Acetic Anhydride: Density, Formula & Uses

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  • 0:02 What Is Acetic Anhydride?
  • 1:32 Properties of Acetic Anhydride
  • 2:55 Common Uses of Acetic…
  • 4:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Monagan

Erin has been writing and editing for several years and has a master's degree in fiction writing.

Acetic anhydride, also known as ethanoic acid, is an anhydride used for a variety of chemical applications. Explore this lesson to learn more about this compound and its properties and uses.

What Is Acetic Anhydride?

When you have a nasty headache, I am sure one of the first medicines you may reach for is a bottle of aspirin. Did you know that acetic anhydride is a reagent used to make aspirin? Besides its many uses, acetic anhydride has a very distinct background and properties.

Acetic anhydride is an organic compound also known as a type of acid anhydride. The molecular formula for acetic anhydride is C4H6O3. Don't be alarmed if you hear scientists refer to acetic anhydride as ethanoic anhydride. Ethanoic anhydride is just another name for acetic anhydride.

The synthesis of acetic anhydride is quite simple as long as you remember the term carboxylic acid. A carboxylic acid is a functional group whose molecular formula is defined as RCOOH. Can you spot the carboxylic acid in the structure of ethanoic acid? Now, I know you may be wondering why you need to spot this functional group, let alone look at the structure of this organic acid. Well, this acid is a building block, or precursor, towards making acetic anhydride.

ethanoic acid

When there are two ethanoic acid molecules present, removing a water molecule results in the production of ethanoic anhydride, also known as acetic anhydride. Essentially, you are performing a dehydration reaction. That is, you are dehydrating or quenching all of the water from the ethanoic acid to form ethanoic anhydride.

Properties of Acetic Anhydride

Acetic anhydride is known to be a colorless liquid that has a highly offensive smell. Often, scientists characterize this pungent smell as akin to vinegar. The molecular weight of acetic anhydride is 102.1 g/mol. It boils at a temperature 139C and melts at a temperature of -73C. The density of acetic anhydride is 1.08g/cm3. Regarding reactivity, acetic anhydride loves to react with water and alcohol. It especially likes to react with water, which is known as a hydrolysis reaction. This will lead to the formation of acetic acid, also known as vinegar. Besides being reactive, it is also characterized as a combustible compound. This simply means that, under specific conditions, acetic anhydride can become ignitable and create a fire hazard.

It is worth noting acetic anhydride does have toxic properties. This must be considered prior to the handling and use of this compound. If you inhale it, or breath it in, it can be toxic. This compound is a lachrymator, which means it hurts your eyes and makes them water. It is also toxic if ingested. Given these properties, handling of acetic anhydride (and reactions involving this compound) is typically performed in a well-ventilated laboratory hood.

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