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Why Does Hydrogen Peroxide React the Way it Does?

Updated on May 2, 2013

Hydrogen Peroxide is a Solution

Hydrogen peroxide is a solution in a brown bottle that is easliy found in drug, grocery, and retail stores. Hydrogen Peroxide is inexpensive, it has no odor, it is colorless, and it has a taste. The hydrogen peroxide that is in stores is 3% hydrogen peroxide and 97% water. Hydrogen peroxide is used to bleach hair, and it has many other valuable purposes. Popular belief is that Hydrogen peroxide kills bacteria in cuts, and scrapes, because it bubbles when it is poured into the wounds. Some researchers do not believe that hydrogen peroxide kills bacteria. These researchers are the ones, who have studied and still are studying the effects of hydrogen peroxide.

Why does hydrogen peroxide bubble when poured on a cut or scrape? Cuts and scrapes contain blood and damaged cells that contain an enzyme called catalase. Catalase is an enzyme that supposedly causes the bubbling reaction when hydrogen peroxide comes into contact with it. The bacteria in the cut or scrape supposedly does not cause the reaction. Catalase turns hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen gas. Catalase is highly efficient when it comes into contact with hydrogen peroxide, it reacts up to 200,000 times per second. It is the presence of catalase that causes the reaction of the bubbles, not the bacteria, itself. Catalase creates pure oxygen bubbles. The damaged cells contain catalase that reacts to hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide can not supposedly react without the presence of catalase. Hydrogen peroxide can not react in the bottle, or on unbroken skin, because there is no presence of catalase on the unbroken skin for the reaction to occur. But, what if Hydrogen peroxide is poured on unbroken skin and there is a reaction? If there is a reaction after Hydrogen peroxide is poured on unbroken skin, then, obviously, Hydrogen peroxide can and does react on unbroken skin. Then, there must be more to hydrogen peroxide that just catalase.

Hydrogen Peroxide Discovered in 1818

Hydrogen peroxide was discovered in 1818 by Louis Jacque Thenard. Hydrogen peroxide contains a combination of two hydrogen atoms and two oxygen atoms. The hydrogen peroxide molecule has one extra oxygen atom that makes it less stable than the water molecule. A single atom of oxygen is very reactive, and it is referred to as a "free radical." Hydrogen peroxide helps by cleaning wounds of dirt and debris. It also softens scabs. Researchers have advised against using hydrogen peroxide for cuts and scrapes, because hydrogen peroxide damages healthy cells that are needed for the healing of the wound. It also hinders healthy cells from getting to the area that needs to be healed.

Soap and water should be used to clean wounds. Hydrogen peroxide has adverse effects on the blood flow in the capillaries, and wound healing. Hydrogen peroxide exists everywhere in the world, and there are low concentrations of it in water.

Fingers turn white when exposed to 30% Hydrogen Peroxide
Fingers turn white when exposed to 30% Hydrogen Peroxide | Source

Hydrogen Peroxide Use

Hydrogen peroxide can be used as a mouthwash when combined with water. It should never be swallowed. Hydrogen peroxide has many uses, and is used for disinfection, for example in the food industry. It has different uses, including disinfecting water and can be used to disinfect the water in swimming pools, but it must be used in combination of other disinfecting agents.

Hydrogen peroxide is interesting, because of the foaming effect it has on cuts and scrapes when it contacts with catalase. The foaming effect is due to the enzyme catalase, not bacteria as it was once believed. High concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, for example: 35% of which is used in food industries, can turn skin white, and the affected skin needs to be flushed with water for at least 15 minutes. When skin is exposed to 30%, the skin will turn white. High concentrations of hydrogen peroxide can burn the skin. Hydrogen Peroxide that is 100% concentration is used in rocket fuel.

Another article I read says that hydrogen peroxide does kill bacteria, because its an oxidizer. It kills viruses, too. The article does say that, yes, hydrogen peroxide does kill bacteria.

3% Hydrogen Peroxide

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    • profile image

      Josh 

      3 years ago

      @gail641, I wish you would have referenced who did the studies and the article/website that you found the "yes it works" details.

    • profile image

      Ice 

      3 years ago

      And I thought I was the sensible one. Thanks for setting me stgiraht.

    • profile image

      mahi 

      4 years ago

      Omg...yess it really works..i applied it over my scar and really worried whether it will cause scar.. Ultimately no.. I hydrated my skin and used the bandage over the peeled skin.. 3 rd day... Bongggg... Itz gone..no scar left

    • Brett Winn profile image

      Brett Winn 

      6 years ago from US

      Makes sense ... another thing we used was pure white sugar to "pull" (much in the way of Epsom Salts, only more effective) things from wounds, such as thorns, or swelling, or to shrink a prolapsed uterus ....

    • gail641 profile imageAUTHOR

      Gail Louise Stevenson 

      6 years ago from Mason City

      Yes, interesting. What I read was that hydrogen peroxide pulls the dirt and other debris out of the wound. It would seem strange that it doesn't kill bacteria, I would think that it would. Washing wounds out with soap and warm water would work, pure water probably wouldn't do much good with the soap.

    • Brett Winn profile image

      Brett Winn 

      6 years ago from US

      Interesting. If it does not kill bacteria, is it just a coincidence that wounds flushed with it seem so much improved the next day? When I raised sheep, I used it on all of their "boo-boos". Makes me wonder if I'd have done as well to flush them with pure water!

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