Water and Capillary Action in Your Body

reverse osmosis banner square

Even if you've never heard of capillary action, it is still important in your life. Capillary action is important for moving water around. It is the movement of water in and out of your cellular structure that deposits vitamins, nutrients, and vital blood plasma. Without this flow, your body's cells would not rehydrate and vital communication between your brain and body would slow.

Quote Left Capillary action occurs because water is sticky, thanks to the forces of cohesion and adhesion. Quote Right

So just what is a simple definition of capillary action? It is defined as the movement of water within the spaces of a porous material due to the forces of adhesion, cohesion, and surface tension. Surface tension is a measure of the strength of the water's surface film. The attraction between the water molecules creates a strong film, which among other common liquids is only surpassed by that of mercury. This surface tension permits water to hold up substances heavier and denser than itself. A steel needle carefully placed on the surface of a glass of water will float. Some aquatic insects such as the water strider rely on surface tension to walk on water.

Capillary action occurs because water is sticky, thanks to the forces of cohesion (water molecules like to stay closely together) and adhesion (water molecules are attracted and stick to other substances). So, water tends to stick together, as in a drop, and it sticks to glass, cloth, organic tissues, and soil. Dip a paper towel into a glass of water and the water will "climb" onto the paper towel. In fact, it will keep going up the towel until the pull of gravity is too much for it to overcome.

This is more important than you think. Consider: When you spill your glass of Kool-aid on the kitchen table, you rush to get a paper towel to wipe it up. First, you can thank surface tension, which keeps the liquid in a nice puddle on the table, instead of a thin film of sugary goo that spreads out onto the floor. When you put the paper towel onto your mess the liquid adheres itself to the paper fibers (actually, the liquid moves to the spaces between and inside of the fibers).

Plants and trees couldn't thrive without capillary action. Plants put down roots into the soil, which are capable of carrying water from the soil up into the plant. Water, which contains dissolved nutrients, gets inside the roots and starts climbing up the plant tissue. As water molecule #1 starts climbing, it pulls along water molecule #2, which, of course, is dragging water molecule #3, and so on. One common experiment to demonstrate capillary action is to place a stalk of celery in a glass of water that has been colored with food coloring (you might want to use a piece of celery that has begun to whither, as it is in need of a quick drink). This effect happens because, in plants, water molecules move through narrow tubes that are called capillaries.

Without water to facilitate this movement, your body would literally come to a grinding halt.

Reading next