- Hydrogen peroxide does kill germs, including most viruses and bacteria.
- A concentration of 3% hydrogen peroxide is an effective disinfectant typically found in stores.
- Hydrogen peroxide can damage some surfaces, and is a more dangerous chemical than some disinfectants, so be cautious when handling it.
- This story is part of Insider's guide on How to Kill Germs.
Hydrogen peroxide is often used to clean skin wounds and prevent infection from minor cuts and scrapes.
As a household cleaner, it's also an effective disinfectant that will kill viruses, bacteria, and other germs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here's what you need to know about using hydrogen peroxide as a disinfectant in your home.
Hydrogen peroxide does kill germs and viruses
Hydrogen peroxide works as a disinfectant by destroying essential components of germ cells, and can deactivate a wide range of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and spores.
According to the CDC, a concentration of 3% hydrogen peroxide can inactivate rhinovirus - the respiratory virus that primarily causes the common cold - within eight minutes. In addition, a 2018 study found that hydrogen peroxide was more effective in killing some forms of bacteria than the quaternary ammonium compounds found in many household cleaning products.
When it comes to reducing the germs in your home and containing the spread of coronavirus, hydrogen peroxide is a good option to use on inanimate surfaces like metal, glass, and plastic, says Alex Berezow, PhD and vice president of scientific communications at the American Council on Science and Health.
How to use hydrogen peroxide to kill viruses
The typical 3% hydrogen peroxide concentration found in stores can be used as a disinfectant, or you can dilute it to a 0.5% concentration, which still has some effectiveness, using a mixture of 2.5 parts water and 0.5 parts 3% hydrogen peroxide.
Before disinfecting any surface with hydrogen peroxide, the CDC recommends using soap and water to clean the area. Once you've done so, you can pour or spray hydrogen peroxide on the surface and wipe with a paper towel or sponge.
After you've used hydrogen peroxide, make sure to leave it on the surface for at least one minute before drying to give it enough time to kill pathogens.
If you're cleaning with 3% hydrogen peroxide, use caution on some surfaces - such as countertops made of marble or granite - as its slight acidity can break down the finish of these surfaces over time. It can also cause discoloration, so test it out on a small spot of a colored surface before using it on a larger area.
Be careful when handling hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is safe to use alone, but shouldn't be mixed with other household cleaning agents, like vinegar or bleach. Both vinegar and hydrogen peroxide can be used on the same surface if you make sure the area dries between uses, but they should not be combined in the same container.
Mixing hydrogen peroxide and vinegar creates peracetic acid, Berezow says, which can irritate your eyes, skin, and respiratory system. "It's not wise to mix chemicals, as a general rule," Berezow says.
Hydrogen peroxide is highly biodegradable, but concentrations higher than 3% can be dangerous. For example, concentrations of hydrogen peroxide greater than 30% can cause explosions when combined with metals like copper and iron.
In addition, the potency of hydrogen peroxide will reduce as it is exposed to light. For optimal use, the CDC recommends storing hydrogen peroxide in a dark container to keep its concentration stable and effective at killing germs.
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