Dihydrogen Monoxide or DHMO - Is It Really That Dangerous?

Facts and Chemical Formula of Dihydrogen Monoxide

Water Molecule
The chemical name for water is dihydrogen monoxide. LAGUNA DESIGN, Getty Images

Every now and then (usually around April Fools Day), you'll come across a story about the dangers of DHMO or dihydrogen monoxide. Yes, it's an industrial solvent. Yes, you're exposed to it every day. Yes, it's all true. Every one who ever drinks the stuff eventually dies. Yes, it's the number one cause of drowning. Yes, it's the number one greenhouse gas.

Other uses include:

  • flame retardant chemical
  • food additive
  • component of pesticide sprays
  • torture in World War 2 prison camps
  • to make chemical and biological weapons

But is it really so dangerous? Should it be banned? You decide. Here are the facts you should know, starting with the most important one:

Dihydrogen Monoxide or DHMO Common Name: water

DHMO Chemical Formula: H2O

Melting Point: 0 °C, 32 °F

Boiling Point: 100 °C, 212 °F

Density: 1000 kg/m3, liquid or 917 kg/m3, solid. Ice floats on water.

So, in case you haven't figured it out yet, I'll spell it out for you: Dihydrogen monoxide is the chemical name for ordinary water.

Instances Where Dihydrogen Monoxide Really Can Kill You

For the most part, you're fairly safe around DHMO. There are, however, certain situations where it truly is dangerous:

  • While dihydrogen monoxide contains oxygen, each molecule only contains one atom. You need O2 to breathe and carry on cellular respiration. So, if you try to breathe water, you could die.
  • If you drink too much water, you can suffer a condition called water intoxication or hyponatremia. People have died from it.
  • There are different forms of water. Heavy water has the exact same molecular structure as regular water, except one or more of the hydrogen atoms is replaced with deuterium. Deuterium is hydrogen, but each atom contains a neutron. You naturally drink a tiny bit of heavy water with regular water, but if you drink too much of the stuff, you'll die. How much? A single glass probably won't harm you. If you keep drinking heavy water and manage to replace about a quarter of the hydrogen atoms in your body with deuterium, you're a goner.
  • Another form of water is tritiated water, where the hydrogen may be replaced with the tritium isotope. Again, the molecular formula is exactly the same. A tiny amount of tritium won't harm you, but it's worse than deuterium because it's radioactive. However, tritium has a relatively short half life, so if you have tritiated water and keep it for a few years, it will eventually be safe to drink.
  • Deionized water is purified water that has had its electrical charge removed. It's useful in the science lab, but not a chemical you want to drink because it's reactive and corrosive. Drinking deionized water can damage soft tissues and tooth enamel. While people don't tend to die from drinking pure deionized water, making it one's sole water source is ill-advised. Normal drinking water contains minerals essential to human health.
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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Dihydrogen Monoxide or DHMO - Is It Really That Dangerous?" ThoughtCo, Oct. 4, 2017, thoughtco.com/dangers-of-dihydrogen-monoxide-609424. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2017, October 4). Dihydrogen Monoxide or DHMO - Is It Really That Dangerous? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/dangers-of-dihydrogen-monoxide-609424 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Dihydrogen Monoxide or DHMO - Is It Really That Dangerous?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/dangers-of-dihydrogen-monoxide-609424 (accessed January 19, 2018).