Why Does Water Improve Our Grip?

Discover the science behind water's impact on grip, fingerprints, and friction. See why water isn't a lubricant as commonly thought.

Why Does Water Improve Our Grip?
Photo by National Cancer Institute / Unsplash

When it comes to obtaining a better grip on pages or separating plastic bags, many instinctively wet their fingers.

But why does adding water to our fingers seemingly increase our grip?

Let's dive into the science behind this common practice.

Water as a Lubricant

Water, despite popular belief, is not an ideal lubricant.

While it can create a slippery surface, this typically occurs under specific circumstances, such as when flat surfaces encounter a sufficient amount of water.

However, the surface of our fingers is not flat.

The unique ridges and valleys of our fingerprints are specifically designed to enhance grip.

When we add water, it increases the surface friction, bolstering our ability to grip objects.

This phenomenon is akin to the treads on tires, which are intended to prevent skidding by disrupting the smooth contact between the tires and the road.

The Role of Solvents

Moreover, water is an excellent solvent, meaning that substances commonly dissolve in it.

This property can contribute to increased friction, particularly when dealing with materials that are prone to dissolving in water, such as certain types of plastic.

Furthermore, water is prone to rapid evaporation under relatively low heat, lending to reduced lubrication effectiveness over time.

This rapid evaporation can expedite the return of materials to their original state, making separation more challenging.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, the perceived effectiveness of wetting our fingers to increase grip stems from the surface friction created by the interaction of water with the unique ridges of our fingerprints.

While water can act as a lubricant under specific circumstances, its inherent properties as a solvent and its tendency to evaporate at lower temperatures can influence its effectiveness for enhancing grip.