[ hahy-druh-fil-ik ]
/ ˌhaɪ drəˈfɪl ɪk /
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adjective Chemistry.
having a strong affinity for water.
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Origin of hydrophilic

First recorded in 1900–05; hydro-1 + -philic
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does hydrophilic mean?

Describing something as hydrophilic means that it tends to be attracted to water or that it tends to easily dissolve in, mix with, absorb, or be saturated by water.

In general, hydrophilic describes things that tend to interact with or be affected by water in some way.

Hydrophilic is used in the context of science, especially chemistry, to describe many different substances or chemicals, such as ammonia, ethanol, table salt, and table sugar. Hydrophilic can also appear in a wide range of other fields, such as hydrophilic medicine. In construction or plumbing, some metals and surfaces are described as hydrophilic.

Why is hydrophilic important?

Hydrophilic is a combination of the prefix hydro-, meaning “water,” and the suffix -philic, which indicates that something has an affinity for or love of something else. Of course, hydrophilic things don’t actually love water—but they are known for combining or interacting with it. Water is essential to all living things—what’s not to love?

When something, such as a chemical, is attracted to or easily travels through water, it is described as hydrophilic. It’s the kind of word you’re likely to see in scientific journals, but it’s also used in other fields, such as agriculture and industrial manufacturing.

So, what makes water so lovable? Well, water is a simple liquid that is made of molecules consisting of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms (H20). The ends of the water molecules also have small electrical charges with the oxygen side being negative and the hydrogen side being positive. This makes water polar. Other polar things bond with water molecules in the same way that opposite ends of magnets will stick to each other. When something bonds with water, a variety of different things can happen. Hydrophilic sugars or salts might dissolve (break apart) into the water. A hydrophilic alcohol might mix together with the water, or a hydrophilic sponge might absorb the water into itself. But water isn’t loved by everything—things that tend not to be attracted to or combine with water (nonpolar things) are instead called hydrophobic.

The majority of the adult human body is made of water. Every cell in your body contains water and relies on many substances and chemicals to be hydrophilic. For example, because your blood is mostly water, all of the proteins and nutrients that travel through your bloodstream are able to do so because they are hydrophilic (or because they have help from something else that is hydrophilic).

Many everyday objects you interact with, such as table salt, shampoo, or laundry detergent, are also completely or partially hydrophilic—just picture what happens when you mix these things with water.

Did you know ... ?

It’s possible for something (like soap) to be both hydrophobic and hydrophilic at the same time. In such a case, the hydrophilic (polar) section will interact with the water while the hydrophobic (nonpolar) part gets to be an awkward third wheel that avoids the water. In the case of soap, the hydrophilic part will attach to water and foam up while the hydrophobic part will instead stick to grease or oil (on your skin) and take it with it when it washes away.

What are real-life examples of hydrophilic?

This video provides a clear demonstration of the difference between hydrophilic and hydrophobic substances.

Hydrophilic is typically used in scientific contexts. It can be used to describe a variety of chemicals, liquids, and other materials.


What other words are related to hydrophilic?

Quiz yourself!

If a substance is combined with water but then floats to the top, would it be described as hydrophilic?  

How to use hydrophilic in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for hydrophilic

/ (ˌhaɪdrəʊˈfɪlɪk) /

chem tending to dissolve in, mix with, or be wetted by watera hydrophilic colloid Compare hydrophobic

Derived forms of hydrophilic

hydrophile, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012