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Glycolic Comparison vs. Organic and Inorganic Acids

Glycolic acid is an organic acid from the family of alpha-hydroxy carboxylic acids that naturally occurs in sugarcane, beets, grapes, and fruits. Glycolic is a commonly known ingredient in the personal care and cosmetics market and it is also widely used in several household and industrial cleaning applications.

Glycolic Acid Features and Benefits

Molecular Size

Glycolic has a low molecular weight that provides excellent penetration when used in cleaning formulations and personal care products.


Glycolic has dual functional groups (COOH & OH) that make it act as an acid, descaler, and chelating agent for iron and heavy metals.

Chemistry profile

Glycolic acid is a green acid that is readily biodegradable, VOC-free, and less corrosive than inorganic acids and many other organic acids.

Glycolic vs. Organic Acids


Glycolic acid has the smallest molecule of the Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) family, so it offers deeper penetration and works faster than other organic acids, including lactic, citric, and maleic acids. Glycolic acid is also preferred over many Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA) as it provides improved skin moisturization and reduces the visible signs of sun damage and aging wrinkles.

Glycolic acid is an excellent choice to replace citric, formic, and acetic acids in industrial applications due to its rapid descaling efficacy combined with superior chelation performance.

Glycolic vs. Inorganic Acids

Glycolic acid has been replacing mineral acids in multiple applications to avoid the high corrosivity and toxicity of strong inorganic acids. It is commonly used in concrete and masonry cleaners, replacing the long hydrochloric history in this application. The high penetration and limited damage to the metal surfaces and truck beds make glycolic acid a better option than mineral acids in such applications.

Glycolic acid is also an excellent alternative to toxic and low penetration acids such as sulfuric, phosphoric, and sulfamic in cleaners, water treatment chemicals, and O&G applications. It is preffered nowadays due to its high speed of action, scale removal performance, less corrosivity, biodegredability, and less hazardous waste stream.

Glycolic Acid Applications

  • Personal and Skincare Products: Anti-aging creams, acne treatments, exfoliating scrubs, hair conditioners, and other hair care products.
  • Household, Institutional, and Industrial Cleaning Products: Hard surface cleaners, metal cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, and laundry sours.
  • Water Treatment Applications: Boiler cleaning chemicals, well stimulating solutions, and process cleaning products.
  • Electronics and Metal Surface Treatment: Etching chemicals, printed circuit board fluxes, electropolishing chemicals, and metal surface preparations.
  • Oil and Gas Applications: Oil drilling chemicals, well stimulation, mid-and downstream descalers, and general process scale removers.

Glycolic vs. Competitive Acids for Use in Industrial Applications

Acid Descaling Iron
Speed of
Penetration Corrosive Toxicity Pungent
Glycolic Good Good High High Low Low No
Sulfuric High Low High Moderate High High No
Hydrochloric High Low High Moderate High High No
Nitric High Low High Moderate High High No
Phosphoric High Low High Low High High No
Sulfamic High Low High Low High High No
Citric Good Low Low Moderate Low Low No
Acetic Good Low Moderate High Low Low Yes
Formic Good Low Low Good High High No

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