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Acetic acid vs. peracetic acid: a chemical comparison

Whilst these two popular commodity chemicals are similar in name and have a direct relationship, they have very different industrial applications.

 

Acetic acid (CH₃COOH) is primarily used as a reagent to produce other chemicals like vinyl acetate monomer (VAM, used to produce paints), whilst peracetic acid (CH₃CO₃H) is chiefly used as a biocide and disinfectant in many settings.

Acetic acid can be considered the ‘parent’ of peracetic acid; peracetic acid is derived from a reaction between acetic acid and hydrogen peroxide. Peracetic acid is essentially acetic acid with an extra oxygen atom. This gives it its oxidising properties, which affect its properties and industrial uses.

Let’s explore in a little more detail.

Acetic acid vs. peracetic acid: production and manufacture

Acetic acid is predominantly manufactured through a process called ‘carbonylation’ — a high-temperature, high-pressure reaction between methanol and carbon monoxide in the presence of a catalyst. As an efficient, high-yield process, this is the industry standard.

It can also be produced via natural bacterial fermentation. This natural route plays an important role in the production of products for human consumption, such as vinegar. It accounts for about 10% of global acetic acid production.

Peracetic acid is composed of hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid. It is synthesised through a reaction between the two in the presence of a strong acid catalyst, such as sulphuric acid. This is done in highly controlled environments to preserve the integrity of the product.

Acetic acid vs. peracetic acid: appearance, smell and other names

Acetic acid is a colourless liquid with a pungent, vinegar-like smell. It has high miscibility with water, ethanol and other solvents. It is available in many strengths, including dilute (vinegar is 5–10%) through to industrial-grade concentrations of 40%, 60%, 80% and 100% (at which point it is also known as ‘glacial’ acetic acid).

Other names for acetic acid include ethanoic acid, vinegar, hydrogen acetate, methanecarboxylic acid and ethylic acid.

Peracetic acid is also a colourless liquid with a similar pungent smell. For stability purposes, it is sold as a solution with acetic acid and hydrogen peroxide, with the amount of active ingredient varying. Popular strengths include 2%, 5% and 15%. Foamy variations are also available.

Other names for peracetic acid include PAA, peroxyacetic acid, acetic peroxide, acetyl hydroperoxide and proxitane.

Acetic acid is the stronger of the two, but both chemicals can be corrosive and require careful handling and use of safety equipment.

Acetic acid vs. peracetic acid: industrial applications

Acetic acid uses

Acetic acid’s largest market is in the production of vinyl acetate monomer (VAM), which is used to create paints and adhesives.

It has smaller-scale uses in cleaning, water treatment, agriculture, healthcare and oil and gas. As a food grade material, it is also used in food production and processing.

  • Chemical synthesis: Used in the production of various chemicals, including vinyl acetate monomer (a key component of paints and adhesives), polyvinyl acetate (used in glue), cellulose acetate (used in photographic film and glasses frames), and peracetic acid.
  • Food additives: As a food grade material, it is used in vinegar, salad dressings and other condiments. It holds E-number E260, and can also be used to add flavour and regulate acidity, functioning as a preservative and for pickling.
  • Textiles: Used in dyeing processes and the production of synthetic fibres, adhesives, sealants, coatings, paints and inks. Also used for leather tanning and a buffer in dyeing and finishing processes.
  • Agriculture: Occasionally used in pesticide and herbicide production as an environmentally-friendly, biodegradable alternative.

More information on other niche uses can be discovered on our acetic acid product page.

Peracetic acid uses

Peracetic acid is primarily utilised as a biocide, antimicrobial and disinfectant. It is fast acting and fully biodegradable, able to destroy bacteria, viruses, spores and fungi. Peracetic acid’s cleaning mechanism is oxidation; it changes the structure of residues to make them more easy to remove.

  • Industrial cleaning: Used as a biocide, disinfectant and antimicrobial across domestic, agricultural, hospitality, medical and food processing settings.
  • Water treatment: Used as a disinfectant in water treatment environments.

The strength of the peracetic acid determines its cleaning efficacy. The peracetic acid we manufacture is BPR grade and supplied in accordance with Article 95, as well as being approved under a number of European standards. For more information, head over to our peracetic acid product page.

The demand for vinyl acetate monomer and demand for disinfectants and sanitisers across various industries means that the global market for both acetic acid and peracetic acid is projected to grow steadily.

 

We’re an award-winning UK supplier of acetic acid, peracetic acid and a range of other commodity chemicals. If you’ve got more questions or you’d like to discuss your requirements, our team is only a quick message away.

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