Ethanoic Acid and Sodium Carbonate


Ethanoic acid is another name (especially used in the U.K.) for acetic acid, a product of the fermentation of ethanol or "drinking" alcohol into vinegar. The reaction between these two substances is similar to that between baking soda and vinegar in its rapidity of reaction and evolution of gas (carbon dioxide).

Type of Reaction

  • Although sodium carbonate is decidedly basic, with the pH of a 1 percent solution being 11.37, the reaction is still not an acid-base reaction since sodium carbonate is the combination salt of a strong base (sodium hydroxide) and a weak acid (carbonic acid). It is the reaction of a salt with a stronger acid (ethanoic or acetic) supplanting the weaker acid.

Reaction Specifics

  • The reaction may be written:

    2 CH3COOH + Na2CO3 ---> 2 CH3COONa + H2CO3

    None of the above substances is a gas; however, this additional reaction occurs immediately:

    H2CO3 ---> H2O + CO2.

Uses of Products

  • Ethanoic acid is an inexpensive reactant, as is sodium carbonate. The products resulting from reaction, namely sodium ethanoate (sodium acetate) and carbon dioxide, each have their uses. In particular, sodium ethanoate is used to neutralize the yet stronger acid, sulfuric acid, in wastewater streams by the reaction:

    2 CH3COONa + H2SO4 ---> Na2SO4 + 2 CH3COOH

    In comparison with sulfuric acid, both sodium sulfate and ethanoic acid are innocuous substances.

    Sodium ethanoate is also used as a chemical buffer for heating pads and in a host of other ways.

Carbon Dioxide

  • Although the amateur scientist and the research chemist are apt to ignore the carbon dioxide produced in a reaction such as this one, commercial processes go to great pains to avoid wasting potentially valuable products. Carbon dioxide finds application as a pressurized gas, in the soft drink industry, in the process of decaffeination, as a refrigerant, and in the petroleum industry.


  • Although the products (sodium ethanoate and carbon dioxide) are not particularly dangerous, the reactant sodium carbonate can cause serious problems. For example, since one of the products is a gas, some of the sodium carbonate could conceivably be blown into the eyes. Sodium carbonate has a high pH, so this could be of serious consequence. Read an appropriate material safety data sheet such as is cited in the references, below.

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  • Photo Credit Cuve for fermentation image by btanne from
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