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Why Is Water the Universal Solvent?


Water is the universal solvent.

Water is valued as a solvent in part because so many types of molecules will dissolve in it.

John Foxx, Getty Images

Question: Why Is Water the Universal Solvent?

Water is known as the universal solvent. Here is an explanation of why water is called the universal solvent and what properties make it good at dissolving other substances.

Answer: Water is called the universal solvent because more substances dissolve in water than in any other chemical. This has to do with the polarity of each water molecule. The hydrogen side of each water (H2O) molecule carries a slight positive electric charge, while the oxygen side carries a slight negative electric charge. This helps water dissociate ionic compounds into their positive and negative ions. The positive part of an ionic compound is attracted to the oxygen side of water while the negative portion of the compound is attracted to the hydrogen side of water.

Despite its name as the "universal solvent" there are many compounds water won't dissolve or won't dissolve well. If the attraction is high between the opposite-charged ions in a compound, then the solubility will be low. For example, most of the hydroxide exhibit low solubility in water. Also, nonpolar molecules don't dissolve very well in water, including many organic compounds, such as fats and waxes.


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