Acetic Acid

What is Acetic Acid?

Acetic acid (chemical formula: CH3COOH), also known as ethanoic acid, is the second simplest carboxylic acid. It is a colourless liquid with a distinctive vinegar odour and taste. In its purest form, acetic acid is called glacial acetic acid. 

What is Acetic Acid used for?

Excluding water, acetic acid is the main ingredient in white vinegar, containing between 3-9% acetic acid. The acid is also used as a food additive (E260), for flavour and as an acidity regulator.

Acetic acid is also used in the manufacturing of plastics, rubbers, pharmaceuticals, dyes, insecticides, solvents, household cleaning products, textile printing and photographic chemicals.

Acetic acid is the active ingredient in white vinegar
Acetic acid is the active ingredient in white vinegar

Acetic Acid Hazards

The routes of exposure for acetic acid include; inhalation, ingestion and skin and eye contact. 

Inhalation of acetic acid may produce irritation and inflammation to the respiratory tract. Inhalation of larger quantities can be extremely hazardous, causing spasm, irritation of the larynx and bronchi, chemical pneumonitis, pulmonary oedema and even death.

Ingestion of higher concentrations of acetic acid can cause burning of the mouth and throat, difficulty breathing and swallowing, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, convulsions and even a coma. 

Skin contact with acetic acid can cause severe irritation and  inflammation of the skin, often characterised by redness and swelling that may progress to blistering. Entry into the bloodstream through open cuts or wounds can also cause other harmful effects. 

Eye exposure to acetic acid may cause; tearing, burns and sensitivity to light. Severe burns may lead to permanent eye damage, but milder burns tend to heal quickly. 

Acetic Acid Safety

If inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source. Lay the patient down and keep them warm and rested. If the patient is not breathing and you are qualified to do so, perform CPR, preferably with a bag-valve mask device. Transport to hospital without delay. 

If swallowed, do not induce vomiting. Urgent hospital treatment is likely to be necessary. If vomiting occurs, lean the patient forward or place on their left side to avoid aspiration. Observe the patient carefully and give water to rinse their mouth out as well as providing liquid slowly and as much as they can comfortably drink. Transport to hospital without delay. 

If skin exposure occurs, remove all contaminated clothing and footwear and flush the affected area with plenty of running water (using a safety shower if available). Transport to hospital. 

If the chemical is exposed to the eyes, flush the eyes out immediately with fresh running water for at least 15 minutes, remembering to wash under the eyelids. Removal of contact lenses should only be done by a skilled individual. Transport to hospital without delay. 

Acetic Acid Safety Handling

Emergency eyewash fountains and safety showers should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure to the chemical and there should always be adequate ventilation to remove or dilute any air contaminants (install local exhaust if necessary). 

The PPE recommended when handling acetic acid includes; safety glasses with unperforated side shields, chemical goggles, gas masks, elbow length PVC gloves, PVC aprons, PVC protective suits, overalls and safety boots.

For more information on how to handle acetic acid safely, refer to your SDS. Click here for a trial of our SDS Management Software or contact us at sales@chemwatch.net for more information about our chemicals management solutions.