What Is Acetic Acid Used For?

Acetic acid is an organic solvent that is used for a variety of industrial, analytical and medical purposes. It has the structural formula “CH3COOH” and exists as a colorless liquid at room temperature. Acetic acid is a component of vinegar and is what gives vinegar its characteristic smell.

Acetic acid is used in industrial fields as a precursor for making various metal acetates, cellulose acetate and vinyl acetate. Metal acetates are used in printing, and cellulose acetate is used to make film for photography. Vinyl acetate is a component in most plastics. Acetic acid is also used to make many different esters used in analytical chemistry. These esters are used as solvents in many commercial products, such as inks and paints.

Medically, acetic acid is used as an otic solution in the treatment of external ear infections and in physical therapy to treat soft tissue damage in athletes. Acetic acid is also used in several countries as a food additive to regulate the acidity of certain foods and condiments. While not a strong acid, acetic acid is corrosive and can damage the skin and eyes if contact with the undiluted compound occurs. It is also flammable and should be kept away from open flames.