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Phenol vs. Benzoic Acid: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on January 2, 2024
Phenol is a hydroxy derivative of benzene, used as an antiseptic and in organic synthesis, whereas benzoic acid is a carboxylic acid derivative of benzene, used as a food preservative and in the manufacture of various chemicals.

Key Differences

Phenol is an aromatic compound with a hydroxyl group (-OH) directly attached to a benzene ring, making it somewhat acidic and corrosive. Benzoic acid is also an aromatic compound, but it has a carboxyl group (-COOH) attached to the benzene ring, which gives it more acidic properties than phenol.
In terms of usage, phenol is widely used in the production of plastics, resins, and as a disinfectant due to its antiseptic properties. Benzoic acid, on the other hand, is commonly used as a food preservative and is also found in various cosmetic products.
Phenol has a distinct sweet-smoky odor and is toxic, posing health risks if ingested or absorbed through the skin. Benzoic acid is less toxic compared to phenol and is even used in food products, although in regulated amounts.
Chemically, phenol can be obtained from the distillation of coal tar or manufactured synthetically. Benzoic acid can be produced by the oxidation of toluene or from the microbial fermentation of starch.
Phenol's primary applications lie in industrial chemistry, especially in synthesizing other complex organic compounds. Benzoic acid plays a crucial role in the pharmaceutical industry, used in the preparation of various drugs.

Comparison Chart

Chemical Structure

Hydroxyl group attached to benzene
Carboxyl group attached to benzene


Mildly acidic
More acidic


Plastics, resins, disinfectants
Food preservatives, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals


Toxic, corrosive
Less toxic, used in food products


Distillation of coal tar, synthetic processes
Oxidation of toluene, microbial fermentation

Phenol and Benzoic Acid Definitions


Phenol is used as an antiseptic and in chemical synthesis.
Phenol's antiseptic properties make it useful in throat lozenges.

Benzoic Acid

It's used in pharmaceutical and dye manufacturing.
Benzoic acid is a precursor in the synthesis of various drugs.


It's a white crystalline solid with a distinct odor.
The characteristic smell of phenol is noticeable in some medical ointments.

Benzoic Acid

Produced by oxidation of toluene or microbial fermentation.
Industrial production of benzoic acid often involves the oxidation of toluene.


Phenol is a toxic aromatic compound with a hydroxyl group.
Phenol is used in the production of epoxy resins.

Benzoic Acid

It's more acidic than phenol.
Benzoic acid's higher acidity makes it effective in food preservation.


It's obtained from coal tar or synthesized chemically.
Industrial phenol is often derived from the distillation of coal tar.

Benzoic Acid

Benzoic acid is less toxic and used in cosmetics.
Many cosmetic products contain benzoic acid for its preservative qualities.


Phenol is somewhat acidic and corrosive.
Phenol can cause burns upon skin contact due to its corrosive nature.

Benzoic Acid

Benzoic acid is a simple aromatic carboxylic acid.
Benzoic acid is commonly used as a food preservative.


A caustic, poisonous, white crystalline compound, C6H6O, derived from benzene and used in resins, plastics, and pharmaceuticals and in dilute form as a disinfectant. Also called carbolic acid.


Can phenol be used in medicine?

Yes, as an antiseptic in some throat lozenges and ointments.

What is benzoic acid used for?

As a food preservative, in cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals.

How toxic is phenol?

It's toxic and can be harmful if ingested or absorbed through the skin.

What is the acidity level of phenol?

It's mildly acidic.

What is phenol used for?

In manufacturing plastics, resins, and as a disinfectant.

Is benzoic acid found in cosmetics?

Yes, for its preservative properties.

What is the primary source of phenol?

Coal tar distillation or chemical synthesis.

What are the safety concerns with phenol?

Its toxicity and corrosive nature require careful handling.

Is benzoic acid safe for consumption?

In regulated amounts, it's safe as a food preservative.

Is benzoic acid harmful to the skin?

Generally, it's safe but can cause irritation in sensitive individuals.

What form does benzoic acid come in?

It's a crystalline solid.

Is benzoic acid used in the pharmaceutical industry?

Yes, in drug synthesis.

Can benzoic acid be used in food?

Yes, as a preservative in small, regulated amounts.

How is phenol handled in the industry?

With precautions due to its corrosive and toxic nature.

What are the environmental impacts of benzoic acid?

Generally low, but it should be disposed of properly to avoid ecological damage.

How is benzoic acid produced?

By oxidation of toluene or microbial fermentation.

Are there industrial uses for phenol?

Yes, in the production of various chemicals and plastics.

Does phenol have a distinct smell?

Yes, a sweet-smoky odor.

How acidic is benzoic acid?

More acidic than phenol.

What are the physical properties of phenol?

A white crystalline solid with a distinct odor.
About Author
Written 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.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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