Hydrogen peroxide offers a host of handy uses. It’s great for cleaning minor wounds and infected sores. It works for improving dental health and whitening teeth. It even helps remove stains from some carpets (color test first!) and clothing—as well as whitening whites in the laundry. But, it’s not the perfect solution for every situation. In fact, it can be dangerous in the wrong mix.
Types of Hydrogen Peroxide
The first thing to understand is that not all hydrogen peroxide is created the same, and each type has its own uses as well as cautions.
Food grade hydrogen peroxide is 35% H2O2 and 65% water. It’s used by food manufacturers in some of the foods we eat. There’s also a 90 percent H2O2, used at the industrial level to bleach paper and as an ingredient in rocket fuel.
Within the home, six to 10 percent H2O2 is used in hair bleaching products, and three percent H2O2 is the standard household variety found in most drugstores and medicine cabinets. Many of the pointers here apply more to risks when encountering the higher concentrations (perhaps at work), but some apply to household hydrogen peroxide too.
While a small amount of highly diluted hydrogen peroxide likely won’t cause more than irritation to the mouth, throat, or stomach, anything above that 3% version can cause serious internal damage. Even if you use hydrogen peroxide as a daily dental rinse or toothpaste, try to avoid ingesting it.
The household variety may not be of high concern, but it can cause vomiting or stomach upset. Higher levels can cause internal burns, and the highest levels can cause loss of consciousness or death.
For your pets, hydrogen peroxide can be used to initiate vomiting.
Skip the Gloves
When using hydrogen peroxide as a cleaning aid, wear gloves. It may seem benign, but especially hair-coloring and higher grades can burn the skin. So while using it to scour out the oven or for bringing your cookie sheets back to new-looking condition, wear those colorful rubber gloves. If you do come into direct contact, symptoms may range from skin irritation to discoloration to burns and blisters.
Mix with Vinegar
Unless the goal is to create peracetic acid, avoid mixing hydrogen peroxide with vinegar of any kind. It’s okay to clean using one before the other, but never mix them in the same container. Acid means bad things for your skin, eyes, nose, throat, and lungs.
Hydrogen peroxide is sold in a brown bottle for a reason, and it has nothing to do with marketing ideas. Hydrogen peroxide breaks down when exposed to light, heat, and air, leaving nothing behind except water. To make sure your hydrogen peroxide is still effective, watch for the tell-tale fizz when cleaning counters or teeth. Always store in the original bottle in a cool place.
Use on Deep Wounds
Most households keep hydrogen peroxide around as part of their first aid arsenal. After all, it’s been used for generations to clean and sterilize wounds. While this may be an effective treatment for minor cuts, keep the hydrogen peroxide away from deeper wounds.
Over recent years scientists have discovered that while the heavily-relied on cleaner does kill bad bacteria, it also kills healthy cells that may be working to heal you. Some of the information is inconclusive, but doctors now typically recommend skipping the hydrogen peroxide for deep cuts, at least after the initial clean.
Lighten Skin Spots
While hydrogen peroxide has its place in the world of dermatology, using it as a home cure for dark skin spots is problematic. There’s just not enough evidence it works and health professionals feel the risks are higher than the rewards for the particular DIY home remedy. In fact, avoid using hydrogen peroxide on any of your skin.
While it’s great as a disinfectant and whitener, as well as for oral debriding, it’s not as innocent as the colorless, scentless look might indicate. So enjoy the virtues of a clean garbage can, elimination of odors in the litter box, and even discouraging algae in your pond, hydrogen peroxide does have its limitations.