Is Vinegar An Acid or A Base? (Explained)
Vinegar, whose name came from the Latin term vinum acer or sour wine, is one of the most useful substances we use in our daily lives. Aside from using it to seasoning our food, it can also be effective in cleaning our homes and getting rid of certain odors. Due to its versatility, vinegar is certainly a must-have for every household.
To understand what vinegar is and how to use it best – knowing about its pH levels is important. Is vinegar acidic, or is it a base?
Why is it important to know its acidity or base?
Since we use vinegar a lot, knowing about its properties can be helpful.
If we do not know about its characteristics, it is possible to use it incorrectly or cause ourselves harm in the process. Especially for people who heard about its supposedly miraculous effects when it comes to certain health conditions and diets, thorough research must take place to ensure that vinegar is safe to consume.
This is where acidity and base come in. Although vinegar is a substance used by many people, there is no harm in knowing its pH levels. Doing so will help you use the solution effectively and properly for whatever purpose you may need it.
Vinegar - acidic or basic?
Technically, since vinegar is a mixture of acetic acid and water, it is acidic. For a simple explanation, the acidity or alkalinity of a substance is best determined with the pH scale, which we will explain in more detail below.
Due to the reason that vinegar usually has a range of 2 or 4, it is, without a doubt, an acidic solution.
Of course, there is more explanation about what properties are necessary for a substance to be acidic or basic. For us to understand why vinegar is acidic, we need to know what these two words mean first.
Let us compare the two meticulously:
Since both acids and bases are compound solutions that we use regularly, let us start with their similarities.
Both substances are on the extreme ends of the pH scale.
The term “pH” stands for potential of hydrogen. When it comes to the pH scale, there are three levels that we can see in its range.
The scale goes like this:
Acidic – Neutral – Basic
Acidic substances are on the left side of the pH scale, while basic substances are on the far right. In between the two is the neutral level.
The pH scale contains the ranges of 0 to 14. Acidic substances are in the 0.0 to 6.9 range, neutral substances are in the middle, which is 7, and basic substances are in the 7.1 to 14 range.
Remember what we said earlier about vinegar having a pH level of 2 or 3? According to the ranges above, this makes vinegar acidic.
Both acids and bases are chemical solutions that react with water.
When we mix acids and bases with water, both of them react, albeit differently.
With acidic solutions, they will release hydrogen ions or H+. Depending on the amount of water and the number of ions, the acidity level of the substance may decrease. In a way, the hydrogen ion will neutralize the solution after the process.
With basic or alkaline solutions, they will release hydroxide ions or OH–. Depending on the amount of water and the number of ions, the alkalinity of the substance may be weaker. Since most bases love water, (hydrophilic) it can be easy to mix them with water.
Did you ever try mixing vinegar with water? Of course, you will notice that it may not be stronger than a pure one.
Both substances can influence the color of litmus paper.
To determine the pH levels of many aqueous solutions, litmus paper strips are the simplest methods out there. The process usually includes the following steps:
- Take a sample of the solution using a dropper
- Drop the sample on the litmus paper
- Wait for the results within seconds (or a few minutes)
When it comes to the result, the strip will react to acids and bases differently. If the solution is more acidic, the paper goes from blue to red. If the solution is more basic or alkaline, the paper will go from red to blue.
Note: Although bases can be called alkaline in some situations, this does not mean that all base solutions are alkaline. Alkalinity simply talks about the amount of acid necessary to lower the pH levels of a substance to a specific range.
Both substances may cause damage to humans.
Considering that both acids and bases are on the extreme sides of the pH scale, proper handling is necessary to prevent accidents and damage.
Depending on the levels, they cause chemical burns. These burns happen when a person or object is in contact with a very strong acid or base. Hence, make sure to exercise proper caution when handling pH 1 or fewer acids and pH 14 or more bases. Of course, neutral substances will not cause any chemical burns to their handlers.
Interesting fact: The acid in our stomach, also called gastric juice, has a very low pH level (around 1.5). It is capable of breaking down food, nutrients, and can even digest bacteria.
Both are good conductors of electricity.
Acidic and basic substances are both good conductors of electricity. When combined with water, acid and bases form or separate into ions, which lets electricity pass through better. However, when the solution is weak or diluted, this will also affect its conductive properties.
Since vinegar contains water and acetic acid, it is not a surprise that it conducts electricity well due to the ions present.
Of course, even if they have their similarities, acids and bases are two entirely different things. They are different when it comes to the following:
In terms of taste
Generally, acidic substances always taste sour. Products that are mostly made of the different types of acids such as acetic, citric, ascorbic, and lactic acids are known for their sour taste.
On the other hand, when we taste basic substances, they will usually taste bitter. Some examples of bases are soaps and detergents, baking soda, and toothpaste.
Although it is possible to distinguish the two by their taste, we will always recommend doing test strips instead. After all, the reason why they exist in the first place is to test substances without harming yourself in the first place. You can always buy a pH test strip as they are extremely accurate and precise.
In terms of ions
Scientifically, acids donate protons while bases accept protons. By the Arrhenius Concept of acids and bases, the theory believes that when mixed with water, acids will increase their H+ ions concentration while bases will increase their OH ions.
In terms of texture
If we compare acidic substances to base substances, their texture is highly different from each other. For example, when we touch acids, most of them are always smooth and liquid. On the other hand, bases usually have a “soapy” texture.
In terms of corrosiveness
As we have mentioned earlier, both extremes can cause harm and burns to the person handling the bases and acids. However, the difference in their corrosiveness will always be up to the ions and the amount of acidity or base in the solution.
Keep in mind that the following substances contain high corrosive levels:
Acids – hydrochloric, sulfuric, nitric, and acetic acid;
Bases - ammonium, sodium, and potassium hydroxide.
Common examples of acids and bases
Here are the examples of acidic things we find in our homes:
- Fruits such as apples, pineapples, and oranges
- Carbonated drinks
Here are the examples of basic or alkaline things we find in our homes:
- Liquid soaps
- Baking soda
Things to know about vinegar
What are the properties of vinegar?
As a liquid substance also known as acetic acid, vinegar is a staple to almost every home in the world. It is capable of making lots of dishes taste better and even helps with making them last longer.
Physical and chemical properties
Usually colorless with a sour taste, vinegar is soluble with water and has a pungent odor. It reacts with bases such as baking soda and can corrode certain metals easily. Depending on the type of vinegar, most will usually contain a pH level of 2 or more.
Is it safe to drink vinegar?
When mixed with food and meals, there is usually no issue in using vinegar. Of course, chugging it is an entirely different matter. Since it is acidic, vinegar can damage your teeth and can even cause your stomach to suffer from inflammations.
Uses of vinegar
There are a lot of uses of vinegar. Some of these are:
Vinegar is perfect for seasoning lots of delicacies and meals. From salads, sauces, and certain viands, you can never go wrong with adding vinegar. In fact, just a spoon of vinegar can enhance the flavor of a dish ultimately.
Aside from cooking, vinegar can be a leavening agent for certain breads and cakes.
In many countries such as South Korea, pickling vegetables for colder seasons is possible with vinegar.
Considered an all-natural cleaning ingredient, vinegar can clean windows, kitchens, and even bathrooms.
Vinegar can get rid of odors in rooms and clothes, and may even kill bacteria in the process.
Does all vinegar have the same acidity?
Most vinegar used for cooking or preparing food usually has an acidity of 5%. However, it will ultimately depend on the type of vinegar used. For example, rice vinegar is not very acidic compared to distilled white and apple cider vinegar.
Does acidity really matter?
When it comes to food preparation, the acidity of the vinegar you use will ultimately depend on your taste. However, if you are using it for other reasons such as killing weeds, acidity will matter.
If you want to get rid of the weeds on your lawn, choose vinegars with concentrated pH levels. The same can be said with vinegar for cleaning, but be sure to check if it will be good for the area or surface you need to wipe, or you may damage it.