Why Oil and Water Do Not Mix

It’s a cliché to say that two people or things that do not go together well are like oil and water. Nevertheless, most clichés have a basis in fact. Oil and water really do not mix. They just form a big goopy mess that requires oil water separators North Carolina to deal with.

While you probably know that oil and water do not mix, you may not understand why. The answer lies in the chemistry of the individual molecules.

Polar Molecules

A molecule consists of several different atoms that have bonded together. Water is a simple molecule consisting of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. Different types of oil consist of different molecules that are more complex.

It is not the complexity of the oil molecules that prevent them from combining with the water molecules, however. It is that water molecules are polar and oil molecules are not. In other words, water molecules have a positive charge on one end and a negative charge on the other. Oppositely charged poles attract one another, so that water molecules stick together. This is also the reason that you can dissolve sugar or salt in water. Those molecules are polar just as water molecules are, so they can attract and bond with one another.

Nonpolar Molecules

Oil molecules, on the other hand, have no charge, either positive or negative. Therefore, they do not attract polar molecules, and polar molecules do not attract them. Nonpolar molecules do attract each other, however. Oil is typically lighter than water, and that is why you find large globs or droplets of oil floating on top of water in mixtures that contain both. The oil molecules attract each other and float to the top of the water.

It is sometimes possible to get oil and water to mix together. It requires the addition of another chemical called an emulsifier. This type of molecule has one end with a charge and one end with no charge. It works something like a power adapter to bond two molecules together that wouldn’t mix well otherwise.


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