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Methanoic Acid vs. Ethanoic Acid: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Published on January 18, 2024
Methanoic acid (HCOOH) is the simplest carboxylic acid, with one carbon atom, while ethanoic acid (CH3COOH) has two carbon atoms and a familiar vinegar smell.

Key Differences

Methanoic acid, also known as formic acid, is characterized by having only one carbon atom in its structure. Ethanoic acid, commonly known as acetic acid, has two carbon atoms, making it slightly larger and more complex than methanoic acid.
In methanoic acid, the carboxyl group is attached directly to a hydrogen atom, whereas in ethanoic acid, this group is connected to a methyl group (CH3). This structural difference impacts their physical and chemical properties.
Methanoic acid is found naturally in ant stings and is a simpler molecule. Ethanoic acid, on the other hand, is a key component of vinegar and is used extensively in food and industrial applications.
The boiling point of methanoic acid is 100.8°C, which is lower than ethanoic acid’s boiling point of 118.1°C. This difference is due to the increased molecular weight and stronger intermolecular forces in ethanoic acid.
Methanoic acid has a pungent odor and is more corrosive compared to ethanoic acid, which has a sour smell characteristic of vinegar and is less corrosive.

Comparison Chart

Molecular Formula


Carbon Atoms




Boiling Point


Natural Occurrence

Ant stings, plant secretions
Vinegar, plant secretions

Methanoic Acid and Ethanoic Acid Definitions

Methanoic Acid

It's the simplest type of carboxylic acid.
Methanoic acid reacts vigorously with bases.

Ethanoic Acid

A carboxylic acid with two carbon atoms.
Ethanoic acid is commonly used in vinegar.

Methanoic Acid

A simple carboxylic acid with one carbon atom.
Methanoic acid is used in leather tanning.

Ethanoic Acid

Known as acetic acid, it has a sour smell.
Ethanoic acid gives pickles their characteristic tang.

Methanoic Acid

Methanoic acid is corrosive and can cause skin irritation.
Handling methanoic acid requires protective gear.

Ethanoic Acid

A key ingredient in industrial solvents and vinegar.
Ethanoic acid is used in cleaning agents.

Methanoic Acid

A colorless liquid with a pungent odor.
Methanoic acid is often used in food preservation.

Ethanoic Acid

Ethanoic acid is less corrosive than methanoic acid.
Ethanoic acid is safer for culinary uses.

Methanoic Acid

Also known as formic acid, it's found in ant venom.
The burning sensation from an ant bite is due to methanoic acid.

Ethanoic Acid

It's a colorless liquid that freezes below 16.7°C.
Ethanoic acid forms ice-like crystals at low temperatures.


Where is methanoic acid found naturally?

In ant stings and certain plant secretions.

What is ethanoic acid?

Ethanoic acid, or acetic acid, has two carbon atoms and is a key component of vinegar.

What is the boiling point of ethanoic acid?

Around 118.1°C.

What are the uses of ethanoic acid?

In food, as vinegar, and in industrial solvents.

Is methanoic acid more corrosive than ethanoic acid?

Yes, it's more corrosive and has a stronger odor.

What is methanoic acid?

It's the simplest carboxylic acid with a single carbon atom.

Does methanoic acid have a distinct smell?

Yes, it has a pungent, irritating odor.

What is the odor of ethanoic acid?

It has a sour, vinegar-like smell.

Is methanoic acid found in vinegar?

No, vinegar primarily contains ethanoic acid.

Are there any safety concerns with ethanoic acid?

It's less corrosive but should still be handled with care.

What is the boiling point of methanoic acid?

Approximately 100.8°C.

Can methanoic acid be used in agriculture?

Yes, as a pesticide and soil treatment.

Is ethanoic acid used in cleaning products?

Yes, it's used in various cleaning agents.

Can ethanoic acid be used in food?

Yes, it's commonly used in food items like vinegar.

What are the physical properties of methanoic acid?

It's a colorless liquid with a strong odor.

What are the physical properties of ethanoic acid?

A colorless liquid that freezes below 16.7°C.

Is ethanoic acid harmful to humans?

In high concentrations, it can be harmful, but it's generally safe in dilute forms like vinegar.

Can methanoic acid be synthesized artificially?

Yes, it can be produced through chemical synthesis.

Is ethanoic acid environmentally friendly?

Generally, it's considered safe for the environment.

How is methanoic acid used industrially?

In leather tanning and as a preservative.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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