Is water a good or bad conductor of electricity?

Is water a conductor of insulator of electricity?
I thought that everyone knew that water was a great conductor of electricity, but a friend of mine who’s an electrician tells me that it’s not only not a great conductor of electricity but it’s a great insulator.

I mean if you stand in a bathtub and somebody throws an electrical heater into it then not only lights out in the house but lights out for whoever happens to be standing in the water; right?

So what’s my buddy talking about?

And maybe he shouldn’t be an electrician; right?

This entry was posted in dangerous, death, electric shock, electricity, Misconceptions, Science. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Is water a good or bad conductor of electricity?

  1. no-shmuck says:

    Water per se can be a good or bad conductor of electricity because it is not the water itself that conducts electricity but the impurities in it that do the conduction.

    Electrically speaking, there are three categories of materials:

    Conductors, insulators, and semi-conductors.

    And even insulators will conduct electricity if sufficient voltage is applied to them to overcome their huge resistance.

    The bottom line is that to all intents and purposes, pure or distilled water cannot conduct enough current to harm you and it it’s even possible to operate electrical devices that are submerged in purified water.

    But take care!

    Most water, including probably all city water is capable of carrying enough current to kill you.

    Your buddy is right, and you are also right because you were really talking about different things.

  2. peterson says:

    Conductivity is dependent on the dissolved salts within the water, usually,

    Magnesium, Calcium and Sodium salts in various percentages dependent on locale.

    When I worked at my proper job, the feed water required for the HP boilers was around 2000 times purer than what came out of the tap, and it was very aggressive, wanting to get back the state it was in before it was deionized.

    It would attack pipework etc., for fun.

    One of the tests for the this water purity (falling) was increase in conductivity, usually caused by an increase in Sodium salts from the resin deionization beds becoming exhausted and and requiring treatment.

    Current flow is electron flow, (negative to positive) if all the ions are removed or “locked in”, little if any electricity should flow.

  3. witchy says:

    Funnily enough I saw Mythbusters do this one last week, though obviously with a US slant on things. Basically they dropped electrical items in a bath containing a ‘body’ made of ballistic gel that had 2 brass paddles embedded in its chest roughly where the heart would be, connected to a multimeter.

    They dropped in an iron, toaster, hair dryer, curling tongs and also a hair dryer with a GFI switch on it, the equivlent of our RCDs that break the power in a short circuit. The GFI switch worked instantly but all the other devices would’ve killed apart from the curling tongs. I can’t remember what additives they put in the water to test conductivity but all didn’t really help much.

    Also they found that the current flows to the metal plughole so the severity of electric shock varied depending on how close the item was dropped to the plughole.

  4. Jock says:

    Water itself does not conduct electricity, and it’s the ions in it that do.

    And any impurities in the water such as salt, will also conduct the electricity.

    Metals are the best conductors of electricity.

    Things like wood, rubber, and glass are the best resistors because they don’t conduct any electricity at all.

    * Ion = An atom or a group of atoms that has acquired a net electric charge by gaining or losing one or more electrons.

  5. Knopfman says:

    Insulators cannot conduct electricity as they dont have valence electrons.

    Valence electrons are the electrons in the outer-most shell of of the atom. They are typically the electrons which are involved in forming bonds to other atoms (as opposed to the other so-called “core” electrons which do not interact much with other atoms or molecules.

    • mike says:

      Insulators CAN conduct electricity – just not nearly as much as conductors or semi-conductors can. Pure water is an insulator especially deionized water – with a resistance ~ 200 K-ohms.

  6. maya says:

    I wonder why he calls himself an electrician. Things couldn’t be a conductor and an insulator at the same time. I hope he thought about that.

  7. Justin says:

    Thanks. Yes, he obviously doesn’t know much about his trade if he provided an answer like that.

  8. Velashape says:

    Yes, I’ve also heard about this myth. Perhaps it should be tested on myth-busters. What happens if the voltage remains low.

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  11. Kitchel Row says:

    Basically they dropped electrical items in a bath containing a ‘body’ made of ballistic gel that had 2 brass paddles embedded in its chest roughly where the heart would be, connected to a multimeter. I currently say that this is really true that you can get an electricity out of the lightning.

  12. Frank L. Dade says:

    It is a good conductor, but salt water is much better. That is why people are electrocuted so often..we are basically walking bags of salt water. As an aside, did you know that it’s not the tires that protect us from lightning in a car? Actually, the frame serves as ground.

  13. Faith says:

    The GFI switch worked instantly but all the other devices would’ve killed apart from the curling tongs. I can’t remember what additives they put in the water to test conductivity but all didn’t really help much.Anyway, thanks for sharing.

  14. Scott Wood says:

    The components of the water are the one that makes it a good conductor of electricity, that’s why if you will noticed in different movies that every time that a man was flush with water and the wire was a couple of feet away, the people will get struck by electricity.

  15. Laura says:

    pure water is a bad conducter of electricity, but impure water that is with added minerals n salts, is a good conducter of electricity.
    hope i helped!! 🙂

  16. Simple and not complicated posts are good to read, this post is one of them. So, I should say you did a great job. I hope you will continue on sharing interesting so that more and more readers will be educated.

  17. harry sawyerr says:

    water can b a conductor and an insulator depending on its content.if its pure it wont conduct but if it isn’t it will conduct so its like a semiconductor

  18. Angie Breault says:

    I thought that water was supposed to be a good conductor of electricity as well, but my kids and I did an experiment using a battery, a light bulb and a couple of coated wires. We chose several objects that we thought would complete the circuit. (Light bulb inside of a bulb holder,connected to wire,connected to battery, connected to object, connected to second wire, connected back to light bulb). If something was a conductor, like a metal fork, the bulb lit up when we completed the circuit with it. It also worked for a gold ring, paper clips, a watch, a metal box, etc… It did not work for paper, a pencil, or glass. Thinking it is a well known fact that water was a good conductor of electricity, we decided to try it with some. We filled a cup with water and place each end of our broken connection in water. It did not turn on the bulb. It should be noted that we were using regular city tap water. Based off of the experiment, I would say that water is not a conductor of electricity, but an insulator instead. This doesn’t seem to coincide with the facts about not using electric appliances near a bathtub or swimming during a lightning storm. So, I’m feeling slightly confused. The truth must lie somewhere in between of all of these comments, since I have a feeling that even if I was sitting in a bathtub full of the exact water that we did our experiment with when lightning struck it,I would be done for. Could it have to do with the strength of the electric current, even more so than the mineral content of the water?

  19. Al Suther says:

    An otherwise very competent electrician employee at a prestigious Southern California indian gaming casino attended our Amerisk Engineering training class on arc flash and OSHA NFPA70E compliance. Class was instructed by myself, a 30+ year veteran of facility systems, industrial engineer and MBA and with a very able younger but savvy BSEE and California licensed electrical PE.

    Being the lead electrician at that facility where we were the invited training guests, he decided to relate his own story to the 20+ class. having been the recipient of one traumatic arc flash incident, which clearly shows that being unwary can results in great pains and potentially death. His story added great veracity to the importance of precaution against arc flash potential incident and we had been retain to help that casino to be compliant with OSHA.

    He also went on and contradicted me publicly when earlier I had said that “contrary to popular opinion water was not as good of a conductor as people thought.” Well, his knowledge of physics and thermo-dynamics may be a little faulty as he was not obviously aware that ions and water purity is actually inversely proportional (possibly to the cube) to the conductivity of water. A high salt content or filled in particulates (dirt) will increase conductivity while pure water does not. So he fell into the trap of popular misconceptions. Voltage and impedance are the other variance factors. We never know it all!

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