Why Does Electricity Flow Through Water?

Why Does Electricity Flow Through Water

Quick Answer

Electricity flows through water primarily because of the presence of ions. When water contains dissolved salts, minerals, or other substances, it becomes an electrolyte, allowing electric current to pass through. Pure water, however, is a poor conductor of electricity due to the lack of free ions.

The Role of Ions in Conductivity

What Are Ions?

Ions are charged particles that form when atoms or molecules gain or lose electrons. In water, common ions include sodium (Na+), chloride (Cl-), calcium (Ca2+), and magnesium (Mg2+). These ions originate from dissolved salts and minerals.

How Ions Facilitate Conductivity

When an electric potential is applied to water-containing ions, these charged particles move toward the electrodes: cations (positive ions) move toward the cathode (negative electrode), and anions (negative ions) move toward the anode (positive electrode). This movement of ions constitutes an electric current.

Pure Water vs. Impure Water

  • Pure Water: Pure water (distilled or deionized) has very few ions and thus exhibits very low electrical conductivity.
  • Impure Water: Water with dissolved salts and minerals has a high concentration of ions, making it a good conductor of electricity.

Factors Affecting Electrical Conductivity in Water

Concentration of Ions

The more ions present in the water, the higher its electrical conductivity. For instance, seawater, rich in dissolved salts, conducts electricity much better than freshwater.


As temperature increases, water’s ability to conduct electricity also increases. This is because higher temperatures provide energy that helps ions move more freely.

Type of Ions

Different ions contribute differently to electrical conductivity. For example, ions with higher charges (like Ca2+ and Mg2+) generally enhance conductivity more than ions with lower charges (like Na+ and Cl-).

Practical Applications

Water Quality Monitoring

Electrical conductivity is a key parameter in water quality monitoring. High conductivity indicates high levels of dissolved salts and minerals, which can be crucial for assessing the suitability of water for drinking, agriculture, and industrial use.


In electrolysis, an electric current is passed through water to cause a chemical reaction. This process is used in various applications, such as hydrogen gas from water and electroplating metals.

Energy Harvesting

Recent research has explored generating electricity from water flowing through materials like graphene. This involves the interaction between water molecules and the material’s surface, creating a potential difference and generating an electric current.

Scientific Insights

Molecular Dynamics

Studies using molecular dynamics simulations have shown that water molecules, such as carbon nanotubes, can align their dipoles when flowing through nanochannels. This alignment can generate a net dipole moment, contributing to the flow of electricity.

Hydrovoltaic Technology

Hydrovoltaic technology harnesses the interaction between water and solid surfaces to generate electricity. For example, silicon nanowire arrays can produce sustained electricity through evaporation-induced water flow inside nanochannels.

Everyday Examples

Tap Water

Tap water contains various dissolved minerals, making it a conductor of electricity. This is why handling electrical appliances with wet hands or near water is dangerous.


Batteries often use electrolytes, which are solutions containing ions, to facilitate the flow of electricity between the electrodes.

Final Thoughts

Understanding why electricity flows through water helps us appreciate the intricate balance of chemistry and physics in our everyday lives. From practical applications like water quality monitoring to advanced technologies in energy harvesting, the principles of ion conductivity in water play a crucial role.