What is it that makes water “clean”?


We clean everything with water, but what is it that makes water intrinsically “clean”? Is it just because most things in the world are hydrophilic and water’s really good at carrying dirty things away?

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Water is what’s called a universal solvent. Water is called a ‘universal solvent’ because water can dissolve many more substances than any other liquid found in nature but water cannot dissolve every substance. For example- water cannot dissolve fats, waxes, and hydroxides due to the low solubility of oppositely charged particles.

The wide range of things it can dissolve make it really good for cleaning.

Water itself is not inherently clean or dirty. Rather, it is the absence of impurities that makes water “clean” for most purposes. When we use water to clean things, we are using it as a solvent to remove dirt, grime, and other substances that are not water-soluble.

In nature, water can become contaminated with a variety of impurities, such as dirt, bacteria, viruses, minerals, chemicals, and pollutants. To make water safe for human consumption, it needs to be treated and purified to remove these impurities.

Water treatment involves a combination of physical, chemical, and biological processes that remove impurities and make the water safe to drink. These processes can include filtration, sedimentation, disinfection, and chemical treatment.

Once water has been treated and purified, it can be considered “clean” for most purposes, including cleaning other objects. However, it’s important to note that even purified water can become contaminated again if it comes into contact with dirty or contaminated surfaces or materials.

So, while water itself isn’t necessarily “clean,” the absence of impurities makes it a useful tool for cleaning other objects.

Actually, the cleaning action generally comes from chemical or mechanical action. Adding soap or an acid helps chemically break down whatever you are trying to clean, and mechanical scrubbing helps physically break large chunks into smaller particles.

The polar nature of water, where one side has a positive charge and the other has a negative charge, along with the strength of the bond between hydrogen and oxygen, means that water really likes to stay as H2O rather than splitting up into H+ and -OH. The dirt and grime that is being cleaned will dissolve into the cleaning chemical, and the cleaning chemical will then dissolve into the water, which carries it down the drain.

Since the cleaning chemicals dissolve well in water, a final rinse of pure water is used to ensure all of the cleaner gets washed off of the item being cleaned. Water also dries and leaves behind little to no residue, meaning a cleaned, rinsed, and dried item doesn’t have anything extra hanging out on it.