Why do water and oil (a long-chain hydrocarbon) not mix?

1 Answer
May 5, 2016

Because the interaction between oil and water molecules is insufficient to overcome the interaction between water and water and oil and oil molecules.


A general rule of which you have heard is #"that like dissolves like"#. Water is strongly polar, i.e. charge separated; whereas oils, long chain hydrocarbons, are non-polar. Long chain hydrocarbons have no electronegative functionality that would promote water solubility. As the hydrocarbon chain becomes longer and longer, the interaction between chains (in which water cannot participate) becomes greater in magnitude, and boiling points of the hydrocarbons tend to rise.

In a related context, we could consider the solubility of alcohols with water. Both methanol and ethanol, short chain alcohols, are infinitely miscible with pure water. For propanol and beyond, water solubilities decrease markedly, and again this is attributable to interactions between the hydrocarbyl chains of the alcohols.