Explained | Is Water Wet?

This scientific argument is a heated debate amongst many. In this article Explained, we solve the “Is water wet” scientific mystery that many have solved in their heads. Here, the answers lie in science.

According to UC Santa Barbara researchers, here are two answers as to why liquid water is not wet:

Water Cant Make Itself Wet

The reason liquid water is not itself wet is that wetness is the ability of a liquid to stick to the surface of a solid, according to UC Santa Barbara. Water can make other objects wet because it is a liquid and can make solids wet. 

For example, if someone mentions something being wet, they are talking about a liquid stuck to that material, such as red wine on a carpet or grass after a rainstorm. 

The determining factor on whether an object is wet or dry is a balance between cohesive and adhesive forces.

  • Cohesive Forces | are attractive forces within the liquid causing the molecules to choose to stick together. When cohesive forces are powerful, the liquid molecules will stay very close together and won’t spread out on a surface. 
  • Adhesive Forces | are attractive forces between the liquid and the material’s surface. If The adhesive forces are powerful, the liquid will attempt to spread out on the surface as much. 

When these adhesive forces are more than the cohesive forces between liquids structure, the surface of the object now becomes wet. How “wet” the surface gets is a balancing act between the cohesive and adhesive forces. We say something is dry when the adhesive is less than cohesive forces, say the material is dry, also liquid will form into a spherical drop shape minimizing its contact with the surface. 

Why Water Isn’t The Best At Wetting Surfaces

Because water has relatively high cohesive forces and hydrogen bonding, it doesn’t wet surfaces as well as other liquids such as acetone or alcohols, according to UC Santa Barabra. However, water does wet certain surfaces like glass, for example. Detergent can be added to water increasing its ability to make clothing wet by lessening cohesive forces. There are water-resistant fabrics such as Gore-tex, a hydrophobic or water repellent material, so the cohesive forces within the water are much stronger than the adhesive force, and water will bead and keep you from getting wet.

The Textbook Definition Of Wet 

An official definition of the word “wet” is the condition of a liquid adhering to a solid surface. For example, water splashes onto our skin and makes us wet. We can’t say water by itself is wet because it takes a liquid and a solid to define water as “wet.”