Hydrogen peroxide — known to most of us from the dark brown bottles in our medicine cabinets — is a naturally occurring substance made up of two parts hydrogen and two parts oxygen. (H2 O2).
Found in rainwater and snow, hydrogen peroxide is a natural disinfectant that helps to keep lakes and streams healthy and clean. Because it is an unstable compound, hydrogen peroxide eventually casts off one of its oxygen molecules, breaking down into plain water, or H20. In nature, hydrogen peroxide is usually found diluted in water, and is both harmless and beneficial. In its purest form, created in labs, though, it becomes a volatile substance that is even used by NASA as a component in rocket fuel!
The peroxide we buy in stores is only about 3% H2 O2, diluted in water. Why is the bottle brown? The brown bottles keep the light from breaking it down into pure water.
While many of us grew up cleaning out our cuts and scrapes with hydrogen peroxide, for the last several years, medical professionals, including those at the Mayo Clinic, have cautioned against its use. Though hydrogen peroxide is effective at killing off harmful bacteria, it can also kill the healthy new cells our bodies produce during healing.
That doesn’t mean you need to toss those brown bottles in the trash, though. Hydrogen peroxide still has many handy uses:
- Revive your plants: As hydrogen peroxide breaks down, it releases oxygen that can help a plant’s root development, reverse root rot, and even deter pests. Mix 1 oz. hydrogen peroxide into 1 quart of water for regular watering and misting.
- Starting seeds: Soak seeds overnight in a solution of 1 oz. hydrogen peroxide and 1 pint of water.
- Deodorizer: As hydrogen peroxide oxidizes (breaks down) it can also help to break down natural odors, such as fish or rotten food, more quickly. Mix it with baking soda and place it in areas, such as refrigerators or dishwashing machines, where odors have accumulated.
- De-Skunk: To remove skunk spray odor from skin, fur, or fabric, mix 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda and a few drops of grease-cutting liquid dish soap. Work into the affected area, rinse, and reapply as needed.
- Emetic: If your dog swallows something harmful, like chocolate, you can induce vomiting by having them drink a small amount of hydrogen peroxide. According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, the peroxide must be a 3% solution or less; 1 teaspoon per every 5 lbs., not mixed with food or drink. Read more here.
- Kitchen cleaner: Keep a spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide in the kitchen to clean and disinfect counter tops, cutting boards, utensils, and appliances.
- Facial cleanser: Hydrogen peroxide can reduce facial oils and even treat mild acne. Rub a peroxide-soaked cotton ball over the face after washing with normal soap. Be careful to keep the peroxide out of your eyes and away from eyebrows.
- Fruit and vegetable cleaner: Wash fruits and vegetables with hydrogen peroxide to remove dirt and pesticides. Add 1/4 cup of peroxide to a sink or washtub full of cold water. Let them sit for a minute, then rinse thoroughly with cool water.
- Toothpaste: Make natural toothpaste from baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. Add peroxide to the baking soda until it sticks together as a paste, then brush as normal. Peroxide dissolves plaque, promotes healthy gums, whitens teeth, and can eliminate bad breath.
- Oral rinse: To treat canker sores, injured gums, and other mouth wounds, rinse with hydrogen peroxide twice daily.
- Laundry and stain removal: Add one cup of peroxide to your laundry instead of bleach. For tough organic stains, such as blood, wine or grass, pour peroxide directly onto the stain before it sets in, then wash as normal. Be careful, though, Peroxide can bleach out colors.
- Remove ear wax: Use an eyedropper to place a few drops of hydrogen peroxide into your ear canal twice a day for two days. On the third day, gently squirt warm water into your ear canal, using a rubber-bulb syringe, to flush out the wax. If the wax remains, repeat the process over another three-day period.