Acetic Acid

Om Kumar
Created by: Om Kumar, Last Updated: April 3, 2024

Acetic Acid

Acetic acid, commonly recognized for its pivotal role in giving vinegar its sharp flavor and smell, stands as a fundamental covalent compound in both nature and various industries. Its simple, versatile structure, denoted by the chemical formula CH₃COOH, enables it to dissolve in water and organic solvents, making it essential in food preservation, manufacturing plastics, and even in healthcare products. Known for its acidic properties and produced through the fermentation of sugars by bacteria, acetic acid’s presence spans from kitchen pantries to high-grade industrial applications, embodying a bridge between everyday life and chemical innovation.

What is Acetic Acid?

Acetic acid is a simple, sour-tasting covalent compound that primarily contributes to the distinctive taste and aroma of vinegar, alongside water. When it’s in its pure form, acetic acid appears as a colorless liquid that easily mixes with water, emitting a pungent odor. It comprises of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen elements. Acetic acid holds significant value in various industries, being utilized in the production of plastic materials, food preservatives, and certain pharmaceuticals. It naturally arises through the fermentation process, where bacteria decompose sugars without the presence of oxygen, leading to the creation of this versatile compound.

Chemical Names and Formulas

Property Value
Formula  CH₃CO₂H
Hill Formula  C₂H₄O₂
Name  Acetic Acid
Alternate Names  Acetic Acid, Glacial, Ethanoic Acid, Ethylic Acid, Glacial Acetic Acid, Methanecarboxylic Acid, Vinegar Acid

Structure of Acetic Acid

Structure of Acetic Acid (CH₃COOH)

Acetic acid is a small, simple molecule made up of two main parts: a methyl group and a carboxyl group. The methyl group consists of one carbon atom bonded to three hydrogen atoms, symbolized as CH₃ . This part of the molecule is hydrophobic, which means it does not mix well with water. On the other hand, the carboxyl group is represented as COOH, contains one carbon atom double-bonded to one oxygen atom and single-bonded to a hydroxyl group (which is one oxygen atom bonded to one hydrogen atom). The carboxyl group is hydrophilic, meaning it can interact well with water.

This combination of a hydrophobic part and a hydrophilic part gives acetic acid its unique properties, allowing it to dissolve in both water and organic solvents. The carboxyl group is also responsible for acetic acid’s acidic behavior. When acetic acid dissolves in water, it can release a proton (a hydrogen ion,H⁺) from the hydroxyl part of the carboxyl group. This release of a proton is what makes acetic acid an acid, capable of lowering the pH of a solution and giving vinegar its sour taste.

Preparation of Acetic Acid

Acetic acid can be made in several ways, but one of the most common methods in the industrial world is through the fermentation of ethanol (alcohol) by bacteria. This process is similar to how vinegar is made on a smaller scale at home or in food production. The equation for this biological reaction is quite straightforward:

C₂H₅OH + O₂ → CH₃COOH + H₂O

In simple terms, this means that ethanol (the alcohol in alcoholic beverages) reacts with oxygen in the air. Under the right conditions, with the help of certain bacteria, it transforms into acetic acid and water.

Another major industrial method for producing acetic acid is through the chemical reaction known as the methanol carbonylation process. In this method, methanol (a type of alcohol) reacts with carbon monoxide in the presence of a catalyst to produce acetic acid. The equation for this process is:


This process is highly efficient and is used to produce a large amount of acetic acid for various uses in industries, from making plastics and textiles to food additives and pharmaceuticals.

Physical Properties of Acetic Acid

Property Description
Appearance Colorless liquid
Odor Pungent, vinegar-like smell
Chemical Formula CH₃COOH
State at Room Temperature Liquid
Solubility Mixes well with water, alcohol, and many other organic solvents
Boiling Point About 118°C (244°F)
Melting Point About 16°C (61°F)
Density 1.049 g/cm³ at 20°C (68°F)
pH Typically around 2.4 in a 1.0 M solution, indicating strong acidity
Acidity (pKa) 4.76, showing its strength as an acid

Chemical Properties Of Acetic Acid

Acidic Nature

Acetic acid is a weak acid, which means it partially dissociates in water to release hydrogen ions H⁺. This property is what gives vinegar its sour taste and enables acetic acid to react with bases to form water and salts.

Reactivity with Metals

When acetic acid reacts with metals like magnesium or zinc, it produces hydrogen gas and forms acetate salts. This reaction is typical of acids and metals, showcasing acetic acid’s ability to corrode certain metals.


Acetic acid can react with alcohols in a process called esterification to produce esters and water. Esters are often fragrant compounds used in food flavorings and perfumes. This reaction is important in manufacturing various chemical products.


Due to its polar nature, acetic acid is highly soluble in water, alcohol, and many organic solvents. This property is crucial for its use in food, pharmaceuticals, and chemical industries, as it can easily mix with other substances.


When heated above its boiling point, acetic acid can decompose into water and either ketene or acetaldehyde, depending on the conditions. This decomposition is significant in the production of other chemicals.

Formation of Acetate Salts and Derivatives

Acetic acid reacts with bases to form acetate salts. It also forms various derivatives, such as acetyl chloride and acetic anhydride, through reactions with different reagents. These compounds are vital in the synthesis of pharmaceuticals and synthetic fibers.

Acetic Acid (CH₃COOH) Chemical Compound Information

Chemical Identifiers

Property Value
CAS Registry Number 64-19-7
Beilstein Number 506007
PubChem Compound ID 176
PubChem Substance ID 3335
SMILES Identifier CC(=O)O
InChI Identifier InChI=1/C2H4O2/c1-2(3)4/h1H3, (H, 3, 4)/f/h3H
RTECS Number AF1225000
MDL Number MFCD00036152

NFPA label

Property Value
NFPA Health Rating 3
NFPA Fire Rating 2
NFPA Reactivity Rating 0

Uses of Acetic Acid

Uses Of Acetic Acid (CH₃COOH)

Food Industry

Acetic acid is a key ingredient in vinegar, an essential culinary product used for flavoring and food preservation. Its antibacterial properties make it ideal for pickling vegetables and preparing condiments.

Chemical Manufacturing

It serves as a starting material for the synthesis of various chemicals, including acetate esters, which are used in making solvents, inks, and coatings.


Acetic acid is used in the production of several medications, including aspirin. It’s valued for its antifungal and antibacterial properties, making it useful in treating ear infections and as an excipient in pharmaceuticals.

Textile Industry

In textile manufacturing, acetic acid is used in the dyeing process as a mordant to help dyes bind to the fabric, improving color fastness.


As a herbicide, acetic acid can effectively control weeds in organic farming, offering an eco-friendly alternative to chemical herbicides.

Rubber Industry

It plays a role in the production of synthetic rubber, acting as a coagulant in the process of turning latex into rubber.

Household Cleaning

Thanks to its acidic nature, acetic acid is an effective cleaning agent, capable of dissolving mineral deposits, dirt, grease, and grime in household cleaning products.


Acetic acid is used in stop baths during the photographic development process, where its acidity stops the action of the developer.

Benefits Of Acetic Acid

  • Food Preservation: Acetic acid is excellent for preserving food, thanks to its ability to kill bacteria and prevent spoilage. This makes it a staple in pickling processes and a guardian of shelf stability for many food items.
  • Antimicrobial Properties: It acts as a natural antimicrobial agent, capable of fighting off bacteria and fungi. This property is particularly beneficial in food safety, healthcare settings, and even in home cleaning products.
  • Weed Control: In agriculture, acetic acid serves as an eco-friendly herbicide. It’s effective in killing weeds without the environmental impact associated with synthetic chemicals.
  • Health Benefits: When consumed in moderation as part of vinegar, acetic acid can have health benefits, including stabilizing blood sugar levels and aiding in weight management. Its role in promoting healthful digestion is also notable.
  • Cleaning Agent: Its ability to dissolve mineral deposits, grease, and dirt makes acetic acid a powerful cleaning agent. This makes it ideal for use in eco-friendly household cleaners, offering a natural alternative to harsh chemicals.
  • Industrial Applications: Acetic acid is fundamental in producing various chemicals, plastics, and synthetic fibers, showcasing its versatility and indispensability in industrial manufacturing.
  • Textile Production: It aids in the dyeing process as a mordant, ensuring that dyes adhere properly to fabrics. This results in more vibrant and long-lasting colors in textiles.

Side Effects of Acetic Acids

  • Skin Irritation: Direct contact can irritate or burn the skin. Always wear protective gloves.
  • Respiratory Issues: Breathing in its vapors can cause coughing or difficulty breathing. Use it in well-ventilated areas.
  • Eye Damage: It can severely irritate or damage eyes on contact. Safety goggles are a must.
  • Digestive Problems: Consuming it in high concentrations can upset the stomach and harm the digestive tract.
  • Tooth Damage: Regularly consuming vinegar or other acidic foods can wear away tooth enamel.
  • Chemical Burns: Concentrated acetic acid can cause burns on skin or mucous membranes.


Is Acetic Acid Good for You?

In moderation, acetic acid can aid in weight management, stabilize blood sugar levels, and support digestion. However, excessive consumption may lead to adverse effects.

Is Acetic Acid Hazardous?

Acetic acid can be hazardous if mishandled, causing skin and eye irritation, respiratory issues, and chemical burns at high concentrations. Proper handling is essential.

Is Vinegar Water or Acetic Acid?

Vinegar is primarily water mixed with acetic acid, which gives it its characteristic sour taste and aroma. The acetic acid content in vinegar varies by type.

Is White Vinegar 100% Acetic Acid?

No, white vinegar is not 100% acetic acid. It typically contains 4-7% acetic acid, with the rest being water and trace chemicals.

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