Is Water Wet?

Is Water Wet? There's an old sarcastic retort to anything that brought up what can be seen as being painfully obvious to most: "...and water is wet". But it got

a year ago

Latest Post SPA's Brain by Tracy Parks

Is Water Wet?

There's an old sarcastic retort to anything that brought up what can be seen as being painfully obvious to most: "...and water is wet". But it got me thinking, because that's what I do, is water actually wet? I know, you are probably thinking, "well of course it is" and at first blush, I'd probably agree with you. However, it has brought an interesting rabbit hole for me.

"Is water wet?""
Looking at this from a purely scientific term, is there even a scientific term for wet? Well the short answer is no. There isn't a scientific term for wet. There is, however, a common definition for wet: "consisting of, containing, covered with, or soaked with liquid (such as water)". Ok so we now have a definition of what wet is, but this doesn't answer the question: Is Water Wet? So to answer this question we have to break things down.

First imagine we have a bucket of water and a bar of iron in a room. We pour the water on the iron, is the iron wet? Well, yes it is wet. Now let's take the bucket of water and freeze it to 0ºC and keep the iron bar and the room at that temperature. The water freezes. We take the frozen water and place it on the iron bar. Is the iron bar wet? No? Why not? What has changed? Well the temperature for one. And since we brought the temperature down to a point that water freezes, or becomes a solid, it can no longer make the iron bar wet.

Ok now lets go the other direction. Let's take the bucket of water, the iron bar, and the room and heat them up to 100ºC. At this point water becomes gaseous. When the gaseous water hits the iron bar, is the iron bar wet? Well if the gaseous water manages to stick to the 100º iron bar in the 100º room, it very well might be, but odds are it wouldn't adhere to the bar and simply just fly off around the room. If you place a glass over a boiling pot of water, the gaseous water "sticks", but at that point it is no longer gaseous. It returns to its more "natural" state of being a liquid due to condensation as the ambient temperature is lower than the boiling point of water. A gaseous form of water generally cannot be visible on a surface. What you are seeing is the water in a liquid state upon a surface.

So what have we learned? Well in order for something to be wet it needs to be coated or saturated with a liquid. This seems to match the common definition for wet.

Now let's shake things up a bit. Let's add a liter of vodka to the room and reset the experiment. We take the liter of vodka and pour it on the iron bar. Is the iron bar wet? Yes. The bar is wet even though it is not coated in water. Ok so let's reset that experiment and pour the vodka into the bucket with the water. Is the water "wet"? Eh, that touches upon what we are really trying to answer. Now vodka and water look relatively the same in their liquid states at a glance. If we reset this experiment and take half the water out and place it back in the bucket, is the water more wet? can we qualify wetness?

How about let's reset the experiment again and place half the water on the iron bar. The Iron bar is now, wet (as we have defined it). Now we take the rest of the water and pour it on the iron bar. Is it more wet? Let's say for the sake of this hypothesis that the iron bar can only be completely covered with 100% of the water Ok so at first half of the bar is covered. We then cover the rest of it with the rest of the water. Is this more wet? Yes. The bar is now more wet. Ok so why when we pot the vodka in the water and the place more water on the water did we have to scratch our heads? Well neither the vodka nor the water were solid. They are both liquids, at this point.

Ok so wet is covering a solid with a liquid. We seem to be gaining traction with a clearer hypothesis. If water is in a liquid state and is coated with more liquid water, it cannot be wet. We also have to conclude that it's not just water that can make things wet, other liquids as well can make things wet. The key take away we can gather from this is that water cannot be wet. Wetness can only be defined as a solid being coated with a liquid.

So to conclude: is water wet? No. It isn't. It makes things wet, but it is not, itself, wet.

Tracy Parks

Published a year ago