Acrylamide vs. Polyacrylamide

What's the Difference?

Acrylamide and polyacrylamide are both chemical compounds that contain the same basic monomer unit, acrylamide. However, they differ in their molecular structures and properties. Acrylamide is a small, water-soluble molecule that is primarily used in industrial processes such as the production of polymers and the treatment of wastewater. On the other hand, polyacrylamide is a polymer formed by the polymerization of acrylamide monomers. It has a much larger molecular weight and is commonly used as a flocculant, thickening agent, and in various applications in the fields of water treatment, agriculture, and cosmetics. While acrylamide is a single molecule, polyacrylamide is a chain of repeating units, giving it different physical and chemical properties.


Chemical FormulaC3H5NO(C3H5NO)n
AppearanceWhite crystalline solidWhite granular powder
SolubilitySoluble in waterSoluble in water
UsesIndustrial chemical, water treatment, paper productionWater treatment, flocculant, soil conditioner, gel electrophoresis
ToxicityHighly toxic, potential carcinogenLow toxicity
ApplicationsAdhesive, grouting agent, textile sizing agentEnhanced oil recovery, wastewater treatment, cosmetics

Further Detail


Acrylamide and polyacrylamide are two distinct chemical compounds that share a similar name but have different properties and applications. While both compounds are derived from the same monomer, acrylamide, they exhibit contrasting characteristics and find diverse uses in various industries. This article aims to explore and compare the attributes of acrylamide and polyacrylamide, shedding light on their chemical structures, physical properties, applications, and potential risks.

Chemical Structures

Acrylamide, with the chemical formula C3H5NO, is an organic compound that consists of a vinyl group (-CH=CH2) attached to an amide group (-CONH2). It is a small molecule with a molecular weight of 71.08 g/mol. On the other hand, polyacrylamide is a polymer formed by the polymerization of acrylamide monomers. It has a much larger molecular weight, typically ranging from thousands to millions of grams per mole, depending on the degree of polymerization.

Due to its simple structure, acrylamide is highly soluble in water and other polar solvents. In contrast, polyacrylamide, being a polymer, forms long chains that are less soluble in water. However, the solubility of polyacrylamide can be enhanced by adjusting the degree of polymerization and the presence of ionic groups.

Physical Properties

Acrylamide is a white, odorless crystalline solid with a melting point of 84-85°C. It is highly reactive and can undergo polymerization under certain conditions. In contrast, polyacrylamide is typically found as a white or off-white powder or granules. Its physical properties, such as melting point and viscosity, vary depending on the molecular weight and the presence of cross-linking agents.

Both acrylamide and polyacrylamide are non-toxic in their pure form. However, it is important to note that acrylamide monomer can be hazardous if mishandled or exposed to high temperatures, as it can release toxic fumes. Polyacrylamide, on the other hand, is considered safe for use in various applications, including cosmetics, agriculture, and water treatment, as long as it is properly handled and used within recommended guidelines.


Acrylamide finds its primary application in the production of polyacrylamide. However, it also has its own uses, such as in the synthesis of dyes, plastics, and adhesives. Acrylamide is also utilized in the laboratory as a reagent for protein purification and DNA sequencing due to its ability to form cross-linked gels.

Polyacrylamide, being a versatile polymer, has a wide range of applications across various industries. In the water treatment sector, it is used as a flocculant to remove suspended particles and impurities from wastewater. It also finds use in enhanced oil recovery, where it improves the efficiency of oil extraction from reservoirs. Additionally, polyacrylamide is employed in the paper and pulp industry to increase the retention of fine particles during the papermaking process.

Furthermore, polyacrylamide is extensively used in the cosmetic industry as a thickening agent, stabilizer, and film-forming agent in various personal care products. It provides viscosity and enhances the texture of creams, lotions, and gels. In agriculture, polyacrylamide is utilized as a soil conditioner to improve water retention and reduce soil erosion. It also acts as a binder for seed coatings and helps in the controlled release of fertilizers.

Potential Risks

While both acrylamide and polyacrylamide have their own set of risks, it is important to note that the risks associated with acrylamide are primarily related to its monomeric form. Acrylamide monomer is classified as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). It can cause neurological damage and is known to be toxic to aquatic organisms. However, the risks associated with acrylamide exposure are significantly reduced when it is polymerized into polyacrylamide.

Polyacrylamide, when used in accordance with safety guidelines, is considered safe for various applications. However, it is crucial to avoid the release of polyacrylamide particles into the environment, as they can have adverse effects on aquatic life. Additionally, prolonged exposure to polyacrylamide dust or solutions may cause skin irritation or respiratory issues in sensitive individuals. Therefore, proper handling, storage, and disposal practices should be followed to minimize any potential risks.


In conclusion, acrylamide and polyacrylamide are distinct chemical compounds with different properties and applications. Acrylamide serves as the monomer for the synthesis of polyacrylamide, a polymer with a wide range of uses in various industries. While acrylamide is a small molecule with simple structure and high reactivity, polyacrylamide forms long chains that exhibit different physical properties depending on the degree of polymerization. Both compounds have their own set of risks, with acrylamide monomer being more hazardous than polyacrylamide. However, when used responsibly and within recommended guidelines, polyacrylamide can be safely employed in numerous applications, including water treatment, cosmetics, agriculture, and more.

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