Remember when you scraped your knee as a kid and like clockwork, some responsible adult went to grab that brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide? Applied with a cotton ball or tissue, this clear liquid was meant to clean the wound and prevent infection before it can be covered with a bandaid.
You may be surprised to find out that hydrogen peroxide uses extend beyond scrape and wound care. The peroxide can also be used for cleaning, promoting teeth health and maybe even reducing the burden of stroke, according to recent research.
What Is Hydrogen Peroxide?
Hydrogen peroxide (also called H2O2) is a topical antiseptic that’s commonly used in wound healing. It kills pathogens through oxidation burst and oxygen production.
H2o2 is an inorganic peroxide that consists of two hydroxy groups that are joined by a covalent oxygen-oxygen single bond. It’s a colorless liquid at room temperature and it’s found naturally in the air and even in our homes, at very low concentrations. Hydrogen peroxide uses also extent to industrial purposes in higher concentrations in textile bleach, foam rubber and rocket fuels.
Research shows that a proper H2O2 level is required for normal wound healing by eliminating microbial contamination and homeostasis. It’s also used as an oxidizing agent and as a natural cleanser.
There are different concentrations of H2O2 available. The kind of H2O2 that you find in a brown bottle at your local drug store is likely 3 percent. Concentrations of 6–9 percent are common for hair bleaching hydrogen peroxide.
It’s also common to come across 35 percent hydrogen peroxide which is sometimes also labeled as “food grade.” Higher concentrations of H2O2, like 50, 70 and 90 percent, are used for industrial purposes and should not be used at home.
Hydrogen Peroxide Uses/Benefits
1. Works as a Natural Disinfectant
Hydrogen peroxide works as an antiseptic agent that eliminates microbial contamination and promotes proper wound healing. It releases oxygen when applied topically to cuts and scrapes, causing a foaming that works to clean the area. Anecdotal reports suggest that hydrogen peroxide for bug bites and burns is effective too.
H2O2 is also used to clean and speed up the healing of canker sores and cold sores, according to research published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research. To clean and relieve canker and cold sores, mix equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water. Use a clean cotton swab and dab the mixture onto the affected area once to three times daily.
2. Works as a Teeth Whitener
Hydrogen peroxide is commonly used in mouthwashes and toothpastes because it helps to whiten your teeth. To use a hydrogen peroxide mouthwash, dilute a 3 percent bottle with equal parts water and swish the mixture around your mouth for 30 seconds. Then spit it out and wash out your mouth without swallowing any of the solution.
Is it safe to rinse your mouth with hydrogen peroxide? A 2018 study conducted in Brazil evaluated the dental effect and sensitivity of at-home dental bleaching with 10 percent hydrogen peroxide.
Researchers found that this at-home approach is effective in 14 days, as H2O2 showed significant whitening. The most common adverse events were mild tooth sensitivity and no study participants discontinued use early because of H2O2 side effects.
3. Brightens and Cleans Laundry
Did you know that hydrogen peroxide can brighten your white laundry, help to remove stains and even leave them feeling fresh? It has bleaching and deodorizing properties.
Next time you are doing a load of whites, add a cup of H2O2 right into your washing machine or add a combination of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda directly onto stained clothes before washing.
You can also combine one cup of H2O2 and one cup of water in a spray bottle to clean your white window or shower curtains, or to spot clean stained rugs.
4. Cleans Surfaces and Appliances
H2O2 is an antimicrobial agent and works to disinfect surfaces. It’s also a bleaching agent that can be used on your household surfaces (including bathrooms, tile and grout, kitchen counters and glass surfaces), appliances, dishes and laundry. Anything that needs to be brightened, whitened or sanitized can benefit from hydrogen peroxide.
Combining hydrogen peroxide and water in a spray bottle works as a home cleanser that can remove stains and kill bacteria. Hydrogen peroxide can even kill mold too.
You may have read that vinegar and hydrogen peroxide can be mixed together to create a household cleanser. This may be safe, but the combination of compounds may irritate your eyes, skin and even your respiratory system, so avoid mixing them in the same container.
5. Lightens Hair
H2O2 is a bleaching agent so it’s sometimes used to naturally lighten or highlight hair. To use hydrogen peroxide for hair, combine equal parts H2O2 and water, add it to a spray bottle and spritz your wet hair.
That being said, there is some evidence that after 9 percent hydrogen peroxide was applied to rats, they experienced severe swelling and epidermal thinning. If you are applying hydrogen peroxide to your hair, it’s recommended to do a patch test first in order to rule out potential adverse effects.
6. May Reduce Stroke Burden
According to scientists in Italy and their research published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, H2O2 might serve as a type of therapy to diminish the burden of brain ischaemia, or stroke.
Preliminary research indicates that hydrogen peroxide benefits stroke patients by producing a supplementary source of oxygen that partially compensates for the lack of O2 that occurs in brain tissue. H2O2 may also enhance a catalase enzyme-mediated mechanism that contributes to the compound’s neuroprotective effects.
More human studies are needed to fully understand the potential of H2O2 for stroke patients, so don’t attempt to ingest food-grade hydrogen peroxide unless it’s under the care of your doctor.
Risks and Side Effects
When it’s used appropriately, hydrogen peroxide is safe to use on your skin and to clean with. It should never be swallowed unless under the care of a doctor or healthcare professional.
There are a few hydrogen peroxide dangers to be aware of before using it. For one thing, it’s considered nonflammable, but can cause spontaneous combustion when it comes into contact with organic material.
Hydrogen peroxide side effects also include its ability to harm your eyes and skin, when applied to larger surface areas. Although H2O2 is commonly applied to cuts and scrapes for its antiseptic properties, it also kills healthy cells in the affected area and it may cause redness, stinging or irritation at the application site.
When ingested, high concentrations of H2O2 can be poisonous. According to a 2013 study published in Annals of Emergency Medicine, 294 people had been poisoned by drinking hydrogen peroxide in a 10-year study period (from 2001-2011). Forty-one of those poisoned demonstrated evidence of embolic events, such as seizure, altered mental status, respiratory distress, pulmonary embolism and stroke. For many of these patients, hyperbaric oxygen therapy proved to be useful.
Twenty of the 294 patients recorded by the National Poison Data System either died from ingesting high amounts of H2O2 or exhibited continued disability. The concentrations of hydrogen peroxide consumed by poisoned patients were higher than those found in brown H2O2 bottles sold at drug stores, which are usually hydrogen peroxide 3 percent. Poisonings appear to occur after the consumption of H2O2 solutions over 10 percent, which are typically marketed for commercial or industrial purposes.
- What is H2O2? It’s an inorganic antiseptic agent that provides oxidation bursts and oxygen production.
- It’s used as an antimicrobial, whitening, brightening and oxidizing agent.
- Using H2O2 appropriately, at the right concentrations and in safe combinations, can be good for your skin because it helps to heal cuts, scapes, burns, bug bites, canker sores and more. It can safely be used on your hair and as a mouthwash.
- Ingesting hydrogen peroxide may not be safe, especially when it’s in higher concentrations. In fact, poison control centers report numerous incidences of H2O2 poisoning. If it is being ingested for health reasons, it should only be done under the care of a trained doctor.