What makes water a universal solvent?

Science for Youth May 29, 2013 Print Friendly and PDF

Another of water's special properties is its ability to dissolve many other substances. Because of this ability, water is called the universal solvent. Many materials are able to dissolve in water more easily than in other liquids because of the hydrogen bond. One reason dissolving is an important property is the fact that water makes up about 70% of the fluids in our bodies. The water in our bodies can dissolve substances from food we eat and transport these necessary chemicals to other parts of our bodies. This makes water absolutely necessary for life to exist. Check out this cool experiment you can do at home to see water in action as a universal solvent. 

Water's ability to dissolve other materials can be bad at times. Sometimes there are bad substances or pollutants that can dissolve in water, when they dissolve they can harm the quality of water. Even though water is clear and relatively tasteless, water is never completely pure. Many substances,including salts, minerals and microorganisms can be found in water that looks absolutely clear. But these substances are not necessarily harmful. In fact, some minerals in water actually improve its taste. Minerals usually come from soils and rocks and dissolve in rainwater when it soaks into the ground. Where you get your water usually determines its mineral content.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.