The “Magic” of Hydrogen Peroxide
“An Ounce of Hydrogen Peroxide is Worth a Pound of Cure,” prescribes the headline in a Parade magazine advertisement for Emily Thacker’s newest book, “The Magic of Hydrogen Peroxide.” Citing a medley of uses that rivals those of Windex in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” the ad boasts that trusty ol’ H2O2 can be used not only to relieve arthritis pain and soothe sore throats but also to clean out clogged drains and disinfect pet stains.
The Newscripts gang didn’t quite know how to take this. Call us picky, but the purists among us would prefer using one product to “whiten teeth without spending a fortune” and a completely separate one to “eliminate nastiness from toilet bowls, bath tubs, showers and shower curtains.” On the other hand, as science nerds, we were curious, so we read on–and asked a chemist.
In the book’s introductory “Letter from Emily,” the author assures readers that the 3% H2O2 solution available at drugstores is “97% water and practically harmless.” That’s some tempting math, but it’s these kinds of claims that sometimes frustrate scientists, says David Finster, a chemistry professor at Wittenberg University, in Ohio, who coauthored a chemistry laboratory safety textbook. He cites a peer-reviewed book on TOXNET: “Dropping 1 to 3% hydrogen peroxide solution on the human eye causes severe pain, but this soon subsides.” Okay, so maybe Thacker wasn’t suggesting squirting it in your eye, but this concentration certainly isn’t “practically harmless.” Needless to say, drinking drugstore hydrogen peroxide isn’t a good idea either.
Finster says that like all chemicals, H2O2 is valued for properties that can also make it unsafe–in this case, its strong oxidizing properties. Similarly, natural gas is useful because it burns, but it’s also dangerous because it burns. Fitting, Finster says, is the old toxicology adage: “The dose makes the poison.” Weak concentrations of H2O2 can be used safely with low risk–and it does have many legitimate uses, medical and otherwise, he adds. But the same cannot be said of high concentrations or high doses. (In the book, Thacker does acknowledge that, “At high concentrations, hydrogen peroxide will react with tiny trace amounts of metals and … POOOF! An explosion occurs.”)
The Newscripts gang hasn’t finished reading the book nor have we actually tried any of the more daring recommendations, so who are we to rebut all of these claims outright? (To try them yourself, you can purchase a copy for $19.95 at jamesdirect.com, and you’ll receive a free gift: “How To Grow, Dry, Use & Prepare Herbs”!) All we humbly request is that our readers take this ounce of hydrogen peroxide with a grain of salt.*
* Disclaimer: We have not actually attempted to combine hydrogen peroxide and salt. Much like the book’s publishers, who write, “No claims are intended as to the safety, or endorsing the effectiveness, of any of the remedies which have been included,” we take neither credit nor responsibility if you choose to do so.