What’s in the water?

It's pure something all right...

It’s pure something all right…

Recently a friend sent me a link to this page about the ‘Hexagon H2O‘ water purification system. He knew I’d love it, and I did. Not, however, for the reasons the company supplying it would presumably hope. The ‘science’ is so ludicrous, it’s hard to believe anyone would even begin to take it seriously. Sadly, this product (which, spoiler alert, is a massive scam) seems to have made quite a bit of money by scattering vaguely sciencey-sounding terms around like confetti and sucking in anyone whose chemistry and physics knowledge is, shall we say, less than detailed.

That said, it is easy to forget about water when we talk about chemistry, since we’re usually more interested in what’s in the water than the water itself. It’s actually pretty important, especially when it comes to pH. So in the spirit of finding some good good in the bad, let’s use some of their claims to have a look at the chemistry.

We begin with the very first sentence on the very first page: “With the Hexagon Alkaline Hydrogen Water Filtration System, you can transform normal tap water into hydrogen-rich alkaline water.

First of all, what is water? Water is H2O (they did get that mostly right, apart from the times they write it as H2O). What does this familiar formula mean? It means that in pure water there are two hydrogen atoms for every one oxygen atom. These atoms are strongly bonded together, and generally like to stay that way. That said, a very small number of those bonds do break at room temperature, like this:

H2O → H+ + OH

On the right of the arrow we have hydrogen ions (H+, actually, technically, H3O+) and hydroxide ions (OH).  At room temperature, there are very roughly 600000000 water molecules for every hydrogen ion in pure water. In other words, hardly any hydrogen (and hydroxide) ions at all. This is because every time a water molecule breaks up into hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions, they just as quickly recombine to form water again.

Now this is for pure water, and pure water has a pH of 7. The reason it has a pH of 7 is because it has this ratio of hydrogen (and hydroxide) ions to water molecules. A solution with a different pH will have a different ratio. If it’s acidic, it has more hydrogen ions. If it’s alkaline, fewer. Assuming room temperature (I keep saying this because pH goes down ever so slightly at higher temperatures, although this does not exactly mean the water becomes more acidic) if the pH is not 7, the water is not pure.

By pure, I mean containing H2O only, and nothing else. It’s very difficult to get a completely pure sample of H2O, because in a single gram of water there are about 30000000000000000000000 molecules. If we’re talking about pure in the, er, purest sense, that means there can’t be even one other molecule or ion in there, and that’s highly unlikely. Not least because gases in the air dissolve in water. Still, you see my point. Pure water has a pH of 7 (at room temperature), and is neither acidic nor alkaline. End of story.

So, back to “hydrogen-rich, alkaline water”. ‘Hydrogen-rich’ could either mean it contains dissolved H2 gas (which is highly unlikely, since it’s pretty insoluble) or that it contains lots of H+ ions. Which would make the water acidic. Which would mean it can’t also be alkaline.

At the risk of stating the obvious, there is no way this statement can be correct.

It gets worse from there. The site helpfully ‘explains’ some terms, and the first of these is ‘alkaline’. Apparently, this is “how water should be”. Well, no. See above. Indeed, if the water were significantly alkaline it would be a bit of a problem. It would taste bitter (yuck), probably cause stomach trouble over time and might even irritate your skin. In fact, this is quite likely, since later on they claim their water has a pH between 8 and 10. 10 is really quite high; hand soap and indigestion remedies have a pHs of about 10.

The first page also says: “The body has natural alkaline buffers against excessive acidity so it can maintain blood pH at the optimum level. However, over-acidity can often occur after a prolonged period of bad eating and stress.Now, I’ve been over this at length. Nothing you eat or drink can change your blood’s pH, which is tightly controlled at about 7.4. There is also no such thing as an ‘alkaline buffer’ (see my recent post on buffers). A very unhealthy diet will certainly have a negative impact on your health over time, for example it might have an effect on bone density. However drinking an alkaline solution is really not the way to combat that. Sadly, the answer is the usual boring stuff about eating more vegetables and perhaps cutting back a bit on meat and dairy. If you just drink an alkaline solution, your stomach acid will simply neutralise it.

We go on, “[by drinking Hexagon water] you are simply helping your natural alkaline buffers to restore pH balance and to reduce health-robbing acid in your body“. Hm. Acid is actually quite important in the body. Your stomach contains hydrochloric acid, which you need to digest food and to protect you from nasty bugs. So describing acid as health-robbing is quite misleading (although I am going to link to this article again, which is worth a read if you’re genuinely interested in actual science).

And then we get to: “Water from the Hexagon has smaller molecular clusters than normal water. This means that it can permeate the body’s cell membranes more rapidly and more efficiently to provide nutrients.”  Water molecules do form clusters, but they’re really not well understood. In fact, they’re an important area of research right now (although if you look them up you need to be careful to distinguish between genuine researchers and genuine quacks, of which there are many). How this company can claim they know anything at all about the size of the water clusters in the water their product produces is beyond me. Also, water clusters aren’t stable – the hydrogen bonds holding them together constantly break and reform, so there’s no way it can make any difference to how easily water permeates cell membranes.

It gets worse from there, with talk of “positive energy” and, my favourite, “Infus[ing] energy into water through natural spiralling movement”.

The whole thing is pure (at least something is pure) nonsense. Even Wikipedia says so. I suppose there will always be people willing to hand over their hard-earned cash for such things, but if you’ve got this far at least you won’t be one of them. Pass it on.

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12 thoughts on “What’s in the water?

  1. Look! Sciencey terms! Patent (pending)! It must be true!

    Heh.

    I found the section on free radicals highly amusing. Apparently the hydrogen has extra electrons that can pair up with free radicals. Because H+ (which has no electrons) (Well, H3O+, which has the same number of electrons as H2O) or H2 (which has a stable pair) can totally combine with a free radical (unpaired electron on a molecule) and convert it to H2O — even if, like most free radicals, it has other atoms besides H and O in it! And somehow an uneven number of electrons becomes an even number…

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      • Hm, what *did* they get right on that page? Water is H2O. (For simple molecules I don’t fuss if people skip the subscripts. I think it looks like the superscripted 2 is part of a logo or something, so… artistic license or something?) The ceramic filter, ion exchange resin “filter”, and mineralizer likely do what they claim; the first two are pretty standard water filtration devices.

        The rest… heh.

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      • See, I’m quite happy to let it go if people don’t do the subscript at all, because they are a bit of a pain to put into type. Every time I want to include one on this blog I have to directly edit the HTML and put sub or sup tags in manually (if there is an easier way, I don’t know it). So if someone leaves out the subscripts I kind of think that’s fair enough (unless it’s one of my students of course 😉 ). But putting in a superscript when it should be a subscript? That’s just silly. It takes just as much effort, why would you put that effort in and get it wrong?

        The filters, yes, if you get them at all. This is such a blatant scam it wouldn’t surprise me if customers either didn’t get anything at all, or just got a box full of sand or something. Magical hexagonally-clustered sand, obviously.

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  2. Hello, I have some very important information for you, if you would, please share it with as many people as you can as soon as possible.

    No Well Water is safe or suitable for animal consumption or plant growth, Fluorine is the 13th most abundant element in the earths crust….

    Like

    • I have deleted most of your post because it is wildly inaccurate. Fluorine IS he 13th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, but it goes rapidly downhill from there. There is no good evidence that fluoride in water is harmful, in fact quite the opposite. The Wikipedia page on this topic is accurate and detailed, and should be read if you’re at all interested in the facts. I would also point out that you fundamentally misunderstand chemical bonding and electronegativity. Electronegativity is the tendency for atoms to attract electrons in a covalent bond. Fluoride ions are not, by definition, involved in a covalent bond and therefore you cannot apply electronegativity arguments to fluoride ions.

      Fair warning: if you post any more pseudoscience on my blog it will be deleted.

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  3. Great post. Long live rational thought. If anybody is struggling to decide what’s real science and what’s pseudoscience, I have two top tips.
    1. If they can’t use chemical symbols and subscript numbers correctly, they don’t know or care about the science.
    2. It they can’t use it’s/ its and calital letters correctly, they don’t know or care about being accurate!

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    • The main problem with your tip #1 is that the people who most need to learn how to spot pseudoscience (so they can not be suckered by it) don’t already know how to use chemical symbols and subscripts correctly themselves, so how can they identify when they are being used incorrectly by someone else?

      Regarding your tip #2, did you do that on purpose? 🙂

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  4. Hello, my mother bought this filter, I’m concerned it actually might be harmfull? I exlained her this is a scam similar to the powerbalance thing, anyhow she bought it, at least this thing filters something?

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    • Hrm. It might be a good idea to check the pH. You can probably buy universal indicator paper online, or possibly from a garden supplies centre (gardeners sometimes need to check soil pH). Anything between about 5-8 is probably OK, but if it’s higher than 8 I’d be wary. It could definitely irritate skin.

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