Hydrogen peroxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound found all over the earth and in every living organism. In fact, most living organisms produces H2O2 in minute quantities as a part of natural biological functioning.
Hydrogen peroxide has been hailed as nature’s premier oxygen delivery system. And like so many natural systems which demonstrate high efficiency, humans have observed this system and expanded upon it; using hydrogen peroxide in applications from hydroponics to agriculture and animal husbandry for the delivery of oxygen.
While H2O2 is a naturally occurring molecule, it is decidedly not naturally occurring in concentrations currently manufactured by man. You won’t find 35% hydrogen peroxide in nature, in fact, it is unlikely you will even find 3% concentrations except in very rare and specific conditions; but you will find concentrations all the way up to nearly 100% pure H2O2 being used by engineers, food scientists, chemists and in all kinds of applied sciences.
For this reason, general discussions of hydrogen peroxide uses without consideration of grades and concentrations is fairly useless, because the qualities and properties are so vastly different from minute traces to high concentrations.
It’s rather like comparing denatured alcohol to beer in a discussion which fails to differentiate between the two. Not helpful.
In nature, H2O2 appears in minute quantities capable of doing very specific tasks within cells, molecules and biological systems.
To some degree these biological processes are now finally beginning to be better understood; however, medical researchers have determined the benefits of minute quantities of H2O2 over 100 years ago, and there is ample documented evidence of their findings.
3% H2O2 – the “Garden Variety”
To most of us, hydrogen peroxide is known as the household 3% variety used for simple first aid and perhaps as a mouthwash. However, even this simple product is vastly more useful than most people realize. Even at 3% solution, the oxidizing power of H2O2 provides excellent disinfection, cleaning, anti-microbial and anti-bacterial action. Providing all the power of safe oxidation with none of the dangers of many commonly used household cleaning products, hydrogen peroxide could be called a janitor in a bottle.
Discovery of Hydrogen Peroxide
H2O2 has been in use in far ranging applications from its discovery in 1818 by French chemist Louis-Jacques Thenard.
Thenard, who coined his discovery ‘eau oxygenee’ or oxygenated water, actually had the name more right than our modern term ‘hydrogen peroxide’ which is a newer, modern term developed from the earlier “peroxide of hydrogen” by which it was known, primarily in the field of medicine. It is also less commonly but correctly known as hydrogen dioxide.
Indeed, from 1888 through the 1920′s which brought the famous Lancet Journal of Medicine documentation of the efficacy of hydrogen peroxide therapy in the treatment of critically ill influenza patients, many therapies using hydrogen peroxide were developed. Today one can discover thousands of peer reviewed medical papers on hydrogen peroxide which have seemingly been overlooked by the modern pharmaceutical-based medical establishment.
While most people are well aware of ‘the little brown bottle they pick up at the drugstore counter or grocery store; the vast majority of folks have no idea that hydrogen peroxide is found in minute quantities all over the earth and is even produced by their own cells in the body’s natural processes. Studies as recent as 2008 have demonstrated that hydrogen peroxide is a natural by-product of cellular defense mechanisms in living animals.
H2O2 Grades and Concentrations
With such a simple, yet elegant, construction, and being the better part oxygen, it is no wonder the many uses which have been found for hydrogen peroxide. This has, in fact led to several different classes of peroxides. There is ‘drugstore’ grade, industrial or technical grade and food-grade hydrogen peroxide, to name the most common. Additionally, these different grades come in varying concentrations (strengths) ranging from 3% drugstore varieties to 70% industrial and technical grades.
Many, although not all, of these uses relate to its ‘extra’ oxygen atom being a ready initiator of catalytic chemical processes. Known as an oxidizer for this reason, hydrogen peroxide is an excellent bleach, catalyst in chemical polymer/epoxy processes and natural antiseptic cleaning agent as its oxidation destroys pathogens, bacteria and other anaerobic organisms, including mold and mildew.
From aseptic packaging which allows perishable liquids to be stored without refrigeration to disinfection of food processing equipment, food grade hydrogen peroxide is also a critical component of safe and healthy food production.
Industrial and technical grades of hydrogen peroxide are used in sterilization of laboratories, for the effective cleanup of toxic spills, to remove harmful pathogens found in hospitals, in production and finishing of metal products, and a vast array of chemical processes.