Carboxylic acids are an attractive biorenewable chemical. However, like many other fermentatively produced compounds, they are inhibitory to the biocatalyst. An understanding of the mechanism of toxicity can aid in mitigating this problem. Here, we show that hexanoic and octanoic acids are completely inhibitory to Escherichia coli MG1655 in minimal medium at a concentration of 40 mM, while decanoic acid was inhibitory at 20 mM. This growth inhibition is pH-dependent and is accompanied by a significant change in the fluorescence polarization (fluidity) and integrity. This inhibition and sensitivity to membrane fluidization, but not to damage of membrane integrity, can be at least partially mitigated during short-term adaptation to octanoic acid. This short-term adaptation was accompanied by a change in membrane lipid composition and a decrease in cell surface hydrophobicity. Specifically, the saturated/unsaturated lipid ratio decreased and the average lipid length increased. A fatty acid-producing strain exhibited an increase in membrane leakage as the product titer increased, but no change in membrane fluidity. These results highlight the importance of the cell membrane as a target for future metabolic engineering efforts for enabling resistance and tolerance of desirable biorenewable compounds, such as carboxylic acids. Knowledge of these effects can help in the engineering of robust biocatalysts for biorenewable chemicals production.