Acetic Acid vs. Vinegar

What's the Difference?

Acetic acid and vinegar are closely related as vinegar is primarily composed of acetic acid. Acetic acid is a colorless liquid with a pungent smell, while vinegar is a diluted form of acetic acid that is commonly used in cooking and food preservation. Acetic acid is a strong acid with a pH level of around 2.4, while vinegar has a milder acidity with a pH level ranging from 2.4 to 3.4. Both acetic acid and vinegar have antimicrobial properties and can be used as cleaning agents. However, vinegar is more commonly known for its culinary uses, adding a tangy flavor to various dishes, dressings, and marinades.


AttributeAcetic AcidVinegar
Chemical FormulaCH3COOHCH3COOH
Common NameAcetic AcidVinegar
AppearanceColorless liquidClear liquid
OdorPungent, vinegar-likeVinegar-like
SourceProduced synthetically or by bacterial fermentationProduced by bacterial fermentation of ethanol
UsesFood preservation, cooking, cleaning, medical applicationsFood flavoring, cooking, cleaning, medical applications
pH LevelApproximately 2.4Approximately 2.4
DensityApproximately 1.05 g/cm³Approximately 1.01 g/cm³
Boiling PointApproximately 118.1 °CApproximately 118.1 °C

Further Detail


Acetic acid and vinegar are two terms often used interchangeably, but they have distinct differences. Acetic acid is a chemical compound with the formula CH3COOH, while vinegar is a liquid solution primarily composed of acetic acid and water. In this article, we will explore the attributes of acetic acid and vinegar, highlighting their similarities and differences.

Chemical Composition

Acetic acid, also known as ethanoic acid, is an organic compound with a sour taste and pungent smell. It consists of two carbon atoms, four hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms. The molecular formula of acetic acid is CH3COOH, and its molar mass is approximately 60.05 grams per mole.

Vinegar, on the other hand, is a dilute solution of acetic acid in water. It typically contains around 5-8% acetic acid by volume. The remaining percentage is primarily water, but it may also contain trace amounts of other compounds, such as flavorings or impurities from the fermentation process.


Acetic acid can be produced through various methods, including the oxidation of ethanol, the fermentation of sugars, or the chemical synthesis from other organic compounds. The most common industrial method involves the oxidation of ethanol, where ethanol is exposed to air in the presence of a catalyst, such as platinum or rhodium. This process yields acetic acid and water.

Vinegar, on the other hand, is produced through the fermentation of ethanol by acetic acid bacteria. This natural process occurs when ethanol, typically derived from fermented fruits, grains, or sugars, is exposed to oxygen in the presence of specific bacteria. The bacteria convert ethanol into acetic acid, resulting in the formation of vinegar.


Acetic acid finds applications in various industries, including food, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals. In the food industry, it is used as a food additive, preservative, and flavoring agent. It is also a key component in the production of vinegar. In the pharmaceutical industry, acetic acid is utilized in the manufacturing of medications, such as ear drops and ointments. Additionally, it serves as a solvent in the production of dyes, paints, and plastics.

Vinegar, on the other hand, has a wide range of uses both in culinary and household applications. It is commonly used as a condiment, salad dressing, and food preservative. Vinegar's acidic properties make it effective for cleaning purposes, such as removing stains, disinfecting surfaces, and unclogging drains. It is also utilized in pickling, as a natural weed killer, and as a natural remedy for various ailments.

Physical Properties

Acetic acid is a colorless liquid with a strong, pungent odor. It has a boiling point of approximately 118 degrees Celsius and a melting point of around 16 degrees Celsius. Acetic acid is highly soluble in water, alcohol, and ether. It is also flammable and can form explosive mixtures with air when exposed to high temperatures.

Vinegar, on the other hand, is typically a clear liquid with a sour taste and a characteristic smell. Its physical properties, such as boiling point and melting point, are primarily determined by the concentration of acetic acid in the solution. Vinegar has a density close to that of water and is miscible with water in all proportions.

Health Effects

Acetic acid, when used in appropriate concentrations, is generally considered safe for consumption and topical application. However, concentrated acetic acid can cause severe burns and irritation to the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. Ingesting concentrated acetic acid can also lead to internal burns and damage to the digestive system. It is important to handle acetic acid with caution and follow proper safety guidelines.

Vinegar, when consumed in moderation, is generally safe for most individuals. It is a low-calorie alternative to other condiments and can provide certain health benefits. For example, vinegar has been associated with improved digestion, blood sugar control, and weight management. However, excessive consumption of vinegar can have negative effects, such as tooth enamel erosion and irritation of the digestive system. It is advisable to dilute vinegar and use it in moderation.


In conclusion, acetic acid and vinegar are closely related but have distinct differences. Acetic acid is the chemical compound with the formula CH3COOH, while vinegar is a solution primarily composed of acetic acid and water. Acetic acid is used in various industries, including food, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals, while vinegar finds applications in culinary and household uses. Both substances have their own unique physical properties and health effects. Understanding the attributes of acetic acid and vinegar can help us appreciate their diverse applications and make informed choices when using them.

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