Is a drop of water 1 mL?

Water is an essential part of our lives. We use it for drinking, cleaning, cooking and more. But have you ever wondered about the volume of a drop of water? Is a single drop exactly 1 mL or is it less than that? Let’s take a closer look.

What is a milliliter?

A milliliter (mL) is a unit of volume in the metric system. It is equal to one thousandth of a liter. To put it into perspective, 1 liter is just slightly more than 1 quart. So a milliliter is a very small amount of liquid.

Specifically, 1 mL equals:

  • 0.0338 fluid ounces
  • 1 cubic centimeter (cc)
  • 16.230 minims

Knowing the precise volume of a milliliter helps us determine if a single drop of water is equal to 1 mL.

Water drop size can vary

The amount of water in a drop can vary based on several factors:

  • Type of surface – Drops form differently on smooth vs rough surfaces.
  • Drop height – Drops that fall from higher above the surface tend to be larger.
  • Water purity – Impurities and dissolved solids can change surface tension.
  • Temperature – Warmer water may produce larger drops.

Because of these variables, there is no universal drop size. However, we can estimate an average drop volume.

Estimating single water drop volume

Scientific studies have aimed to measure the size of a single drop of water:

  • 1948 study – Measured average drop from medicine dropper at 0.05 mL or 50 microliters.
  • 1962 study – Used hypodermic needles to produce drops ranging 0.025-0.05 mL.
  • 2010 study – Used high precision scales and found 0.050-0.060 mL per drop.

Based on this research, it’s fair to estimate the average water drop falls between 0.05 – 0.06 mL.

So is a drop of water 1 mL?

Given the data, a single drop of water is clearly less than 1 mL, averaging around just 5-10% of a milliliter.

Factors like drop height, temperature, purity, etc can slightly influence the drop’s volume. But it generally takes about 10-20 drops to equal 1 milliliter of water.

Why Water Drop Size Matters

Now that we’ve established that a drop is less than 1 mL, you may be wondering why the volume of a water drop matters. There are several important reasons drop size is meaningful:

Medicine dosing

Many liquid medications are packaged with droppers for dosing. The lines on the dropper represent milliliters. If drops are assumed to be 1 mL, patients could potentially take the wrong dose. Knowing drop size helps improve dosing accuracy.


Titration is a chemistry technique that involves counting drops of a solution. By understanding drop volume, scientists can calculate amounts more precisely during experiments.

Cooking & baking

Recipes may call for ingredients like vanilla extract in milliliters or drops. Knowing the actual drop size allows for better measurement conversion. Too much or too little extract could ruin the intended flavor.

Automated dispensing

Some labs use automated dispensing systems to release droplets. The volume dispensed depends on precise droplet size calibration. Consistent drop formation is needed for accuracy.

Eye drop medication

Over-the-counter eye drops often rely on a simple squeeze bottle. Patients tend to use drop counting to administer the medication. Understanding actual drop size is important for proper dosing.

How Drop Volume is Studied and Measured

Now that we know why drop size matters, how exactly do researchers go about measuring the volume of a drop? There are a few main methods.

Gravimetric analysis

This technique relies on precision scales to compare the weight of drops to pure water. By knowing the density of water at a given temperature, the volume can be calculated from the mass. Scales sensitive to micrograms are required.

Microscopy imaging

High speed cameras paired with microscopy can capture falling drops in fine detail. Advanced image analysis can then calculate shapes and dimensions to derive the volume.

Computer simulations

Physics-based software simulation can model virtual water drops under different conditions like surface tension and gravity. Simulations allow fast analysis without real-world physical experiments.

Volume displacement

Measuring the level change in a tube of known diameter as drops are added is a simple volume displacement method. Automated sensors can detect the tiny level change.

Variables that Influence Drop Size

We know a water drop averages around 0.05 mL. But many factors can influence the volume of an individual drop. Here are some of the key variables:

Drop height

Drops that fall from higher above the collecting surface tend to be larger. As the drop falls, surface tension shapes it into a sphere while air resistance pushes against the bottom. The drop elongates into a teardrop shape. The longer the fall, the more stretched the drop, increasing volume.

Surface properties

The nature of the collecting surface makes a big difference in drop formation. Smooth, non-porous surfaces like glass or steel allow drops to fully detach, enabling a consistent size. Porous surfaces like paper cause liquid to spread out, producing inconsistent volumes.

Nozzle or tube diameter

The size of the opening where a drop emerges affects its volume. Wider openings or tapered shapes allow larger drops to form. Medical droppers and eye dropper tips are engineered for ideal drop formation.

Liquid composition

Pure water has a high surface tension, which resists stretching and separation into drops. Adding other compounds like salts or alcohol reduces surface tension, enabling larger drop volumes. Surfactants in soapy water also enlarge drop size.


Warmer water has lower surface tension than colder water. This results in larger drops forming more readily at higher temperatures compared to smaller drops with cold water.

Method of release

How the drop detaches can influence volume. Drops dripping slowly from a vertical tube will be smaller than drops flicked horizontally off an angled surface or dropper due to momentum effects.

Water Droplet Formation in Nature

Beyond laboratory experiments, water drops form through natural processes all around us. Here are some examples:


Raindrops form when atmospheric moisture condenses around tiny particles like dust or pollen. As they fall, smaller drops merge into larger drops. By the time raindrops reach the ground they are 2-4 mm wide, equivalent to 4-8 mL.


When humid air contacts a cold surface like grass blades overnight, water condenses. Dewdrops are very small, only 0.5-2 mm wide (0.2-0.76 mL). They cling via strong surface tension forces.

Ocean spray

As ocean waves churn and crash, air gets trapped in the turbulent water. When released, it forms many tiny droplets creating ocean spray. These droplets are typically less than 0.1 mm (under 0.0005 mL).


Melting icicles form when the outside surface thaws faster than the interior. Melting water clings to the outside via surface tension, gradually enlarging and elongating downward as drops merge.

Spider water droplets

Some spiders like the diving bell spider trap air bubbles under their abdomen when submerged. Oxygen slowly dissolves into the bubble. Tiny water droplets condense on the bubble ceiling as the gases diffuse.

Water Drop Experiments to Try at Home

You don’t need fancy lab equipment to explore water droplet size and behavior. Here are some simple experiments you can try:

Water drop race

Use a medicine dropper or eye dropper to release simultaneous drops from the same height onto a smooth slanted surface. Observe how factors like drop size and position influence which drop travels farthest.

Food coloring drop art

Add a drop of food coloring onto a plate of water or milk. Watch how the colors diffuses into interesting patterns. Try mixing colors. Or drip colors onto a coffee filter soaked in water.

Edible raindrops

Make edible raindrops by dripping melted chocolate from a spoon onto waxed paper. Let cool and enjoy. Or substitute the chocolate with thinned honey or maple syrup.

Penny drop coating

See how many drops it takes to fully coat a penny. Release drops from the same height and position to control variables. Try with different liquids like water, oil, soap solution.

Paper towel absorption

Observe how the absorbent paper towel puckers up after a water drop contacts it. Count how many drops can accumulate before they spread. Does surface tension allow more drops on textured vs flat paper towel?

Fun Facts About Water Drops

Along with the science behind water droplet volume and behavior, there are some fun and fascinating facts:

  • Water drops aren’t perfectly spherical due to water’s high surface tension pulling stronger at the bottom.
  • Raindrops are shaped more like hamburger buns than perfect spheres.
  • Limestone caves with stalactites form by accretion of water drops depositing dissolved rock over thousands of years.
  • A single giant water droplet is featured floating over a city street in the sci-fi movie Blade Runner.
  • Hydrophobic coatings that cause water to bead into droplets on cars, windows, and textiles rely on nanoscale surface textures to trap air.
  • Drops up to 6 degrees hotter than the surrounding air can levitate and even bounce on a super-hydrophobic surface.
  • Water striders literally walk on water, supported by surface tension and microscopic hairs on their feet.

Applications Relying on Precise Water Drop Volumes

Since water drops average around 0.05 mL, devices and processes relying on precise drop volumes must account for this:

Application Typical Drop Volume
PCR assays 0.010 mL
3D bioprinting 0.004 mL
Pharmaceutical vials 0.02 mL
IV drips 0.050 mL
Perfume sampling 0.100 mL
Eye medicine 0.035 mL


Based on scientific measurements and models, an average drop of water under normal conditions is around 0.05 mL in volume. This is significantly less than 1 mL. Many factors can influence drop size like height, surface, temperature and purity. Understanding water droplet volumes is important for medicine, cooking, experiments and more. With simple everyday tools, you can explore droplet properties at home. And marvel at the behaviors of water drops both large and small all around us in nature.

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