Ethanoic Acid Uses In Everyday Life

by Lucy Bell-Young

Ethanoic acid is the active component of vinegar, and is also known as acetic acid. It’s the most important type of carboxylic acid because of its many practical uses, which range from culinary applications to industrial processes. Ethanoic acid can be produced through the fermentation process and oxidation of carbohydrates, like the sugars from coconut juice. 

What Are The Uses Of Ethanoic Acid?

  1. Food ingredient

One of the most common uses of ethanoic acid is in the production of vinegar, where it exists at around 5% concentration. Vinegar has numerous culinary applications, and is also used as a pickling agent in food preservation. While distilled vinegar has an ethanoic acid concentration of 5-8%, spirit vinegar has a concentration of up to 20% and is better suited for DIY cleaning applications, which leads us on to…

  1. Cleaning agent

Although vinegar is a weak acid, it’s a good non-toxic cleaning agent for things like tiles, toilets bowls, and jewellery, and can remove stains in fabrics and oxidation on metals. In fact, many laundry and dishwashing detergent products contain acetic acid. Vinegar is also a good degreasing solvent and is commonly used with baking soda to clean the grime from ovens and showers. 

  1. Antiseptic

Ethanoic acid can interfere with the metabolic processes of microorganisms, which makes it a good topical antiseptic that’s effective against bacteria such as pseudomonas, enterococci, streptococci, and staphylococci. You can even treat minor wounds with ethanoic acid in order to prevent infection. The acidity also prevents fungal infection – in fact, you only need a 0.3% solution of ethanoic acid to prevent fungal spores from germinating.

  1. Get rid of those bad bathroom smells

Ethanoic acid can neutralise aromatic compounds and kill the bacteria that cause bad odours. Therefore, it can be used as a ‘deodorant’ for bathrooms. However, the smell of the acid can be irritating to some, so you’ll need to wash it off afterwards!

  1. Anti-inflammatory

Other types of vinegars, like apple cider vinegar, have antiinflammatory properties. They can be used to treat muscle injuries and joint pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Apple cider vinegar has a 5-6% concentration of ethanoic acid. 

  1. Fever remedy

Another trick that apple cider vinegar has up its sleeve is an age-old folk remedy for high fever. You simply need to soak a washcloth in a diluted solution of apple cider vinegar and place it on the forehead of the patient. The theory is that the vinegar stimulates blood flow and even boosts the immune system, helping to curb the symptoms. You can also put additional soaked washcloths on the tummy or wrap them around the soles of the feet.

Person holding basket of natural cleaning supplies
Ethanoic acid is the active ingredient in vinegar, which can be used as an effective cleaning agent for grime and grease
  1. Dental hygiene

The acidic and antiseptic properties of vinegar make it good for dental hygiene, where it can be used to remove tartar or bacterial accumulation on the teeth. To do this, you need to use a warm solution of white vinegar as mouthwash and gargle with it everyday to help remove tartar. It can also significantly help fight mouth sores caused by bacterial infection. Your teeth can be whitened in the process, so there’s no downside really!

  1. Laboratory reagent

Concentrated ethanoic acid is commonly used as a laboratory reagent for various experiments and testing. For example, it’s commonly used in lysing red blood cells to allow the examination of white blood cells.

  1. Blood sugar reduction

Even diabetic patients can benefit from vinegar because it can help reduce blood sugar levels. Meanwhile, for those who aren’t diabetic, vinegar helps lower the insulin resistance of the cells.

  1. Pest control

Acetic acid, especially in vinegar form, is non-toxic to humans, but it can be deadly to pests. This is why it’s often used as an insect repellant and weed killer. Ethanoic acid is effective here because it can disrupt the metabolic pathways of insects and unwanted plants.

  1. Chemical precursor

On an industrial scale, ethanoic acid is used as a reagent or precursor to manufacturing other chemicals. For instance, it’s commonly used in the preparation of metal acetates, which are essential in printing processes. Acetic acid also has an important role in manufacturing dyes.

Another important application of ethanoic acid is in the synthesis of vinyl acetate and production of plastics. In addition, cellulose acetate, a product of acetic acid, can be used in making photographic films and textiles. Cellulose acetate is formed when wood pulp reacts with acetic acid.

  1. Losing weight

One clinical study suggests that apple cider vinegar is good for losing weight because it can satisfy your appetite and help you burn fat. Health gurus say that adding one or two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to the daily diet can help you burn fats faster and also help reduce triglycerides, or fatty acids, in your blood. However, there’s not a lot of scientific backing to these claims, so always do your research first!

Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar can be used as an anti-inflammatory and fever remedy

What Is The Concentration Of Ethanoic Acid In Vinegar?

Most commercial vinegars intended for cooking and food processing are distilled vinegars with an ethanoic acid concentration of 5-8%. On the other hand, mother of vinegar can have a concentration of up to 20%. The concentration of ethanoic acid in vinegar affects its pH level or acidity level. Higher concentrations mean more hydrogen ions can be donated. On average, vinegar has an acidic pH level of 2.5, which is what makes it a good cleaning agent for household purposes.

What Foods Contain Ethanoic Acid?

Ethanoic acid in the form of vinegar is a common food ingredient. Therefore, many food items and food additives contain ethanoic acid either as flavouring, a preservative, or both. For example, ethanoic acid is used in marinated meat or fish, and in pickles or pickled vegetables in general. It’s also an ingredient in mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, salad dressings, canned fruits, and many other condiments. 

What Are The Uses Of Ethanoic Acid In Medicine?

Ethanoic acid has several applications in medicine, particularly in treating or preventing infections, and for laboratory testing. Perhaps the most important use of ethanoic acid in medicine is as an antiseptic because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties, and effectiveness at fighting pseudomonas, enterococci, streptococci, and staphylococci. Ethanoic acid uses in medicine also include irrigating the bladder of patients who use catheters because it prevents infection and reduces calcium accumulation.

Ethanoic acid in the form of vinegar has several folk remedy applications. Some are proven to be true, such as reducing fever and helping alleviate inflammation, while others remain a little uncertain, such as using it for weight loss. In laboratories, it plays a diagnostic role mainly for lysing red blood cells in order to allow for the examination of white blood cells.


The blog on and everything published on it is provided as an information resource only. The blog, its authors and affiliates accept no responsibility for any accident, injury or damage caused in part or directly from following the information provided on this website. We do not recommend using any chemical without first consulting the Material Safety Data Sheet which can be obtained from the manufacturer and following the safety advice and precautions on the product label. If you are in any doubt about health and safety issues please consult the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).