Why Salt in Water Can Conduct Electricity

Salt water conducts electricity.
••• Visage/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Electricity and Conduction

Conductors, like copper wire, carry electrical current.
••• Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

To understand why salt water conducts electricity, we have to first understand what electricity is. Electricity is a steady flow of electrons or electrically charged particles through a substance. In some conductors, such as copper, the electrons themselves are able to flow through the substance, carrying the current. In other conductors, such as salt water, the current is moved by molecules called ions.

Dissolving Salt Water

When salt dissolves in water the water becomes more conductive.
••• Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images

Pure water is not very conductive, and only a tiny bit of current can move through the water. When salt or sodium chloride (NaCl) is dissolved in it, however, the salt molecules split into two pieces, a sodium ion and a chlorine ion. The sodium ion is missing an electron, which gives it a positive charge. The chlorine ion has an extra electron, giving it a negative charge.

Creating a Current

When an electric source sends a current through water it will have two terminals.
••• Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images

An electric source sending a current through water will have two terminals: a negative one that conducts electrons into the water, and a positive one that removes them. Opposite charges attract, so the sodium ions are attracted to the negative terminal, and the chlorine to the positive. The ions form a bridge, the sodium ions absorbing electrons from the negative terminal, passing them to chlorine ions and then the positive terminal.

Related Articles

Why Do Ionic Compounds Conduct Electricity in Water?
How to Make Negatively Charged Water
What Is the Metallic Ion in the Compound CuCl2?
How to Light a Lightbulb With Saltwater
Are Ions Hydrophobic Or Hydrophilic?
How Does Salt Affect the pH of Water?
How Do Magnets Work in Saltwater?
Brine Vs. Conductivity
How Does Salt Water Rust Metals?
Three Ways That Polarity of Water Molecules Affect...
How to Calculate Ohms
What Ions Are Present When Dissolving AGNO3 in Water?
What Chemicals Rust Metal Rapidly?
Contents of the Potato That Can Conduct Electricity
What Are Three Important Parts Needed to Make a Battery?
What Happens to Ionic & Covalent Compounds When They...
What Happens When You Put Saltwater on Plants?
How to Convert Tds to Conductivity
What is a Polyatomic Ion?
What Is the Difference Between Molar Mass and Molecular...

Dont Go!

We Have More Great Sciencing Articles!