What Is Hydrogen Peroxide?

Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is a chemical compound that is widely used as a weak oxidising acid and as a component in cleaning products. ReAgent supplies this colourless liquid in a variety of strengths, but today we’re looking at the chemistry behind this popular substance.

Properties of Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is the simplest of all the peroxides (compounds containing an oxygen-oxygen single bond). It is mostly a clear and colourless liquid. However, it can appear pale blue in its pure form. It is also:

  • Slightly more viscous than water
  • Nonpolar with twisted C2 symmetry
  • Corrosive to the skin in solutions above 8%
  • Thermodynamically unstable

As an unstable compound, hydrogen peroxide decomposes when exposed to heat, bases or catalysts. Therefore, it is usually kept in a slightly acidic solution in the presence of a stabiliser.

How is it Used?

Hydrogen peroxide is a versatile substance with a variety of applications. It is used in a range of industries, especially in bleaching where 60% of the world’s production is used.

Hydrogen peroxide is used in:

  • Bleaching paper, cotton, wood pulp and more
  • Cleaning products like detergents and disinfectants
  • Cosmetics for teeth whitening, bleaching hair and treating acne
  • Glow sticks where it is used to produce chemiluminescence

Hydrogen peroxide is sometimes also used in alternative medicine practices, usually in the treatment of emphysema and even cancer.

However, there is little evidence to support the effectiveness of hydrogen peroxide as a medical treatment. It should also be kept in mind that high strength concentrations or prolonged exposure to the chemical could be fatal.

Flicking through pages of a white book
60% of the world’s hydrogen peroxide production is used in the bleaching industry. Hydrogen peroxide is used to bleach paper, cotton, wood and even hair.

Production of H2O2

There are several manufacturing methods that can be used to produce hydrogen peroxide. The most common method is the anthraquinone process. This involves the reaction of hydrogen (H2) with oxygen (O2) extracted from the air.

Biologically, hydrogen peroxide is formed in most living organisms as a result of biochemical processes. It doesn’t stick around in the body, however, because the enzyme catalase quickly decomposes it into water and oxygen. This is because hydrogen peroxide is toxic to cells.

Hydrogen Peroxide and Bees

Hydrogen peroxide is biologically formed in bees when they convert nectar into honey. When bees carry nectar in their honey stomach, several enzymes are released and added to it. These break it down and eventually help to transform it into honey.

One of these enzymes, glucose oxidase, catalyses the oxidation of glucose whilst the nectar is being carried. This forms hydrogen peroxide and gluconic acid. Because it is unstable, hydrogen peroxide is then decomposed into water and oxygen by the enzyme catalase.

However, there are still trace amounts of hydrogen peroxide in honey, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because of its antibacterial properties, the presence of H2O2 is one of the reasons that honey has an eternal shelf life.

Bees on a honeycomb. Bees produce hydrogen peroxide when making honey.
There are trace amounts of hydrogen peroxide in honey. This is one of the factors that contribute to the immortal powers of honey.

At ReAgent, we supply hydrogen peroxide in a range of concentrations and pack sizes. We also have a 100% quality guarantee on all products so that you buy with confidence. Shop online today or contact us to speak with an expert member of our team.


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