Why is Water the Universal Solvent?

Why is Water the Universal Solvent?
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  • 0:05 Making a Beverage
  • 0:26 Properties of Water
  • 2:19 Water in Action
  • 3:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ebony Potts

Ebony has taught middle and high school physical science, life science & biology. She's also been an assistant principal and has a doctorate in educational administration.

Did you know that water is referred to as the ''universal solvent?'' In this lesson, you'll learn what that means. You'll also learn which of water's properties make it the universal solvent.

Making a Beverage

Have you ever made a beverage from a powdered drink mix? If you put the powdered drink mix in a bottle with water and shake the bottle really hard, the powder will seem to disappear. The powder will dissolve into the water. Not only will powdered drink mix dissolve in water, so will many other substances. Why is this the case? What makes water such a good solvent?

Properties of Water

What is so special about water that makes it such a great solvent? A solvent is a substance that other materials dissolve into. It's typically a liquid but it's sometimes a gas or a solid. Water is called the universal solvent because many materials are able to dissolve in water. The reason that this is true is because of some of water's unique properties. Water is a molecule, which is a combination of atoms held together by a chemical bond. Water molecules have what can be referred to as polar arrangement. Each molecule of water is made up of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen, which is why water is often referred to as H20.

The hydrogen atoms are located on one side of the molecule and have a positive electrical charge. On the other side of the molecule, is the oxygen atom and which has a negative charge. The three molecules are held together because atoms of opposite charge are attracted to one another. This polarity--the fact that one side of a water molecule has a negative charge and the other side has a positive charge-- is what makes many other substances attracted to the water molecule. The attraction to the water molecule can be so strong for some molecules, that water can break the bonds that hold other molecules together. This is what causes materials to dissolve so well in water.

The polarity of water also helps many organisms survive. When materials such as nutrients, vitamins, and other valuable substances come into contact with water and dissolve into it, they travel with it, often through an organism's body. This process assists in the delivery of vital materials throughout the organism's body. This process also can do the opposite as well. Water works with an animal's liver to carry dissolved waste and other toxic materials out of the body, helping to keep the organism healthy.

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