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What Is Copper Acetate?

B. Turner
B. Turner

Copper acetate is a type of chemical compound made by applying an acidic substance to natural copper. Also known as verdigris, this compound resembles the natural patina that develops on copper as it corrodes over time. It has historically been used for both functional and aesthetic reasons. It serves as a fungicide, and once was considered an effective health supplement. It's blue-green color also makes it a popular compound for creating dyes and pigments.

The Romans were the first to make copper acetate. They layered sheets of copper metal with fermented grape leaves, then left these materials to react with one another. Over time, the acidic grape leaves would create a corrosive coating on the copper. By scraping the coating off, the Romans were able to generate copper acetate to use as a dye for fabric and pottery.

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Today, copper acetate can be produced in a laboratory or industrial setting. Producers start with copper, which may be in its natural form or flattened into metal sheets. When the copper is treated with acetic acid, copper acetate is formed. Some forms of this substance can also be created by mixing acetic acid with copper oxides or carbonates.

Copper acetate takes the form of a fine powder, and has a blue-green appearance. This compound is odorless, and can be poisonous if ingested. It's soluble in both alcohol and water, and may also be dissolved in a number of additional chemicals and compounds. When heat is applied to acetate, it produces a bright blue or green glow.

In previous generations, people used copper acetate to treat various ailments. Today, this material is known to be poisonous, and is no longer used for health applications. It's widely used to fight fungus and mildew and as an insecticide, and it also serves as a method of repelling sharks in the ocean. Both developed and developing nations still rely on this substance as a dye for ceramics and textiles.

In a laboratory setting, this substance serves as a chemical re-agent by helping other chemicals react to one another. It can also be applied to rubber products to give them an aged look, or to refine their texture. Fine silver companies rely on this compound to create anti-tarnish coverings that can be used when selling or shipping silverware. Finally, manufacturing and industrial facilities may utilize this substance as part of the electroplating process, during which a permanent protective coating is applied to a metal object.

Discussion Comments


@Mammmood - That’s a good question. I don’t have the exact answer but I do believe I have what’s a viable theory. It was probably the process that they used for creating it that hinted at its potential for medicinal uses.

Remember that it was common to use fermented grapes. What do fermented grapes produce? They produce wine, and the ancients knew that wine was most certainly good for what ailed you.

So they probably reasoned from this that anything which reacted with these fermented grape leaves would be good for you as well. That’s my theory anyway.


@allenJo - I never understood how the ancients could use things like copper sulfate to treat ailments. What made them think that such a thing would work?

Did they perform chemical experiments and determine that the toxic nature of the byproducts would be effective at warding off sickness and disease? Or were they just whistling in the wind, hoping that they’d get lucky by mixing these weird substances together?


The copper acetate formula as used by the Romans seems to be a perfect dye for their fabrics. That’s because blue (and a hint of green perhaps) are the color of royalty, and the Roman rulers were known to be quite decked out in royal colors.

I had no idea that this was the method that they used. Rubbing grape leaves on copper metal probably wasn’t too practical, however, for mass production. But then again, not everyone was going to be decked out in royal apparel. So it was used for those select few who were worthy I would suppose.

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