, and ecological health can all be gleaned through monitoring conductivity in aquatic ecosystems.
Does tap water conduct electricity? Yes, it does.
The dissolved minerals and salts in tap water make it a good conductor of electricity.
These contaminants add ions to the water, increasing its conductivity.
The study of conductivity enlightens us as to how, despite its diverse chemical composition, tap water may serve as an efficient conductor.
It is important to keep this water’s electrifying secret in mind the next time you drink from the faucet, and always exercise caution when near live wires.