A friend recently asked me if I recommend using hydrogen peroxide. This post is the answer. Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical compound with the formula H₂O₂ (i.e., water with an extra oxygen atom). In its pure form, it is a very pale blue, clear liquid, slightly more viscous than water. Many consider it a non-negotiable household staple.
DISCLAIMER: I do not use hydrogen peroxide. I use doTERRA essential oils in my own household for the uses listed below. I consider my oils to be safe and effective – and, of course, there is the aromatherapy value. However, I like to suggest options for those who may not be ready for oils or who may simply feel more comfortable with this traditional product with its one-size-fits-most reputation. There is disagreement about the safety of this product concerning direct contact with the skin of humans and pets. Please do your own research. The sources below can get you started.
Sources and further reading:
My basic go-to book for home solutions is “The Naturally Clean Home”, 2nd ed., Karyn Siegel-Maier, Storey Publishing, 2008. (regarding alternatives to bleach, it does not mention hydrogen peroxide; the defaults are vinegar and essential oils).
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
Hydrogen peroxide is sold in various dilutions (https://www.healthline.com/health/food-grade-hydrogen-peroxide):
3% – the dilution most commonly sold in stores; comes in a brown bottle regardless of brand. THIS IS THE MAXIMUM SAFE DEFAULT DILUTION (some recommend diluting down to .05%)
6 to 10 % – hair bleaching
35 % – food-grade
90 % – industrial
CAN PROBABLY BE USED SAFELY:
The most common safe use for H2O2 is as a household cleaner because of its oxidizing properties. It is powerful so should be used with caution around people and pets, but it is much safer than products containing chlorine. The CDC says that it kills yeasts, fungi, bacteria, viruses, and mold spores.
In your kitchen
- Clean your dishwasher (see cautions below)
To eliminate mold and mildew in your dishwasher, spray the intricate parts of your dishwasher where moisture can linger long after a cycle is complete — in the pleats of rubber seals, traps, and crevices of the utensil basket. Or if you feel like giving this hardworking appliance a spa day, use hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and essential oils to make a scented dishwasher “bomb.” Mix them and use an ice cream scoop to scoop out round balls. Let them dry overnight. To use, place the bomb at the bottom of the dishwasher. Then mix white vinegar and liquid dish-washing detergent in a glass or ceramic bowl and place in the top of the dishwasher. When you run a cycle with the bomb (along with vinegar and detergent), the peroxide will whiten and clean the appliance while the baking soda scrubs it and the oil provides a fresh scent.
- Scrub your sink
Many home care blogs recommend this trick to clean your kitchen sink: Wet the surface of your sink, then scrub it with baking soda sprinkled onto a sponge. When you’ve scrubbed the whole surface, pour 3 % hydrogen peroxide over the surface and allow it to sit before rinsing it clean.
- Disinfect counters and cutting boards
According to The Ohio State University Extension, cleaning counters with undiluted hydrogen peroxide is effective at killing E. coli and Salmonella bacteria on hard surfaces like counters when it’s allowed to sit on the surface for 10 minutes at room temperature.
Renowned renovator Bob Vila’s website advises a 10-minute soak in 3 % hydrogen peroxide to kill germs on wooden cutting boards.
- Wash veggies — and extend their shelf life
Some organic gardeners recommend using 1/4 cup of 3 % hydrogen peroxide per gallon of water to help remove bacteria from vegetables. If you’re washing delicate-skinned vegetables like lettuces, just soak for 20 minutes and then rinse.
Carrots, potatoes, and other tough-skinned veggies can be soaked 30 minutes before rinsing and drying. Because bacteria can cause vegetables and fruits to turn brown, a hydrogen peroxide bath is believed to keep them fresh longer in your fridge.
Spraying salad greens with a little H2O2, then returning them to the fridge, will thwart sogginess for several days. Fruits and veggies also can be spritzed or bathed in a hydrogen peroxide solution to keep them fresher longer. Just be sure to rinse them thoroughly before eating.
- Scour cookware
If your cookie sheets, pots, and pans have a baked-on layer of brown, Jill Nystul of the blog One Good Thing recommends sprinkling them with baking soda, then spritzing the soda with 3 % hydrogen peroxide will restore them. Allow them to soak for 1 to 3 hours before wiping off the mess.
- Get rid of garbage can germs
After washing the garbage can with soap and water, spray the whole container with a 1:1 solution of hydrogen peroxide and water. Let the trash can sun-dry for several hours. Just as peroxide cleans surfaces, it’ll help remove germs from your trash can.
In your bathroom
- Deep clean your toilet
According to a CDC trusted source, hydrogen peroxide is effective at removing microorganisms, including bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses, and spores, making it a good choice for cleaning your bathroom.
To clean your toilet, add 1/2 cup of 3 % hydrogen peroxide to your bathroom bowl to kill germs and brighten the surface of your toilet. You’ll need to leave it in the bowl for 20 minutes to get the full benefit.
- Shine mirrors and glass surfaces
Spray a 1:1 solution of water and hydrogen peroxide onto glass surfaces, then wipe with paper towels, a lint-free cloth, or newspapers for a streak-free clean.
- Kill mold and mildew
Mold and mildew can build up quickly in the moist environment of a shower stall.
To kill them without having to breathe in toxic bleach fumes, spray with undiluted 3 % hydrogen peroxide and allow it to sit for 30 minutes. Rinse. The peroxide will kill the mold and mildew, but you may still need to remove the stains they left behind.
- Whiten old porcelain
If your porcelain pedestal sink has yellowed, you can brighten it by scrubbing the dampened sink surface with baking soda, then scrubbing with a sponge saturated with 3 % hydrogen peroxide.
- Foam away soap scum (see cautions below)
For weekly cleaning of a fiberglass shower and tub, make a foaming paste from 1 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup white vinegar, plus a tablespoon or two of hydrogen peroxide. When the bubbles subside, scrub the surface of the shower with the mixture.
Take care! If you’re using straight peroxide, wear gloves to protect your skin. Hydrogen peroxide can cause redness and burning.
In the laundry room
- Remove stains
The Environmental Working Group recommends hydrogen peroxide as an effective way to remove grass stains, blood stains, and drink stains like fruit, juice, and wine. Try dabbing the cleaner on the reverse side of the fabric to start.
- Brighten dingy whites
No need to buy those expensive commercial laundry products that have the words “oxy” in them and promise to whiten your clothes. Simply add a cup of hydrogen peroxide to your washing machine when doing a load of whites. The hydrogen peroxide will also deodorize clothes and remove stains. You can pour it directly on stains but do a color-fast test first if you’re applying to darker clothes.
You can also make your own oxygen-bleach by combining 1/2 cup washing soda — hint: It’s not the same as baking soda — and 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide. Start the cycle, allow the washer to fill, and soak the clothing for a couple of hours before finishing the cycle to whiten and sanitize. Another suggested recipe for armpit stains: create a solution of one part dishwashing liquid and two parts hydrogen peroxide, then apply it to the stain for about an hour. Wash in cold water, then dry and wear.
Wait! Swab a swatch first. Before you try hydrogen peroxide on any fabric, test a small, out-of-the-way section for color fastness. Use extra care with vintage fabrics: The Smithsonian Institution’s fabric conservation experts say peroxide can bleach and weaken fibers.
In the garden
- Sprout healthy seeds
Numerous studies have shown that soaking seeds in 1 to 3 % hydrogen peroxide can soften the seed coat and start germination. If you want to increase the chances of a good plant yield, you can soak seeds in hydrogen peroxide for 20 minutes before planting.
- Clear algae from your pond water
If you have a water feature or koi pond, you can safely treat the water to reduce or remove harmful algae. Gardening experts at Get Busy Gardening used 1/2 cup of 3 % hydrogen peroxide to clear a 90-gallon pond.
- Treat plants with infestations and infections
Hydrogen peroxide can help with pest control, prevent infection on damaged trees, kill foliage fungus and combat root rot, as well as improve plant growth. That extra oxygen causes the roots to absorb more nutrients. For pest control or growth, add one teaspoon to one cup of water in a spray bottle and mist the plant. To combat root rot or fungal infections, use one tablespoon per cup of water.
If your garden vegetables are suffering from powdery mold or other fungal infections, you can spray them with a hydrogen peroxide solution to rid them of the fungus. Mix 4 teaspoons of hydrogen peroxide in a pint of water and spray the plant. Stronger concentrations could burn delicate leaves, so don’t use it at full strength.
- Clean out the litter box
To eliminate odors and disinfect your cat’s litter box, empty the litter, wash the container with soap and hot water, and then spray thoroughly with full-strength peroxide. Let it sit for 15 minutes before rinsing, drying, and replacing the litter.
- Sanitize your toothbrush and retainer
The American Dental Association says toothbrushes can be exposed to fecal coliform and other bacteria in the bathroom. Tiny amounts of these bacteria don’t usually cause health problems, but if you want to be on the safe side, soak your toothbrush in hydrogen peroxide. You can also use it to disinfect and clean any dental appliances, such as retainers and mouth guards.
*TIP: Be sure to dilute it (half water/half 3% hydrogen peroxide) when used in this way. And rinse thoroughly after soaking.
A 2009 study found that rinsing in hydrogen peroxide reduced the bacterial count by 85 %.
- Sterilize makeup brushes
After washing excess makeup off your brushes with a gentle shampoo, soak the bristles for 10 minutes in a bowl of water with a teaspoon of 3 % hydrogen peroxide. You can also use it to clean the pads on your eyelash curler. Rinse off any residue thoroughly to protect your eyes.
- Cleanse grout
For whitening grout, either pour the hydrogen peroxide straight on to the tile or make a paste with baking soda and scrub away.
USE WITH CAUTION OR AVOID:
Store in the brown bottle away from heat and light when not in use.
Mix with other ingredients just before use. Do not store mixtures.
Be very careful when handling hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. Combining the two will form peracetic acid, which is highly corrosive and can irritate your skin, eyes and respiratory system, and even cause permanent damage to your lungs.
For your health
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies hydrogen peroxide as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for humans at low doses. But the FDA warns that getting hydrogen peroxide on your skin may cause irritation, burning, and blistering.
Take it out of your First Aid kit: Hydrogen peroxide was once used as an antiseptic on superficial wounds and injuries. It isn’t recommended for that purpose today. While it does kill bacteria, some studies have shown that it can be harmful to fibroblasts, which are cells your body needs for healing. Medical opinions are mixed, but doctors at the Mayo Clinic now say we shouldn’t use it to clean cuts and wounds.
Don’t lighten your skin with it: Dermatologists might use hydrogen peroxide to treat some skin conditions, but it isn’t considered a safe way to lighten hyperpigmentation in at-home use. The risks outweigh any potential benefits, especially because there are other ways to lighten dark spots on your skin.
Don’t use it to treat acne: Yes, it bubbles and fizzes and kills bacteria, including the bacteria that can cause acne. But a 2005 study shows that hydrogen peroxide can also lead to scar formation, so using it directly on acne isn’t a good idea.
It’s not a good idea to use hydrogen peroxide on your skin — even though there are plenty of websites that tout it as a health and beauty aid that can do anything from whitening your nails to softening calluses on your heels.
Is it okay to use to dye or lighten my hair? Hydrogen peroxide is generally considered safe in commercial hair dyes, although research shows that serious chemical burns can happen, even in a professional salon. Hair dyes with peroxide can damage your hair if you use them too often, so talk to a trained stylist to work out a schedule that will protect your hair and skin.
Is it okay to use to whiten my teeth? A bright smile is on just about everyone’s to-do list these days, and the market is teeming with products that use hydrogen peroxide to whiten teeth. Concentrations vary. (I recommend against doing this at home; go to a biologic dentist whose staff are trained and whose products are most likely to be safe)
If you get it in your eyes, it could cause burning or abrasion of your cornea.
Breathing it in at higher concentrations could also cause irritation of your airways, tightness in your chest, hoarseness, or shortness of breath. Swallowing hydrogen peroxide, especially at higher concentrations, can cause vomiting, inflammation, or damage to hollow organs.
Regular strength hydrogen peroxide (3-5 %) is considered safe to ingest in very small amounts, but higher strengths (10 % or more) can be toxic if swallowed.
For your pets
Most veterinarians no longer advise using hydrogen peroxide to clean your pet’s wounds, no matter how small the injury is.
If your pet has eaten something poisonous, your veterinarian may advise you to use hydrogen peroxide to make the animal vomit. Because hydrogen peroxide is dangerous for your pet to ingest, it’s critical that you talk to your vet or a poison control center before attempting to induce vomiting with this method.
Some aquarium hobbyists use hydrogen peroxide to control algae and clean their tanks, but talk to a fish veterinarian before putting hydrogen peroxide in your tank. While hydrogen peroxide degrades rapidly in water, research suggests that some species of ornamental fish, including gourami and suckermouth catfish, can’t tolerate it.
Potential treatment for CoVid-19?
What a way to end, right? But here is a late-breaking article. (4/10/20). I am not taking a position on this use, but I thought I would give you a citation about using 3% hydrogen peroxide in a nebulizer: https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/medical/hydrogen-peroxide-a-potential-treatment-for-coronavirus-infection/ar-BB12qktc
This is a long and detailed post, and I hope that it helps you to decide if and when you want to use hydrogen peroxide in your home. If you are a satisfied user, please share your experiences.
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