Lightning striking near a mountainous city at night. Lightning striking near a mountainous city at night.

Can Electricity Travel Far in Water? The Science Behind Water Conductivity and Electrical Safety

When you hear electricity and water, obviously, there is always a cautious warning to somebody playing in your head. You might get reminded of some accident that happened to somebody when they were not careful about it. I still remember the warnings given by my elders when I was a kid.

Do not operate switches and plugs with wet hands. Try not to use any electrical appliances near tubs or baths. Always make sure your body is dry before touching any electric point. Isn’t this the usual drill that has been taught to every one of us out there? 

In fact, Dr. Emilia Clarke, a Marine Biologist, says the following:

“Electricity’s journey through water is a tale of resistance and conductivity. In saltwater, electricity finds a path with ease, traveling significant distances due to the ions present. Yet, its voyage is not infinite; dissipation occurs as energy is lost to the surrounding water.”

Dr. Emilia Clarke

As I Grew, I Got to Know Some Interesting Myths and Beliefs.

Let’s start by busting the myth that electricity travels in water. But first, let’s understand how electricity flows through any material or substance. It is just the flow of electrons that creates electricity in layman’s terms. 

It is not the water that conducts electricity. Instead, the impurities present in the water act as good conductors. So by definition, if there is distilled water, it will not conduct electricity. The presence of any impurity, no matter how small, will produce conductivity. Did you know this?  

– Source: Pixabay

It seems like all water, as the water present everywhere, conducts electricity because any water other than distilled water contains salts and metals. Distilled water is deionized water, which is not naturally present but artificially created in laboratories.

Since it is artificially made, it is specifically an insulator and does not support any flow of electricity. Now, all these are conductors, but it does not mean that they help in the flow of electricity in a very supportive manner. Indeed, there is resistance along the path, and it gradually increases, and it is believed that it usually reaches a peak of 20ft in water.

The safe distance can be measured mathematically by using the ratio of the fault current to the body current, with the help of which we can classify them into a high danger zone, low danger zone, moderate risk, and safe zones. 

And Now I Know the Exact Logic behind the Flow of Electricity 

To make you understand the basic flow of electric current in water at the atomic level, I must tell you that water molecules do not have electrons that overlap. Actually, it’s a prerequisite for electricity to flow. Now, to create the flow, they have to be given a lot of energy so that they can flow towards the end of lower energy, hence conducting electricity. This energy is termed electromagnetic force and is commonly known as voltage. 

“When considering the transmission of electrical currents in aquatic environments, it’s crucial to understand that the distance electricity can travel is not merely a matter of physics, but also of ecological impact. The conductivity of water bodies can affect marine life in ways we’re just beginning to comprehend.”

Dr. Ada Lovelace, Environmental Scientist
– Source: Pixabay

Let’s understand how it changes for impure water. When there is salt in the water, salt implies sodium chloride, and let’s break it down to sodium and chlorine ions which are pulled apart by the water molecules.

They conduct electricity as they become free floating in the water after they are extracted and they carry their charge, and these charged particles thus make the conduction possible. Although stated above that it is not the water, but the contents present in it that create the flow we still have to understand that the combination of water and electricity is very dangerous.

To understand this impact better, let me give you an example where we consider both electricity and water in their most natural forms. So, when electric currents strike, there is a lightning strike hitting any water body. What happens in any such situation is that current flows in a manner that is always drawn to the ground to reach the zero voltage traveling from high to low.

The saltier the water, the better it conducts electricity. This is why seawater is a much better conductor than freshwater. Scientists and engineers exploit this property in different technological applications, including sea-based renewable energy sources and desalination processes.

Anika Patel, Science Educator

All objects or impurities that are present elevate the conductivity, so given that there is no living thing in the path of electricity, it has a very high chance of being electrocuted by the current flowing. 

– Source: Pixabay

However, when we consider fish or other animals in these water bodies, they remain unaffected by these currents because they usually live and swim below the 20 ft depth. There will be times and cases when there is an extreme lightning strike that might impact these animals, but it doesn’t happen very often. 

I’ll Tell You the Factors Affecting the Flow of Electricity in Water

Several factors impact the flow of electricity in the water, which include the point of contact and the type of water, as discussed above.

Another factor that creates an impact is the salinity of the water. The higher the salinity, the better the conductivity. Voltage similarly affects the flow proportionally; the higher the intensity or the voltage, the higher the rate of flow.  

When electricity is passed through water, it can cause the water molecules to split into hydrogen and oxygen gas, a process known as electrolysis. This principle is not only fundamental in chemistry but also holds potential for renewable energy storage solutions. By storing energy in the form of hydrogen gas, we can use water as a medium to facilitate the transition to cleaner energy sources.

Dr. Hideo Nishimura, Environmental Technologist

The temperature of the water where the electricity is flowing creates a difference in the flow as well. The higher the temperature, the faster and more conducive it becomes. Given the impact, the spread, and the presence, it is crucial to make sure that you never come into contact with electrocuted water, but how is that determined?

Only if the water is highly electrocuted will you see sparks or colts in it. But, that usually is not the case, and in case of low voltage/intensity, you can see nothing with bare eyes and will have to use an electricity testing device to check for the same.

Although water does not stay electrocuted for long because there has to be a constant source of flow creating the current. That’s only possible if there is a live wire in the water, which also usually does not create a huge impact if the water body is too large. 

That’s why, oceans can not get electrocuted because the basic process, as explained above, involves the breaking into ions. So when the electricity flows, it will somewhat follow a straight path towards the bottom of the ocean. But, since this bottom is far, it does not effectively electrocute this large and deep water body. 

– Source: Pixabay

Water and electricity don’t go hand-in-hand. That’s true and should always be taken care of and remembered. Precautionary measures must always be taken when we are around water.

Specifically in swimming pools and hot tubs. This should be taken care of when you’re swimming in outer regions or in bad weather conditions as it holds higher chances for your body getting electrocuted. 

Another important thing to remember is that distilled water is insulating as long as its purity can be maintained, so if it falls into a swimming pool or a hot tub, it is not 100% pure now. Similarly, this water on the human body does conduct electricity because our body is full of charged particles which help in the flow of electricity. 

Last Updated on May 25, 2024 by Pragya


Anushree Khandelwal
  1. Learning about how electricity travels in water was illuminating. The technical explanations were presented in a clear and understandable manner. A valuable read for those curious about electrical conductivity.

  2. I found this article’s exploration of the interaction between electricity and water quite insightful. The analogy with natural forms of electricity and water, and the explanation of how current flows and its potential impact on living things, provided a clear understanding. The mention of fishes and animals remaining mostly unaffected, especially below 20 ft depth, added an interesting perspective to the topic.

  3. It is very interesting to know about the flow of electricity in water. Interesting as well as informative. Good for part time readers as well.

  4. This insightful article debunks the myth that water itself conducts electricity, emphasizing that impurities in water, like salts and metals, are the actual conductors. The logical explanation of the atomic-level flow of electric current in water, coupled with the impact of factors like salinity and voltage, provides a comprehensive understanding. The 20 ft depth limit for safe zones, coupled with the cautionary note about using electricity testing devices, adds practical advice for safety. The article skillfully combines scientific detail with real-world examples, highlighting the importance of precautionary measures, especially around water bodies.

  5. It was fun to delve into the basic concept of electricity, its flow, and the nuances when it comes to water. Discovering the factors that impact this flow, such as the point of contact and the type of water, added a layer of understanding. The insight that the electricity’s reach is about 20 feet and generally spreads evenly but is mostly confined to the peripheral surface was particularly fascinating. A well-rounded exploration that satisfied my curiosity on the topic.

  6. Up until I read this piece, I thought that water conducts electricity. Now I know that’s far from the truth. On the contrary, pure water including distilled water won’t conduct electricity since it is the inpurities that do so. I will also never open sockets and switches with wet hands.

  7. The article provides valuable insights into the intricate relationship between electricity and water, highlighting the factors influencing the distance electricity can traverse in this conductive medium.

  8. This article’s examination of the relationship between electricity and water struck me as particularly insightful. the comparison to naturally occurring electrical and water forms. This informative article dispels the myth that water conducts electricity by emphasizing the fact that impurities such as metals and salts are the true conductors in water.

  9. This article provides a comprehensive and informative overview of the relationship between electricity and water, debunking common myths and explaining the scientific principles behind the conductivity of water. It covers various aspects, including the factors influencing the flow of electricity in water, the logic behind this flow at the atomic level, and the potential dangers associated with the combination of water and electricity.

  10. This article about how far electricity travels in water was very enlightening and educational. It explained the factors that affect the conductivity and the resistance of water and how they influence the distance and the speed of electric currents. It also gave some examples and applications of electricity in water, such as electric eels, electrolysis, and electric shocks. I think this article is very useful and informative for anyone who wants to learn more about electricity and water.

  11. The article successfully educates readers on the science behind electricity and water interaction while emphasizing safety precautions. With some refinements in consistency, formatting, and the addition of interactive elements, it can become an even more engaging and informative resource for a broad audience.

  12. This article provides a detailed exploration of the relationship between electricity and water, dispelling myths and explaining the scientific principles behind their interaction.

  13. The article effectively communicates important information about the interaction between electricity and water. It combines scientific explanations with practical examples, contributing to a well-rounded piece. With the suggested improvements, particularly in visual elements and formatting, the article can further enhance its educational value and reader engagement.

  14. This article succinctly explores the distance electricity can travel in water, delving into conductivity factors and safety considerations. It’s a concise yet informative read for anyone curious about the dynamics of electrical transmission in aquatic environments. Understanding these principles is essential for ensuring safety and making informed decisions around water and electricity.

  15. The article define the relationship between electricity and water. Revealed the facts on how far does electricity travel in water and how water molecules,electrons and electrolytes impacts on the flow of electricity.

  16. The article effectively educates readers on the science behind electricity and water, dispelling myths while providing practical information about safety measures and potential risks.

  17. It’s good to learn about how electrons flow in water. This article is really handy for everyday life, especially when using things like immersion heaters and geysers. Even though distilled water is supposed to be non-conducting, we use water with all sorts of impurities in our daily lives. That’s why this article is so useful—it tells us what happens when electricity flows through water with impurities.

  18. A thorough comprehension is provided by the logical explanation of the atomic-level flow of electric current in water and the effects of variables like voltage and salinity. Practical safety advice is added by the 20-foot depth restriction for safe zones and the warning against utilizing electrical testing instruments.

  19. This article was actually really interesting! Since we drink/use impure water every day it is very applicable to know these facts about the speed of electricity in water. I like that the author took time to dispel common myths and provide real information on this topic.

  20. A new thing that I learnt from this article was that water itself is not the conductor of electricity but the impurities in are. Thank you for this highly researched and intriguing article.

  21. This article brilliantly demystifies the common beliefs about electricity and water. Exploring the intricate science behind conductivity, it provides valuable insights into why caution is crucial. The real-world examples and factors affecting electricity’s flow in water make it an essential read, emphasizing safety in the presence of these elements.

  22. Up until I came across this article , I had a misconception that water itself is a conductor of electricity. A very insightful need and thanks for adding the part of not touching any possible electricity conducting device with wet hands.

  23. I have always been curious about this topic and that is why I really appreciate this well researched article. The detailed summary of the functions and factors have helped me understand it easier.

  24. I never knew water doesn’t conduct electricity—it’s the impurities like salts and metals that do the job. Understanding how electric current flows in water, considering factors like salinity, was eye-opening. The article’s practical tips, like the 20 ft safe zone and being careful with testing devices, are essential. Now, I’m more aware of the importance of impurities when dealing with electricity and water in everyday situations.

  25. One note, Lightning is a surface effect, in as much as it travels across the surface of the water. My sister was scuba diving when a storm came up. Lightning hit the surface and she could see beautiful sparkling effects from the strike from 30ft under the surface. If you were at or close to the surface I don’t think it would be good if lightning struck anywhere near by. True story!

  26. This informative article corrects a misconception about water conducting electricity. The article also explains how electric current moves through water at a microscopic level, affected by factors such as saltiness and voltage. It combines scientific explanations with real-life situations to stress the importance of being cautious around water and electricity. Highly recommend all the science enthusiasts to take a read. kudos to the author!

  27. This is a helpful article about the relationship between electricity and water. It helped me get a detailed insight into the myth and truth about electricity travel in water.

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