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Sodium Bisulfite vs. Sodium Metabisulfite: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Published on December 26, 2023
Sodium bisulfite (NaHSO3) is a chemical compound used as a food preservative and in water treatment, while sodium metabisulfite (Na2S2O5) acts as a disinfectant and preservative, often used in winemaking.

Key Differences

Sodium bisulfite is composed of sodium, hydrogen, sulfur, and oxygen with the formula NaHSO3. Sodium metabisulfite, on the other hand, consists of sodium, sulfur, and oxygen, with the chemical formula Na2S2O5.
Sodium bisulfite is widely used as a preservative in foods, particularly in preventing browning in fruits and vegetables. Sodium metabisulfite serves a similar role but is more commonly used in the wine and beer industry as a sterilizing agent.
In water treatment, sodium bisulfite is used to remove excess chlorine. Sodium metabisulfite finds its use in a similar context, also acting as a chlorine remover and as an oxygen scavenger in water systems.
Sodium bisulfite typically appears as a white, crystalline powder with a slight sulfur odor. Sodium metabisulfite also appears as a white or yellowish-white crystalline powder but can have a stronger sulfur smell.
Handling sodium bisulfite requires caution as it can release sulfur dioxide gas, which is irritating to the respiratory system. Sodium metabisulfite also releases sulfur dioxide and requires similar precautions during handling.

Comparison Chart

Chemical Formula


Use in Food Industry

Preservative, anti-browning
Sterilizing agent in winemaking

Application in Water Treatment

Removes excess chlorine
Oxygen scavenger, chlorine remover

Physical Appearance

White crystalline powder
White/yellowish-white crystalline powder

Safety Concerns

Releases sulfur dioxide gas
Releases sulfur dioxide gas

Sodium Bisulfite and Sodium Metabisulfite Definitions

Sodium Bisulfite

An additive to prevent oxidation in foods.
Sodium bisulfite helps to preserve the freshness of wine.

Sodium Metabisulfite

A disinfectant used in winemaking.
Sodium metabisulfite sterilizes equipment in breweries.

Sodium Bisulfite

A substance for maintaining food color.
Sodium bisulfite keeps potato salad from turning brown.

Sodium Metabisulfite

A preservative for preventing oxidation.
Sodium metabisulfite is added to juice concentrates.

Sodium Bisulfite

A chemical for treating water.
Sodium bisulfite effectively removes chlorine from water.

Sodium Metabisulfite

A chemical producing sulfur dioxide when mixed with acid.
Sodium metabisulfite is used in certain chemical reactions for gas production.

Sodium Bisulfite

A compound releasing sulfur dioxide.
Sodium bisulfite is used in some fire extinguishing methods.

Sodium Metabisulfite

A compound used in dyeing and tanning.
Sodium metabisulfite is essential in the leather tanning process.

Sodium Bisulfite

A compound used as a food preservative.
Sodium bisulfite is added to dried fruit to maintain its color.

Sodium Metabisulfite

An agent for chlorine removal in water.
Sodium metabisulfite treats water in large aquariums.


What is sodium bisulfite?

It's a chemical compound used as a preservative and in water treatment.

Can sodium bisulfite remove chlorine from water?

Yes, it's effective in chlorine removal in water treatment.

What role does sodium metabisulfite play in winemaking?

It sterilizes equipment and prevents oxidation in wines.

What are the physical properties of sodium bisulfite?

It appears as a white, crystalline powder with a sulfur odor.

How is sodium bisulfite used in food processing?

It prevents oxidation and browning in foods like dried fruits.

Are there safety concerns with sodium bisulfite?

Yes, it can release irritating sulfur dioxide gas.

What is sodium metabisulfite?

A compound used as a disinfectant and preservative, particularly in winemaking.

How does sodium metabisulfite appear?

As a white or yellowish-white crystalline powder.

Is sodium bisulfite safe for consumption?

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

What is the chemical formula of sodium bisulfite?


Can sodium bisulfite be used in the pharmaceutical industry?

Yes, as an antioxidant and in some preparations.

Is sodium metabisulfite used in the textile industry?

Yes, in dyeing and bleaching processes.

Can sodium bisulfite and sodium metabisulfite be used interchangeably?

Not always, as they have specific uses and properties.

Can sodium metabisulfite be consumed safely?

Yes, in approved quantities as a food additive.

Where else is sodium metabisulfite used?

In leather tanning, textile processing, and chemical manufacturing.

Is sodium metabisulfite used in water treatment?

Yes, mainly as an oxygen scavenger and chlorine remover.

What is the chemical formula of sodium metabisulfite?


What are common uses of sodium bisulfite outside food?

In water treatment and fire extinguishing methods.

What are the safety precautions for sodium metabisulfite?

Similar to bisulfite, it releases sulfur dioxide and requires careful handling.

How does sodium bisulfite affect the color of food?

It helps maintain the original color of foods by preventing browning.
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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