Trichloroacetic Acid vs. Trifluoroacetic Acid

What's the Difference?

Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) are both organic acids commonly used in various chemical and biological applications. However, they differ in terms of their chemical composition and properties. TCA is composed of three chlorine atoms and one carboxylic acid group, while TFA contains three fluorine atoms and one carboxylic acid group. TCA is a stronger acid than TFA, with a lower pKa value, making it more corrosive and potentially more hazardous to handle. TFA, on the other hand, is less corrosive and has a milder odor compared to TCA. Additionally, TFA is often preferred in certain applications, such as peptide synthesis, due to its volatility and ability to be easily removed by evaporation. Overall, while both acids have their own unique characteristics, their different chemical compositions and properties make them suitable for specific uses in various fields.


AttributeTrichloroacetic AcidTrifluoroacetic Acid
Chemical FormulaCCl3COOHCF3COOH
Molecular Weight163.39 g/mol114.02 g/mol
Boiling Point196.2 °C71.8 °C
AppearanceColorless liquidColorless liquid
SolubilityMiscible in waterMiscible in water
AcidityStrong acidStrong acid
UsesChemical intermediate, protein precipitation, skin peelingChemical intermediate, protein precipitation, skin peeling

Further Detail


Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) are both organic acids commonly used in various industries and scientific applications. While they share some similarities, they also possess distinct attributes that make them unique. In this article, we will explore and compare the properties, uses, and potential risks associated with these two acids.


Trichloroacetic acid (C2HCl3O2) is a colorless liquid with a pungent odor. It is highly soluble in water and has a high boiling point of around 196°C. TCA is a strong acid with a pH of approximately 0.6. On the other hand, trifluoroacetic acid (C2HF3O2) is also a colorless liquid but has a less pungent odor compared to TCA. It is highly volatile and has a lower boiling point of around 72°C. TFA is a stronger acid than TCA, with a pH of approximately 0.23.


TCA finds extensive use in the medical field, particularly in dermatology. It is commonly employed as a chemical peel agent to treat various skin conditions, including acne scars, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. TCA is also utilized in the laboratory as a protein precipitant and DNA extraction reagent. Additionally, it serves as a herbicide and is employed in the synthesis of pharmaceuticals and dyes.

On the other hand, TFA is widely used as a solvent in organic chemistry, especially in peptide synthesis and purification. It is highly effective in dissolving and separating peptides and proteins due to its strong acid nature. TFA is also utilized as a reagent in various chemical reactions, such as esterification and deprotection of functional groups. Furthermore, it serves as a stabilizer for certain pharmaceuticals and is employed in the analysis of organic compounds using techniques like nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).

Safety and Risks

When handling TCA, it is crucial to take proper safety precautions due to its corrosive nature. Direct contact with the skin can cause severe burns, and inhalation of its vapors may irritate the respiratory system. TCA should be used in a well-ventilated area, and protective equipment such as gloves and goggles should be worn. It is also important to avoid mixing TCA with incompatible substances, as it can lead to hazardous reactions.

TFA, although less corrosive than TCA, still requires careful handling. It can cause severe eye and skin irritation, and its vapors may irritate the respiratory system. Similar to TCA, TFA should be used in a well-ventilated area with appropriate protective equipment. It is important to note that both TCA and TFA are harmful if ingested and should be kept away from children and pets.

Environmental Impact

Trichloroacetic acid has been found to have potential environmental impacts. It is considered toxic to aquatic organisms and may persist in water systems. TCA can also contribute to the depletion of ozone in the atmosphere when released into the air. Therefore, proper disposal methods and adherence to environmental regulations are essential when working with TCA.

Trifluoroacetic acid, on the other hand, has a lower environmental impact compared to TCA. It is less persistent in water and does not contribute significantly to ozone depletion. However, it is still important to handle and dispose of TFA responsibly to minimize any potential harm to the environment.


Trichloroacetic acid and trifluoroacetic acid are both valuable compounds with distinct properties and uses. While TCA is commonly employed in medical and laboratory applications, TFA finds extensive use in organic chemistry and peptide synthesis. Both acids require careful handling and safety precautions due to their corrosive nature. Additionally, their potential environmental impacts highlight the importance of proper disposal and adherence to regulations. Understanding the attributes of these acids allows for informed decision-making when selecting the appropriate compound for specific applications.

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