Difference Between Ethanol and Ethanoic Acid

Main Difference – Ethanol vs Ethanoic Acid

Ethanol and ethanoic acid are two interrelated organic compounds that are widely used in many applications. Ethanoic acid is produced from ethanol. The main difference between ethanol and ethanoic acid is that ethanol is an alcohol which contains hydroxyl group as a functional group, whereas ethanoic acid is a carboxylic acid which contains –COOH acid group instead of a hydroxyl group in the molecule. In addition, many other differences exist between ethanol and ethanoic acid.

This article explains,

1. What is Ethanol
      – Definition, Structure, Production, Properties
2. What is Ethanoic Acid
      – Definition, Structure, Production, Properties
4. What is the difference between Ethanol and Ethanoic Acid

Difference Between Ethanol and Ethanoic Acid - Comparison Summary

What is Ethanol

Ethanol is a primary alcohol which has one hydroxyl group (-OH) attached to the carbon atom of the main chain. The chemical formula of ethanol is CH3CH2OH. Hydroxyl group is the functional group of the ethanol. Ethanol is a simple, clear, colorless liquid that is used mainly to produce various alcoholic beverages. There are two methods to produce ethanol. The first method is by the fermentation process of plant materials. However, in industrial scale, ethanol is produced from ethane (alkene), which is resulted from the refining process of crude oil. This is the second method. During this process, ethane is mixed with steam in the presence of phosphoric acid, which is a strong acid catalyst at a moderately high temperature (about 300 °C) and a high pressure (70 atm). Both methods have their own pros and cons.

The fermentation process is a long process and cannot be sped up by increasing the temperature since it would kill the living bacterial cells. However, unlike the fermentation process, the industrial process is controllable and can be used in continuous production. The final product resulted from the fermentation process is not pure as it contains water together with plant debris and yeast in addition to ethanol. But in industrial scale process, the final product is purer than that of the fermentation process. The fermentation process of ethanol involves natural and renewable sources. In industrial scale production, ethane is derived from crude oil, which is fossil fuel and is a non-renewable resource. Hence, the more environmentally viable method of producing ethanol is the fermentation process.

Difference Between Ethanol and Ethanoic Acid

Figure 1: Ethanol

What is Ethanoic Acid

Ethanoic acid is a carboxylic acid which belongs to a homologous series of organic acids. The chemical formula of ethanoic acid is CH3COOH. Ethanoic acid is mainly used in food as a flavouring agent and also as a preservative. Vinegar is an aqueous solution of ethanoic acid.  Ethanoic acid is a weak acid. In water, it partially dissociates into ions, while forming a dynamic equilibrium. Because of the excess hydrogen irons in the equilibrium solution, an aqueous solution of ethanoic acid becomes weakly acidic. The dynamic equilibrium of ethanoic acid and ethanoate ion can be shown as follows.

Ethanoic acid ⇌ ethanoate ions + hydrogen irons

CH3COOH (aq) ⇌  CH3COO(aq) + H+(aq)

Ethanoic acid is produced by the oxidation of ethanol in the presence of acidified potassium dichromate (VI) solution. However, it is made industrially by the oxidation of ethanol in air in the presence of bacteria. The melting point of ethanoic acid is 17 °C while boiling point is 118 °C.

Main Difference - Ethanol vs Ethanoic Acid

Figure 2: Ethanoic Acid

Difference Between Ethanol and Ethanoic Acid

Chemical Nature

Ethanol:  Ethanol is an alcohol.

Ethanoic Acid: Ethanoic acid is a carboxylic acid.


Ethanol: Ethanol is produced by fermentation of sugars and by reacting ethane with steam with the presence of a catalyst.

Ethanoic Acid: Ethanoic acid is made by oxidizing the ethanol in the presence of an oxidizing agent.

Chemical Formula

Ethanol: CH3CH2OH

Ethanoic Acid: CH3COOH


Ethanol: Ethanol is used to produce alcoholic beverages.

 Ethanoic Acid: Ethanoic acid is used to produce vinegar.


Ethanol is an alcohol with a single hydroxyl group (CH3CH2OH). Ethanoic acid (CH3COOH) is a carboxylic acid produced by the oxidation of ethanol in the presence of an oxidizing agent. The functional group of ethanoic acid is –COOH. Ethanol is mainly used to produce alcoholic beverages, while ethanoic acid is used to produce vinegar. This is the difference between ethanol and ethanoic acid.

1. Neuss, G. (2001). Chemistry for the IB Diploma. Oxford University Press, USA.
2. Ann Fullick, A and Fullick, P. (2001). Chemistry for AQA.: Separate award, Heinemann Educational Publishers, Oxford.
3. Harwood, R., & Lodge, I. (2014). Cambridge IGCSE Chemistry Coursebook with CD-ROM. Cambridge University Press.

Image Courtesy:
1. “Ethanol Lewis” By NEUROtiker ⇌ – Own work (Public Domain) via
2. “Essigsäure – Acetic acid” By NEUROtiker – Own work, Public Domain) via

About the Author: Yashoda

Yashoda has been a freelance writer in the field of biology for about four years. He is an expert in conducting research related to polymer chemistry and nano-technology. He holds a B.Sc. (Hons) degree in Applied Science and a Master of Science degree in Industrial Chemistry.

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