When you hear electricity and water, obviously there is always a cautious warning playing in your head or you are reminded of some accident that happened with somebody when they were not careful about it.
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?
1. 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 it is instead the impurities present in the water that act as good conductors, so by definition if there is distilled water it will not conduct electricity but the presence of any impurity no matter how small will produce conductivity.
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 present naturally but is artificially created in laboratories.
Since it is artificially made it specifically is 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 the peak by 20ft in water.
The safe distance can be measured mathematically by using the ratio of 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.
2. The Logic behind the Flow of Electricity
To understand the basic flow of electric current in water at the atomic level, we delve deep into science and see that water molecules do not have electrons that are overlapping which is a requisite 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 or commonly known as voltage.
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 us take an example where we consider both electricity and water in their most natural forms; so when electric currents strike or there is a lightning strike hitting any waterbody.
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.
All objects or impurities that are present elevate the conductivity so given there is any living thing in the path of electricity, it has a very high chance of getting electrocuted by the current flowing.
But when we consider fishes or other animals in these water bodies they remain unaffected by these currents because they usually live and swim below the 20 ft depth.
However, there will be times and cases when there is an extreme lightning strike that might impact these animals but doesn’t happen very often.
3. Factors Affecting the Flow of Electricity in Water
Several factors impact the flow of electricity in 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 higher is the rate of flow.
The temperature of the water where the electricity is flowing creates a difference in the flow as well, the higher the temperature faster and more conducive it becomes. Along with the depth discussed above of about 20 ft, the spread is usually even across all directions but is restricted mostly to the peripheral surface.
Given the impact, the spread, and the presence it is very crucial to make sure that you never get into contact with water that is electrocuted but how is that determined?
Only if the water is highly electrocuted you will 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 and that is 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.
So, oceans can not get electrocuted because the basic process as explained above involve 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.
4. Final notes
Water and electricity don’t go hand-in-hand; That is 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.