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Definition of Nonelectrolyte

A nonelectrolyte is a type of substance that does not ionize in either a molten state or in solution. These substances do not have a distinct ionized state. Due to their poor dissociation property, they are often bad conductors of electricity. Moreover, some of these nonelectrolytes often have an insulating effect when it comes to the conduction of electric current. Essentially a nonelectrolyte is a substance that does not break into ions when stirred into a solution. The substances with the opposite characteristics of nonelectrolytes are the electrolytes. An electrolyte readily dissociates when placed in an aqueous solution. These substances are, therefore, also good conductors of electricity. In this article, we will focus on nonelectrolyte chemistry.

Examples of Nonelectrolytes 

Nonelectrolytes are chemical compounds that do not ionize even when we dissolve them in a solution. Therefore, the solutions which contain a nonelectrolyte solute usually do not conduct electricity sufficiently. Some nonelectrolytes do not conduct any current. These compounds are generally brought together by covalent bonds rather than having ionic interactions.

Let us discuss two examples of nonelectrolytes. A very common nonelectrolyte would be sugar. If we talk specifically, glucose, which is a variety of sugar, is a good example of a nonelectrolyte. Glucose has a chemical formula of C6H12O6. Glucose readily dissolves in water but does not split into ions on dissolution. Therefore, we say that glucose is an example of a nonelectrolyte. This phenomenon is also the reason why solutions containing sugar do not conduct electricity. Salt, on the other hand, is a brilliant electrolyte. 

Another common example of a nonelectrolyte is an organic compound known as ethanol or ethyl alcohol. As with most organic compounds, ethanol is covalent and therefore does not ionize.

Distinguishing Electrolytes from Nonelectrolytes 

In the study of electrochemistry and when learning about the properties of nonelectrolyte chemistry, it is important that we can tell an electrolyte and a nonelectrolyte apart. The two sets of substances have different natures, they undergo different reactions, and they have different formations altogether. In this segment, we will separate a nonelectrolyte from an electrolyte with the help of two points. 

  • The compounds which behave as electrolytes are always ionic. Their formation involves the coming together of ions. Electrolytes are held together by ionic bonds. When we dissolve such a substance in an aqueous solution or any polar solvent, we see the ionic bonds dissociating. On dissociation, we obtain cation and anion pairs, which then help to carry electricity. All ionic salts act as very strong electrolytes.

  • In the case of nonelectrolytes, the formation of the compounds generally involves covalent bond formation. Covalent bonds are nonpolar, which means they do not have a charge separation. Due to the nonpolar property of these compounds, nonelectrolytes do not dissociate into a positive and negative part when stirred into a solvent. Due to this reason, nonelectrolytes do not conduct electricity. 

Solved Examples 

Q1. What Do You Call a Substance Which Does Not Dissociate in an Aqueous Solution or a Polar Solvent and Dissolves to Form a Non-conducting Solution?

  1. electrolyte 

  2. solute

  3. nonelectrolyte 

  4. conductor

Answer: A substance that does not dissociate in an aqueous solution or a polar solvent and dissolves to form a non-conducting solution is a nonelectrolyte.

Q2. What is a Nonvolatile Nonelectrolyte?

Answer: A nonvolatile nonelectrolyte is a molecule containing covalent bonds which does not:

  • dissociate into a positive and negative half, and

  • does not evaporate or sublime

when we add it to a solvent. These compounds or molecules have a special feature that helps in the quantitative analysis of these substances. The special property of these substances is such that their colligative concentrations match the value of their molar concentration, and this makes calculations with experimental data a lot easier. 

Q3. Do We Call Sodium Chloride an Electrolyte or a Nonelectrolyte?

Answer: Sodium chloride is an innately ionic compound. The structure of the compound is such that it ionizes very easily in any polar solvent. The formation of sodium chloride itself takes place by two ions coming together, namely, the sodium cation and the chloride anion. When placed in a solvent such as water, the compound separates into Na+ and Cl- ions. Therefore, sodium chloride is not a nonelectrolyte but rather a very strong electrolyte. 

Understanding Common Examples of Non-electrolytes

There are some commonly known non-electrolytes in chemistry. Let us understand with a few examples below.

  • Naphthalene

The naphthalene balls, commonly known as mothballs fall under the category of non-electrolytes. The chemical composition of naphthalene balls is C10H8, so it contains 10 carbon atoms and 8 hydrogen atoms, like two benzene rings fused into each other, the chemical structure of naphthalene doesn’t allow it to ionize in water as it is non-polar in nature. Hence, it is a nonelectrolyte. In-room temperature, the naphthalene turns its state from solid to vapour. So, one doesn’t find any residue of it over time.

  • Benzene

Benzene is a hydrocarbon compound with the chemical formula C6H6. It is a cyclic hydrocarbon chemical that is also non-polar in nature. Though we may not encounter benzene in our day-to-day life directly, it is still found in various products we use. Benzene is used in making plastics, resin, lubricants, rubber, dyes, and detergents. As benzene is non-polar, it doesn’t dissolve in polar solvents like water. Thus, there is no ionization seen, making it a non-electrolyte.

  • Chloroform

The chloroform is also known as trichloromethane with a chemical formula CHCl3. It is a colorless and pungent-smelling liquid. The electric charge in trichloromethane is unevenly distributed, so it acts as a non-polar compound. Even though it dissociates in a polar solvent, it does so as molecules and not as ions. Thus, it is counted as a non-electrolyte.

  • Acetone

Acetone is commonly named propanone. The chemical formula of this compound is (CH3)2CO. Acetone is a highly volatile liquid, has a characteristic odour, and is colourless.

Acetone is majorly used in nail polishes, paint thinners, and various other items. When the acetone is dissolved in water, the molecules of it don’t dissociate as ions, so they are counted as non-electrolytes.

  • Toluene

Toluene is an organic compound with the chemical composition of C6H5CH3. It belongs to the aromatic hydrocarbon group. Toluene is the major ingredient in the production of permanent markers, paint thinners, glues as well as contact cement. Toluene is non-polar in nature, so when it is mixed with a polar solvent like water, it rather forms an emulsion and doesn’t dissociate into ions. Thus, toluene is classified as a non-electrolyte.

  •  Alcohol

Commonly known as “liquor” in general terms, the chemical composition of ethyl alcohol is CH3CH2OH. Alcohol has covalent bonding. When water is mixed with alcohol, water molecules gather around it, but it doesn’t dissociate into ions due to the covalent bonding. Although, some of the covalent bonds do dissociate in water, like formic acid and carboxylic acids.

Thus, alcohol is known to be a non-electrolyte.

FAQs on Nonelectrolyte

1. Should We Consider Water to be a Nonelectrolyte?

If we understand a nonelectrolyte by its definition, we will see that it is a substance that does not undergo dissociation when dissolved into a solvent. The solvent we are talking about is usually water. Therefore when we ask whether water is a nonelectrolyte or not, we are essentially asking if water dissolves into itself and leads to dissociation. If we see experimentally, pure water does not conduct any electricity. If water conducts current, it is due to the electrolytic components present in it. Therefore, water is mainly the solvent and cannot be either an electrolyte or a nonelectrolyte. However, water does weakly dissociate into H+ and OH- ions spontaneously. 

2. Is Ammonia an Electrolyte or a Nonelectrolyte?

Ammonia is a chemical compound that goes by the formula \[NH_{3}\]. Most scientific experiments generally classify ammonia as an electrolyte. This observation is due to the dissociative nature of ammonia under certain conditions when placed in a solvent. For example, when ammonia dissolves into water, it breaks up into ions. This process takes place because the ammonia molecules react with the water molecules and form a pair of dissociated ions. These ions are namely the ammonium ion whose formula is \[NH{_{4}}^{+}\] and the hydroxide ion with the formula \[OH^{-}\]. Although we see dissociation taking place, the rate of formation of these ions is very low, and therefore ammonia is a very weak electrolyte.

3. What are strong and weak electrolytes?

When the electrolyte solute is dissolved in a polar solvent, the resulting mixture conducts electricity. When the dissolved solute ionizes with ease, it is known as a strong electrolyte and when the given solute doesn’t dissociate into ions with ease, they are named as weak electrolytes.

The compounds that dissociate easily are strong conductors of electricity, and those that do not dissociate easily are weak conductors of electricity.

A strong electrolyte will completely dissociate itself into the polar solvent, whereas a weak electrolyte mostly remains undissociated in the solvent.

4. How do drinking electrolytes benefit the human body?

A healthy human body has an adequate balance of electrolytes. The body functions well when it is balanced on the electrolytes. The loss of electrolytes can lead to dehydration and serious effects on organ functions. Therefore, it is vital to be hydrated and keep the electrolytes in check with regular urine and other tests. Usually, the loss of electrolytes from the body is caused by diarrhea or vomiting. In such cases, an ORS(oral rehydration solution) is given to rejuvenate the body. Although, in severe cases, the intravenous route(IV) is recommended. The electrolytes are sometimes lost due to excessive sweating as well.

 Electrolytes in humans help in the following causes:

  • Electrolytes are vital in maintaining the water content in the body

  • Electrolytes help in removing the waste from the cells and moving nutrients into the cell.

  • Electrolytes maintain the ph balance of the body.

  • They ensure the overall working of vital organs like the heart and the brain. The muscles and neurons are known as electric tissues as they function effectively on the electrolytes in the system.

Electrolyte solution for consumption contains sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate, phosphate, and chloride.