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The short answer is Yes, it does. The reason is, because "salt" (NaCl) is a strong electrolyte, which facilitates the flow of electrons in a naturally produced mini-circuit on the surface of the nail, which is in contact with both air (oxygen) and moisture (water).
The "mini-circuit" mentioned above is the consequence of the kind of reaction (oxidation and reduction occurring simultaneously, called a redox reaction) that an uncharged metal atom (like iron, Fe) can undergo because of its ability to lose its valence electrons (loosely held) that normally move around the outermost orbital of its nucleus. This kind of electron transfer spontaneously occurs (i.e., by itself without any outside help) only if the iron is able to come in contact with an atom of another element, or the ion of that other element (which can be a metal or not), that has an attraction for electrons (standard reduction potential) that is stronger than the attraction of electrons by the iron. For a more detailed and technical explanation, please see my "Solution 2" for this problem.
What's salt got to do with all this?
An electrolyte (pronounced, electro-lite), is so-named because it is a substance that can conduct electricity (electric current). Strong electrolytes (salts) dissolved in water, melted (molten) electrolytes (in absence of water), and pure metals are good electrical conductors*. What makes a strong electrolyte able to conduct electricity is its ionic nature, that is, its being made up of ions, which have charges. When NaCl ("salt") is dissolved in water, it immediately breaks up (dissociates) into its constituent ions (Na+ and Cl-). It's these ions that make the solution a good conductor. So, the more ions in aqueous solution, the more effective the solution can support the flow (transfer) of electrons (current) that are involved in the type of reaction (redox) occurring in the rusting of a nail.
*Exactly how these substances are able to act as conductors has been described in complex theories, but most chemistry textbooks omit them, except for how metals behave as conductors - see more about this using the key search term, electron-sea model, a very well developed theory of metallic bonding. Probably, one of the most essential characteristics of a good conductor is the mobility of its charged particles. For example, though a solution of ions is a good conductor, the pure solid form of the same electrolyte behaves as a non-electrolyte! So, it is reasonable to deduce that when an electron contributes to an electron current going through a solution of ions, it hops a ride on those charged particles, or that the very rapid collisions between them are very effective in allowing virtually instantaneous net electron movement across them.
You also asked about the effect of tap water. See my Solution 2 for this problem.
Aug 26, 2010 | Scientific Explorer My First Chemistry Kit
Jun 27, 2010 | Scientific Explorer My First Chemistry Kit
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