Feeling Polar-ized? The Crucial Difference Between Polar and Non-Polar

There’s a lot of polarity on the planet. And it doesn’t always stem from people’s magnetic personalities. It also has nothing to do with the North and South Poles. Or polar fleece (which can keep you warm if you’re traveling to a Pole.) It doesn’t even have much to do with polar bears. Except for the fact that a polar bear’s fur is non-polar.

Huh? We’re not pulling your leg, even if it’s covered in polar fleece. When it comes to spill containment, “polar” identifies a liquid that is water based, or water-soluble (hydrophilic). By the same token, the term “non-polar” means a liquid is oil based, or oil soluble (hydrophobic). Anyone who works with hazardous or potentially hazardous liquids is keenly aware of these differences:

  • Polar substances are made up of molecules that have a positive charge on one end and a negative charge on the other. Like a magnet.
  • Non-polar substances are made up of molecules that don’t have positive or negative charges. They’re impartial.

Oil and Water Don’t Mix, Even at Parties Non-polar liquids are generally oil based and will repel water they’re hydrophobic substances such as, fats, oil, and gasoline, and contain molecules that are water-insoluble at room temperature. Polar liquids are generally water based and do not mix with non-polar liquids. So don’t invite them both to the same party if you want things to jell. There are a few rare exceptions. For instance, soap and ethanol are both polar and non-polar, and can mix with oil or water. Same with emulsifiers. Think of them as mediators. Not someone you see on a regular basis, though it’s good to know they exist when you need one. In oil drilling, most spill preparedness includes absorbents that are hydrophobic, non-polar liquids. They will clean and absorb any oil that leaks or spills. However, you also need to have materials onsite to handle water-based chemicals: absorbents for polar liquids. Why? Because many of the liquids used to assist in drilling, especially and almost exclusively in fracking, are water-based or polar liquids. Water-based fluids are used to drill approximately 80% of all wells. You can’t clean a water-soluble chemical with a hydrophobic absorbent. It just won’t work. Knowing these basic differences will help you choose the right absorbents for the job. Picking Polar and Non-polar Spill Clean Up Solutions So, what common liquids are polar vs. non-polar? Here are a few examples that may surprise you: Polar Liquids / Water Soluble Alcohol Ammonia Vinegar Propylene glycol Methanol Ethylene glycol Naphtha Ethanol Glycerol Non Polar / Oil Soluble Gasoline Cooking Oil Motor Oil Candle Wax Mineral turpentine Kerosene Impact Absorbents has product lines for just non-polar use: ourXSORB Select and FiberDuck lines. Impact also offers product lines that clean both polar and non-polar substances at the same time, for oil- and water-based liquids. When you need an all-in-one polar/non-polar solution, choose our XSORBUniversal and FiberLink lines. Always be prepared, have the right tools and absorbents for the job. And if you ever meet a polar bear, know exactly what to do: forget the photo op. Turn and walk away. Quickly.

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