The solid state of water is known as ice; the gaseous state is known as water vapor (or steam). The units of temperature (formerly the degree Celsius and now the Kelvin) are defined in terms of the triple point of water, 273.16 K (0.01 °C) and 611.2 Pa, the temperature and pressure at which solid, liquid, and gaseous water coexist in equilibrium. Water exhibits some very strange behaviors, including the formation of states such as vitreous ice, a noncrystalline (glassy), solid state of water.
At temperatures greater than 647 K and pressures greater than 22.064 MPa, a collection of water molecules assumes a supercritical condition, in which liquid-like clusters float within a vapor-like phase.
An important feature of water is its polar nature. The water molecule forms an angle, with hydrogen atoms at the tips and oxygen at the vertex. Since oxygen has a higher electronegativity than hydrogen, the side of the molecule with the oxygen atom has a partial negative charge. A molecule with such a charge difference is called a dipole. The charge differences cause water molecules to be attracted to each other (the relatively positive areas being attracted to the relatively negative areas) and to other polar molecules. This attraction is known as hydrogen bonding.
This relatively weak (relative to the covalent bonds within the water molecule itself) attraction results in physical properties such as a relatively high boiling point, because a lot of heat energy is necessary to break the hydrogen bonds between molecules. For example, sulfur is the element below oxygen in the periodic table, and its equivalent compound, hydrogen sulfide (H2S) does not have hydrogen bonds, and though it has twice the molecular weight of water, it is a gas at room temperature. The extra bonding between water molecules also gives liquid water a large specific heat capacity.
Hydrogen bonding also gives water an unusual behaviour when freezing. Just like most other materials, the liquid becomes denser with lowering temperature. However, unlike most other materials, when cooled to near freezing point, the presence of hydrogen bonds means that the molecules, as they rearrange to minimise their energy, form a structure that is actually of lower density: hence the solid form, ice, will float in water. In other words, water expands as it freezes (most other materials shrink on solidification). Liquid water reaches its highest density at a temperature of 4 °C. This has an interesting consequence for water life in winter. Water chilled at the surface becomes denser and sinks, forming convection currents that cool the whole water body, but when the temperature of the lake water reaches 4°C, water on the surface, as it chills further, becomes less dense, and stays as a surface layer which eventually forms ice. Since downward convection of colder water is blocked by the density change, any large body of water frozen in winter will have the bulk of its water still liquid at 4°C beneath the icy surface, allowing fish to survive. This is one of the principal examples of finely-tuned physical properties that support life on Earth that is used as an argument for the anthropic principle.
Another consequence is that ice will melt if sufficient pressure is applied.
When an ionic or polar compound enters water, it is surrounded by water molecules. The relatively small size of water molecules typically allows many water molecules to surround one molecule of solute. The partially negative dipoles of the water are attracted to positively charged components of the solute, and vice versa for the positive dipoles.
In general, ionic and polar substances such as acids, alcohols, and salts are easily soluble in water, and nonpolar substances such as fats and oils are not. Nonpolar molecules stay together in water because it is energetically more favorable for the water molecules to hydrogen bond to each other than to engage in van der Waals interactions with nonpolar molecules.
An example of an ionic solute is table salt; the sodium chloride, NaCl, separates into Na+ cations and Cl- anions, each being surrounded by water molecules. The ions are then easily transported away from their crystalline lattice into solution. An example of a nonionic solute is table sugar. The water dipoles hydrogen bond to the dipolar regions of the sugar molecule and allow it to be carried away into solution.
Pure water is actually a good insulator (poor conductor), meaning that it does not conduct electricity well. Because water is such a good solvent, however, it often has some solute dissolved in it, most frequently salt. If water has such impurities, then it can conduct electricity much better, because impurities such as salt comprise free ions in aqueous solution by which an electric current can flow.
Chemically, water is amphoteric: able to act as an acid or base. Occasionally the term hydroxic acid is used when water acts as an acid in a chemical reaction. At a pH of 7 (neutral), the concentration of hydroxide ions (OH-) is equal to that of the hydronium (H3O+) or hydrogen ions (H+) ions. If the equilibrium is disturbed, the solution becomes acidic (higher concentration of hydronium ions) or basic (higher concentration of hydroxide ions).
Water can act as either an acid or an alkali in reactions. According to the Brønsted-Lowry system, an acid defined as a species which donates a proton (a H+ ion) in a reaction, and an alkali as something which receives a proton. When reacting with a stronger acid, water acts as an alkali, and will act as an acid when reaction with a weaker acid. For instance, it will receive a H+ from HCl in the equilibrium:
HCl + H2O ---> H3O+ + Cl-
And so here is acting as an alkali, by receiving an H+ ion. An acid donates a H+ ion, and water can also do this, such as the reaction with NaOH:
NH3 + H2O ---> NH4+ + OH-
Filtering: Water is passed through a sieve that catches small particles. The tighter the mesh of the sieve, the smaller the particles must be to pass through. Filtering is not sufficient to completely purify water, but it is often a necessary first step, since such particles can interfere with the more thorough purification methods.
Boiling: Water is heated to its boiling point long enough to inactivate or kill microorganisms that normally live in water at room temperature. In areas where the water is "hard", (containing dissolved calcium salts), boiling decomposes the bicarbonate ion, resulting in some (but not all) of the dissolved calcium being precipitated in the form of calcium carbonate. This is the so-called "fur" that builds up on kettle elements etc. in hard water areas. With the exception of calcium, boiling does not remove solutes of higher boiling point than water, and in fact increases their concentration (due to some water being lost as vapour)
Carbon filtering: Charcoal, a form of carbon with a high surface area due to its mode of preparation, adsorbs many compounds, including some toxic compounds. Water is passed through activated charcoal to remove such contaminants. This method is most commonly used in household water filters and fish tanks. Household filters for drinking water sometimes also contain silver, trace amounts of silver ions having a bactericidal effect.
Distilling: Distillation involves boiling the water to produce water vapour. The water vapour then rises to a cooled surface where it can condense back into a liquid and be collected. Because the solutes are not normally vaporized, they remain in the boiling solution. Even distillation does not completely purify water, because of contaminants with similar boiling points and droplets of unvaporized liquid carried with the steam. However, 99.9% pure water can be obtained by distillation.
Reverse osmosis: Mechanical pressure is applied to an impure solution to force pure water through a semi-permeable membrane. The term is reverse osmosis, because normal osmosis would result in pure water moving in the other direction to dilute the impurities. Reverse osmosis is theoretically the most thorough method of large-scale water purification available, although perfect semi-permable membranes are difficult to create.
Ion exchange chromatography: In this case, water is passed through a charged resin column that has side chains that trap calcium, magnesium, and other heavy metal ions. In many laboratories, this method of purification has replaced distillation, as it provides a high volume of very pure water more quickly and with less energy use than other processes. Water purified in this way is called deionized water.
The systematic acid name of water is hydroxic acid or hydroxilic acid, although these terms are rarely used.
Likewise, the systematic alkali name of water is hydrogen hydroxide – both acid and alkali names exist for water because it is able to react both as an acid or an alkali, depending on the strength of the acid or alkali it is reacted with (it is amphoteric).