Is Hydrogen Peroxide Natural, Safe, and Eco-Friendly?

Hydrogen peroxide has many uses, whether for hair bleaching, disinfectant, or as an antiseptic.

Despite its chemical name and association with bleach (often termed a “bleaching agent”), hydrogen peroxide might not be as scary as it sounds. As long as you handle it safely and store it away from sunlight, it is safe to handle.

Hydrogen peroxide is a natural chemical compound that can be used as an eco-friendly alternative to bleach. In high doses it will harm the environment but because it’s formed naturally by plants and breaks down into water and oxygen it is biodegradable.

Is hydrogen peroxide environmentally friendly?

The U.S. Forest Service identified hydrogen peroxide as an “environmentally friendly but dangerous bleaching chemical” in 2007. Their study outlined the safety concerns of using hydrogen peroxide as a bleaching chemical for pulp bleaching.

The reason for its eco-friendly status is due to hydrogen peroxide degrading into oxygen and water, like other environmentally friendly chemicals.

A year prior, Green Living Tips touted hydrogen peroxide as a greener alternative to chlorine bleach. While chlorine bleach breaks down into dioxin, furans, and other toxic byproducts, hydrogen peroxide only degrades into oxygen and water. Produced by animal and plant cells, hydrogen peroxide forms naturally even in the human body.

Hydrogen peroxide is largely considered the eco-friendly alternative to chlorine bleaching for some decades, as one of the more popular replacements in pulp and paper bleaching as well as for sterilizing. It is more gentle with cotton fibers and also easier to handle safely in comparison to chlorine bleach.

High doses of hydrogen peroxide, however, can harm the environment, especially phytoplankton.

Phytoplankton are important for ecosystems as they feed a wide variety of aquatic life such as shrimp, snails, jellyfish, and even whales.

It’s important not to overuse hydrogen peroxide, but most hydrogen peroxide you can buy in the store is 3% solution. As long as you don’t overly rely on it or start discharging whole bottles down the drain at once, you (and the environment) should be fine!

How to use hydrogen peroxide safely

The safety data sheet for hydrogen peroxide 3% solution from Fisher Scientific in 2009 advises that hydrogen peroxide causes serious eye irritation, and may cause skin irritation as well. It should be handled with adequate ventilation and avoid contact with skin, eyes, and clothing.

For higher solutions such as 30-32% hydrogen peroxide, be even more cautious as these are for industrial and laboratory use.

To store hydrogen peroxide you should keep it in a tightly closed container put in a dry, cool, and well-ventilated place, protected from direct sunlight.

Sunlight causes hydrogen peroxide to become less effective as it begins to break down into its component parts of oxygen and water.

Is hydrogen peroxide man-made or natural?

Hydrogen peroxide can be produced using chemicals such as methane but is also found naturally.

Plants produce hydrogen peroxide during photosynthesis and photorespiration.

It is used as a signaling molecule that helps plants react and adapt to change morphology. This helps them flower, ripen fruit, germinate, regulate photosynthesis, and develop shoots and roots. In particular, hydrogen peroxide “regulates plant growth, development, acclimatory and defence responses”.

Most hydrogen peroxides produced industrially is made in chemical plants using methane or natural gas as a hydrogen source.

It uses oxygen and high heat, making it an energy-intensive manufacturing process and a lot of methane. While the product is eco-friendly, current production methods are not.

In 2021, scientists found a more eco-friendly way of manufacturing hydrogen peroxide, which until then has been noted as “difficult and expensive to manufacture at scale”.

Instead of relying on fossil fuels to produce hydrogen peroxide, the proposed “‘direct synthesis’ method” uses palladium-gold nanoparticles as a catalyst, which can also be recycled into the process multiple times.

While only a study at present, this opens up more eco-friendly avenues of producing hydrogen peroxide and less reliance on fossil fuels.

Other methods have been developed over the years, such as the MIT-developed portable production unit that uses air, water, and electricity. Intended to help sterilize wounds, food-prep surfaces, and water supplies, the portable unit could even use effluent from fracking and mining sites, making the most of waste instead of leaving it to harm the environment.

While it isn’t a perfect solution and still relies on fossil fuels, the portable production unit could be especially important for less developed areas or places where water treatment is needed to create safe drinking water.

What can hydrogen peroxide be used for?

Industrially, hydrogen peroxide is predominantly used as a bleaching agent for pulp and paper. It is also used in some wastewater treatment facilities to remove organic impurities, sterilizing surgical tools and even rooms, and even to treat acne.

Because of its natural production and use by plants, hydrogen peroxide is also used in the garden.

In large doses of hydrogen peroxide, plants will be harmed, but it is known to be useful for pest control, treating root rot, treating seeds, and preventing infection for damaged trees.

Hydrogen peroxide can even help boost plant growth by encouraging healthy root growth thanks to its extra oxygen molecule, according to Gardening Know How.

Hydrogen peroxide mixed with ammonia is often used to bleach hair, though it can also be mixed with baking soda and salt to make toothpaste.

Though eco-friendly, hydrogen peroxide is known to damage hair through repeated bleaching in order to bleach dark hair to light for more than a few months.

In the quest for finding the most eco-friendly cleaning agents, hydrogen peroxide is perhaps the best bleach alternative.

A 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide can be used to kill bacteria on your toothbrush after brushing, used as a mouthwash when diluted in water, used as a bathroom and toilet disinfectant in a spray bottle diluted in water, sterilize cuts and abrasions and even kill mold.

Does hydrogen peroxide kill mold?

If you’ve ever dealt with mold, you’ve likely heard how good chlorine bleach is at killing mold spores – it’s used in most mold sprays. Outside of chlorine bleach’s environmental harm, the toxic fumes produced by bleach are thought to be as harmful to inhale as mold itself. This is where hydrogen peroxide comes in.

Because of hydrogen peroxide bubbles, hydrogen peroxide is even more effective than chlorine bleach at killing mold because it can kill mold on porous surfaces. Bleach isn’t able to effectively kill mold on wood, carpet, or drywall, but hydrogen peroxide can.

For non-porous mold-infested materials like glass, plastic, and metal, using a solution of equal parts hot water and 3% hydrogen peroxide you should wash or scrub them with a brush. After letting it sit for 15 minutes, wipe dry.

Porous mold-infested materials like wood and fabric can be scrubbed with 3% hydrogen peroxide on its own, letting the solution sit for 15 minutes and then rinsed clean.

In case there is any mold lingering, leave them to dry for several days and monitor for any mold growth and odor. You may have to throw it out if more mold develops, or talk to a specialist.

Remember that hydrogen peroxide is an oxygen bleach, so discoloration may (likely) occur!

Once you’ve used hydrogen peroxide against the mold, you can absorb any odors with vinegar, saltwater, or baking soda. You can also use baking soda and water or white vinegar on its own to kill mold if you don’t have enough hydrogen peroxide.

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