Acetic Acid

What is acetic acid?

Acetic acid is also known as ethanoic acid, ethylic acid, vinegar acid, and methane carboxylic acid. Acetic acid is a byproduct of fermentation, and gives vinegar its characteristic odor. Vinegar is about 4-6% acetic acid in water. More concentrated solutions can be found in laboratory use, and pure acetic acid containing only traces of water is known as glacial acetic acid. Dilute solutions like vinegar can contact skin with no harm, but more concentrated solutions will burn the skin. Glacial acetic acid can cause skin burns and permanent eye damage, and will corrode metal.

What is acetic acid used for?

Acetic acid is used in the manufacture of acetic anhydride, cellulose acetate, vinyl acetate monomer, acetic esters, chloracetic acid, plastics, dyes, insecticides, photographic chemicals, and rubber. Other commercial uses include the manufacture of vitamins, antibiotics, hormones, and organic chemicals, and as a food additive (acidulant). It is also used in various textile printing processes.

What are natural sources of acetic acid?

Acetates (salts of acetic acid) are common constituents of animal and plant tissues and are formed during the metabolism of food substances. Acetate is readily metabolized by most tissues and may give rise to the production of ketones as intermediates. Acetate is used by the body as a building block to make phospholipids, neutral lipids, steroids, sterols, and saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in a variety of human and animal tissue preparations.

What are the health effects of acetic acid exposure?

The low concentrations most people encounter in vinegar and other foods are harmless. At higher concentrations that could be encountered in a laboratory or factory, acetic acid is a strong eye, skin, and mucous membrane irritant. Prolonged skin contact with concentrated acetic acid may result in tissue destruction. Inhalation exposure to high concentrations of acetic acid vapors causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat. People with high occupational exposure can develop conjunctivitis, bronchitis and pharyngitis, and erosion of exposed teeth (incisors and canines).


Updated 2023