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Carboxylic Acid: Structural Formula, Properties & Uses

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  • 0:00 Structural Formula &…
  • 2:35 In Fatty Acids
  • 3:35 In Health & Medicine
  • 4:15 In Food
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nissa Garcia

Nissa has a masters degree in chemistry and has taught high school science and college level chemistry.

We may not know it, but we encounter compounds called carboxylic acids regularly. These substances are in our kitchens and medicine cabinets and are used in various industrial applications. In this lesson, we will learn all about carboxylic acids.

Structural Formula and Properties

Carboxylic acids are among us - they are used in manufacturing common items we have at home, like soap, vinegar, and aspirin. There are so many commercial products that we use that are manufactured using carboxylic acids. So, what exactly are carboxylic acids? Carboxylic acids are a classification of organic compounds. They are organic because they contain carbon (C) in their chemical structure.

These Substances are Manufactured Using Carboxylic Acids

What makes an organic compound a carboxylic acid? An organic compound that is a carboxylic acid includes the carboxyl group, -COOH, in its chemical structure. In this case, we need to take a closer look at the structural formula of a carboxylic acid. The structural formula of a carboxylic acid is RCOOH, as shown in the following illustration. Here, the R group is a side group that can contain hydrogen and/or carbon and other atoms. The R group is bonded to the carboxyl group (boxed in blue). In the carboxyl group, the carbon (C) atom is bonded to -OH and has a double bond with oxygen (O).

Structural Formula of a Carboxylic Acid

We can see that the structural formula of a carboxylic acid can be written in two ways. On the left (1), it shows all the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen bonds, while on the right (2), the carbon atom is represented by a bend in the structural formula.

For instance, in benzoic acid, the R group (boxed in red) is a ring of carbon and hydrogen atoms with alternating double bonds. In salicylic acid, shown below, the R group (boxed in red) is a ring of carbon and hydrogen atoms bonded together with an -OH group attached to the ring.

Examples of Carboxylic Acids

Carboxylic acids are polar substances. When we say polar, this means that the electrical charge within the compound is not balanced; there is a part of the compound that has a partial positive charge and another part with a partial negative charge. Because carboxylic acids are polar substances, they can dissolve in other polar substances like water.

Carboxylic Acids Are Polar Substances

Another property of carboxylic acids is their boiling points tend to be higher than water. For instance, the boiling point of water is 100 degrees Celsius. Salicylic acid, a carboxylic acid, has a boiling point of 211 degrees Celsius - much higher than water.

Carboxylic acids are also classified as weak acids, and they tend to have strong odors. For instance, acetic acid, a carboxylic acid, is a component of vinegar, and this acid accounts for the strong pungent smell of vinegar. Let's also think about the strong smell of vomit - its strong smell can also be attributed to the carboxylic acid, butyric acid, present in the vomit.

There are so many carboxylic acids with various uses. We have a lot of household products that have carboxylic acids as components. Carboxylic acids are not only in commercial products - they are also an important part of nutrition. Let's take a look at some common carboxylic acids and how they are used.

In Fatty Acids

Did you know that fatty acids fall under the classification of carboxylic acids? These fatty acids have the carboxyl group (-COOH), and attached to the carboxyl group is a long chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms.

Peanut butter, cheese, chicken, and eggs - all of these contain fatty acids. Fatty acids, which make up fat, are an important part of our nutrition. Having the right amount and the healthy type of fat daily is great for our health because it can help our bodies function efficiently each day. This way, our blood cholesterol would be at a healthy level, it would lower the risk of heart disease, and it could even reduce the risk of cancer. Here is an image showing a few examples of carboxylic acids (fatty acids) and their sources.

Some Fatty Acids and Their Sources

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