12.4: Aqueous Solutions and Heats of Hydration
Water and other polar molecules are attracted to ions. The electrostatic attraction between an ion and a molecule with a dipole is called an ion-dipole attraction. These attractions play an important role in the dissolution of ionic compounds in water.
When ionic compounds dissolve in water, the ions in the solid separate and disperse uniformly throughout the solution because water molecules surround and solvate the ions, reducing the strong electrostatic forces between them. This process represents a physical change known as dissociation. Under most conditions, ionic compounds will dissociate nearly completely when dissolved, and so they are classified as strong electrolytes. Even sparingly, soluble ionic compounds are strong electrolytes, since the small amount that does dissolve will dissociate completely.
Consider what happens at the microscopic level when solid KCl is added to water. Ion-dipole forces attract the positive (hydrogen) end of the polar water molecules to the negative chloride ions at the surface of the solid, and they attract the negative (oxygen) ends to the positive potassium ions. The water molecules surround individual K+ and Cl− ions, reducing the strong interionic forces that bind the ions together and letting them move off into solution as solvated ions. Overcoming the electrostatic attraction permits the independent motion of each hydrated ion in a dilute solution as the ions transition from fixed positions in the undissolved compound to widely dispersed, solvated ions in solution.
This text is adapted from Openstax, Chemistry 2e, Section 11.2: Electrolytes.