Why and how does water conduct electricity? — SM, Murrysville, PA
Water molecules are electrically neutral and do not accelerate in response to electric fields. For that reason, a liquid consisting only of water molecules wouldn’t conduct electricity. However, real water contains things other than water molecules. Even in completely pure water, about 1 in every 10,000,000 water molecules is found to have dissociated into a hydrogen ion (H+) and a hydroxide ion (OH–). These electrically charged ions do accelerate in response to electric fields and they make it possible for even the purest water to conduct electricity weakly. Adding impurities, particularly ionic impurities such as salts, makes water an even better conductor of electricity.