Hydrogen Peroxide Uses, Benefits, and Chemical Safety Facts

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide, a chemical that appears as a colorless liquid, is used in a wide range of cleaning and personal care products, including hair dyes and bleaches, toothpaste and mouthwashes, bathroom cleaners and laundry stain removers. Hydrogen peroxide can also be found in over-the-counter (OTC) first aid antiseptics, and it is used as a bleaching agent in some food products. It has other consumer and industrial uses as well, including water treatment.

Uses & Benefits

Hydrogen peroxide is used as an antimicrobial agent and an oxidizing agent. It is also used as an OTC antiseptic to clean wounds. In personal care products, such as colorants and toothpastes, hydrogen peroxide works as an oxidizing agent, offering a lightening/whitening effect.

Hydrogen Peroxide is used throughout the healthcare industry and by consumers to clean and disinfect. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved use of a technology developed by scientific research nonprofit Battelle Memorial Institute to use concentrated vapor phase hydrogen peroxide in specialized equipment to sterilize used N95 respirator masks and other personal protective equipment worn by healthcare professionals treating coronavirus patients. This technology will help enable reuse of respirator masks that are in short supply.

Safety Information

Hydrogen peroxide-based products purchased by consumers for household use typically contain around 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. Manufacturer’s instructions should be followed for safe use.

The European Commission on Health & Consumer Protection conducted extensive testing on the safety of hydrogen peroxide in teeth whitening products and determined that the “use of tooth whitening products containing less than 0.1 to 6 percent hydrogen peroxide is considered safe.”

FDA has tested the effects of hydrogen peroxide as a food additive and placed it on the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list.

FDA also has stated that hydrogen peroxide is “safe for use as an oral wound healing agent.”

Answering Questions

What are some additional uses of hydrogen peroxide?

In low concentrations, hydrogen peroxide can be used as a mouth rinse to remove mucus or minor mouth irritations. In the home, it can also be used to help remove mold and mildew stains from dishwashers, disinfect counters and cutting boards, and wash vegetables by removing bacteria from them.

Is hydrogen peroxide harmful if inhaled or ingested?

Diluted hydrogen peroxide products, which typically contain about 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, are safe for regular household use. Hydrogen peroxide in more concentrated forms, for example solutions that contain 30 percent hydrogen peroxide, can be hazardous if not handled properly. These higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide may be found in industrial settings where bleaching textiles and paper takes place. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s permissible exposure limits for hydrogen peroxide at higher concentrations is 1 part per million over an 8-hour work shift. Inhalation of hydrogen peroxide in the form of vapors, mists, or aerosols can cause asphyxiation in poorly ventilated areas.  

Diluted hydrogen peroxide products containing 3 to 5 percent hydrogen peroxide are not easily absorbed through intact skin, but they can be mildly irritating to mucus membranes. Ingestion of hydrogen peroxide of any volume is not recommended.

Is hydrogen peroxide effective as a disinfectant against viruses like COVID-19?

Hydrogen peroxide is active against a wide range of microorganism including bacteria, yeast, fungi and spores. Commercially available 3 percent hydrogen peroxide is a stable and effective disinfectant when used on inanimate surfaces. It has been used in concentrations from 3 to 6 percent for disinfecting ventilators, fabrics and endoscopes. It is also included on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of antimicrobials active for use against COVID-19.