Does Hydrogen Peroxide Sterilize Things? (4 Common Myths)

how is hydrogen peroxide used as a disinfectant?

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A handy chemical compound used by both amateurs or professionals, hydrogen peroxide provides a wide variety of properties, from antiseptic properties used within the medical industry to discoloration properties useful, mostly, for the textile or cosmetic industry.

Despite a large spectrum of utilization, many individuals are not aware of the proper use of hydrogen peroxide according to its concentration.

The compound comes in different concentrations which enable some strict properties. So does hydrogen peroxide sterilize things?

Well, in the right concentration, and in the presence of favorable external factors, it becomes a good sterilizer, but if used in a lower concentration, it might induce severe contamination.

In order to avoid exposing yourself to dangerous situations, learn about how concentrations are correlated with the levels of strength in hydrogen peroxide.

The Chemical Structure

The compound is a transparent liquid boiling at 108 degrees Celsius and freezing at 33 degrees Celsius, chemically being identified as H2O2. Shortly, this is a water molecule (H2O) containing an extra oxygen atom.

The additional oxygen atom is a real enemy to certain forms of bacteria or germs, killing unwanted “guests” and, therefore, giving hydrogen peroxide antiseptic properties.

The Concentrations

The concentration reveals the strength of the chemical compound and is, commonly, found as a percentage. Many individuals are aware of the 3% hydrogen peroxide, a common pharmaceutical product used in wound cleansing and disinfecting.

But hydrogen peroxide is created in several concentrations, like: 1.9%, 3%, 6%, 9%, 12%, 30 %, 35 %, 50%, 60 %, 70 %, 90%. However, no matter the concentration, when diluted with water the strength of hydrogen peroxide diminishes.

The 1.9% and 12% concentrations, mostly mixed with ammonia hydroxide, is used in the beauty industry as a hair bleacher.

The 3% and 6% concentrations are used, in sanitary units, as a sterilizer and antiseptic. The 3% concentration is commonly used for routine disinfection like wound cleansing and disinfestations, due to antiseptic properties.

Stabilized hydrogen peroxide, at a concentration of 6%, is considered a high-level disinfectant. It can be used to disinfect fans, endoscopes, and instruments for measuring voltage.

It accomplishes the destruction of all organisms except for a large number of bacterial spores if left to interact for 20 minutes. However, due to its oxidizing properties, it can corrode certain components of endoscopes and devices for voltage measurement.

Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical irritant and has been involved in the appearance of colitis and enteritis following the use of endoscopes disinfected with 3% hydrogen peroxide.

That’s why his use is limited. Hydrogen peroxide has a broad spectrum of biocidal action: bactericide, tuberculocide, fungicide, sporicide.

Used as a chemical sterilizer, for instruments that come into contact with sterile tissues or vascular system, the 6% concentration manages the destruction of all organisms, along with a large number of bacterial spores, after several hours contact time of the chemical with the treated area.

Main Areas of Use and Does Hydrogen Peroxide Sterilize Things?

For household utilization, pharmacies offer concentrations of 3% and 6%, while for laboratories the main concentration used is 30%.

The hydrogen peroxide above 68% concentration is unstable and classified as a hazardous component, requiring professional storage and buying licenses. Regarding its concentration, the hydrogen peroxide is, mainly, used in certain industries, playing different roles:

  • Bleach in the textile industry (50% concentration used most frequently),
  • Hair bleach used in the cosmetic industry,
  • Treatment for drinking water and wastewater,
  • A component in the production of detergents, pulp, and paper,
  • Syntheses in the chemical industry,
  • A compound in the refining of oil (70% – 90% concentration used most frequently).

Toxicity of Hydrogen Peroxide

In case of short-term skin contact, hydrogen peroxide may cause itching with local redness, from easy to severe pruritus depending on the concentration of the substance.

Concentrated solutions can produce blisters. As an immediate measure of protection, it is recommended to abundantly wash the affected area and if the damage persists, you should visit a doctor.

In case of accidental contact with the eyes, the substance produces irritation. Vapors can cause sensations of stinging and redness of the conjunctiva. Inhalation of hydrogen peroxide vapors causes airways obstruction irritation.

Ingestion of this solution causes stomatitis, esophagitis, pharyngitis and acute corticosteroid gastritis. When working with hydrogen peroxide a minimal safety equipment is mandatory needed: gloves, goggles, safety mask.

Common Myths

  1. Hydrogen peroxide 3% can be used as a sterilizer? The 3% concentration works best for as an antiseptic solution, disinfecting wounds. To sterilize equipment correctly, you shall opt for a higher concentration like the 6%.
  2. Hydrogen peroxide can be used to eliminate body toxins? The hydrogen peroxide sterilization power comes from the supplemental oxygen atom. Hydrogen peroxide has a similar cleaning effect in the body, as it has in nature. However, the H2O2 solution distributed in pharmacies should not be used internally because of other toxic contained chemicals used as stabilizers.
  3. The concentration, no matter its percentage, is not harmful? If you use a 6% hydrogen peroxide instead of 3%, you might end up in pain or with burns. Since the concentration reveals the strength of the chemical compound, the powerful 50% – 90% hydrogen peroxide is unavailable for regular consumer buying, being designed for industrial usage and, even, as a rocket fuel component.
  4. Perhydrol is the same with hydrogen peroxide? Not entirely true! Compared with the commonly used 3% hydrogen peroxide, Perhydrol is classified as an oxidizing hazardous material which can cause serious damages to your eyes, if used without eye protection. Due to its strength, is hardly available for regular consumer buying.

Final Thoughts

Hydrogen peroxide has a wide variety of industrial and consumer uses. Hydrogen peroxide is the only germicide composed exclusively of water and oxygen. Like ozone, it kills the organisms through oxidation! Hydrogen peroxide is considered to be the safest and most effective disinfectant in the world.

Used with proper safety equipment, the chemical compound can fill in a multitude of roles, from being an efficient disinfectant, bleacher and antiseptic, very beneficial to your household, health, and beauty.

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