What is Acetate? - Definition, Properties & Formula

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  • 0:00 What is an Acetate, Anyway?
  • 0:34 Acetate Has Many Forms
  • 2:42 Structure, Formula &…
  • 3:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

Acetate is most often recognized as a compound derived from acetic acid. Forms of acetate can be found in products such as nail polish remover. In this lesson, you'll learn about acetate, its properties, and its formula.

What Is an Acetate, Anyway?

Do you remember the last time you took a trip to the grocery store to pick up a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips? Well, next time you do, look at the ingredient list for those chips - you will likely see the term 'sodium acetate.' This is a form of the compound we will be discussing in this lesson: acetate.

By definition, acetate is a type of anion, salt, or ester derived from the compound acetic acid. Let's break down this definition by looking at the three different forms of acetate.

Acetate Has Many Forms...

Keep in mind that as we go through each form of acetate, everything originates from the parent molecule acetic acid. That is, by starting with acetic acid you can produce these various forms of acetate.

Here are the three forms of acetate that we will discuss.

Diagram 1: Different Forms of Acetate
acetate forms

The first form is acetate as an anion. An anion is an atom that has a negative charge. An atom that is charged is called an ion. As we will see shortly, when acetic acid loses a proton (H), it will become charged. This charged species is called the acetate ion.

The second form of acetate is a salt. In chemistry, a salt is created when two ions combine together. Just like we have all heard of the saying, 'opposites attract,' the same applies with ions used to make salts. When an anion (negatively charged atom) is attracted to a cation (positively charged atom), the end result is the formation of an ionic compound, or salt.

Going back to acetic acid, when this compound loses a proton to form the acetate ion, it can bind to a cation, making a salt. Thus, the compound sodium acetate, commonly found in our potato chips, is formed from this process. As you can see below, the anion acetate is attracted to the cation sodium. This opposite attraction produces the sodium acetate molecule that contributes to the vinegar taste in that addicting bag of chips.

Diagram 2: Chemical Reaction Used to Produce the Acetate Salt, Sodium Acetate
sodium acetate

The last form of acetate is an ester. No, not the holiday Easter or the name Esther, but the functional group ester. An ester is a type of compound that is made from a carboxylic acid whose hydroxyl (OH) group is replaced with an alkoxy (O-alkyl) group. Here we see ethyl acetate, which is used in products ranging from makeup to decaffeinated coffee. The alkoxy group in the ethyl acetate structure is circled.

Diagram 3: Molecular Structure of the Acetate Ester, Ethyl Acetate
ethyl acetate

Now that we know the different forms of acetate, let's look at the structure and formula of acetate.

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