Top 10 Industrial Uses of Hydrogen PeroxideFaizan Khan
The brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide or H2O2 is one of the most common first aid tools in our homes. You may remember from your childhood how applying hydrogen peroxide showed instant bubbling and killing action.
Moreover, if you ask your parlor person what is their secret sauce for manicure and pedicure and dyeing of hairs, the answer will be the same -hydrogen peroxide.
These are two of the basic properties of hydrogen peroxide: bleaching and disinfecting. Both of these properties of hydrogen make it useful in the industry too.
In this article, we will explore how the simple brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide is one of the most important raw materials used in industries. Moreover, if the medicinal properties of hydrogen peroxide make it useful in combating, say global pandemic like COVID-19.
So without further ado, let’s begin!
Top 10 Essential Industrial Uses of Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is widely used in industries because of its versatility. It has a low molecular weight and gives little or no toxic waste. Just based on these two factors, hydrogen peroxide becomes more efficient than its counterparts.
Some of the most common ways industries are using hydrogen peroxide are:
1. Oxidizing Agent During Chemical Synthesis
Hydrogen peroxide is one of the most readily available oxidizing agents in the market. It is one of the favorites raw materials in the industry because of how easily it can liberate oxygen to react with the required substrate.
Moreover, one advantage hydrogen peroxide has over other common oxidizing agents like potassium permanganate and dichromate is its low molecular weight. Hydrogen peroxide is much easier to calculate and estimate during an industrial yield.
Additionally, hydrogen peroxide can dissolve in a wide range of organic solutes. It can dissolve in water and even in itself for that matter.
Therefore, in the large-scale production of Ostwald’s process and Contact process, hydrogen peroxide can be used to make nitric acid and sulphuric acids respectively. Both of them are industrially important raw materials.
2. Aseptic Processing and Packaging
The liberated oxygen of hydrogen peroxide is not only a great source of oxidation but is also an antiseptic. The antimicrobial properties of hydrogen peroxide are widely regarded. Just like hydrogen peroxide is used to oxidize hundreds of industrial products, it can oxidize the microbial cell wall. Which leads to the instant elimination of these pests.
Moreover, hydrogen peroxide is a non-specific killer of germs. When other antiseptics are more focused on a specific species of a microbe, hydrogen peroxide with its reactive oxygen action can kill all types of microbes.
Another advantage hydrogen peroxide has over disinfectants like bleach is the fact that hydrogen peroxide does not give toxic byproducts. Bleach on the other hand is notorious for giving off harmful chlorine during its cleansing action. While on the other hand, hydrogen peroxide breaks down into harmless water and oxygen.
Viewing this in mind, the demand for hydrogen peroxide can be estimated in the industries. Hydrogen peroxide is used to sterilize internal aseptic zones of machines, which are not manually accessible.
Moreover, it is used in the packaging industry as a sterilizing agent. It is used to clean and disinfect the inner surface of packaging material that would be in contact with food. As you can guess, this allows your processed food to remain contamination-free and avoid premature spoilage.
3. Sugar Bleaching
Have you ever wondered what causes your sugar to be pure white crystals?
In addition to being an amazing oxidizing agent and disinfectant, hydrogen peroxide has great bleaching properties too. In common households, it is used to remove stubborn stains from white clothes and whitening the tiles.
This property is utilized widely by large-scale sugar factories in whitening your sugar. The raw sugar extracted from sugar cane is dark brown. After many steps and processes, it emerges as a beautiful white crystal that we all know and love.
A major advantage of using hydrogen peroxide is its non-toxicity. While other bleaching products are either toxic or not easily accessible, hydrogen peroxide provides a non-toxic and easily accessible alternative.
Additionally, hydrogen peroxide is much cheaper than other bleaching products. According to an article published in International Sugar Journal, hydrogen peroxide was much more cost-effective than other bleaching materials like active carbon or ion exchange resins.
All of this makes hydrogen peroxide a favorite bleacher of the industries!
4. Pulp and Paper Industry
As you might know, paper is obtained from trees. However, it is not in the smooth white form that we are accustomed to using.
Paper is made from wood after a rigorous process of bleaching and altering. The bleaching part of the paper production is mostly taken care of by the versatile hydrogen peroxide.
During the process of paper formation, the raw materials from the tree are beaten to a pulp. This pulp is then rearranged and bleached to form the common paper we use.
Hydrogen peroxide is the core-bleaching agent in the mechanical pulping process. Its low molecular weight, low cost-effectiveness, and high bleaching properties make it the best source of bleaching paper industries have.
Moreover, when the paper is recycled, hydrogen peroxide is responsible for the de-inking of the page. Which strips the paper free from any ink and stains to be used again.
When a mineral is extracted from the Earth, it is in the form of impure ore. The desired material is stubbornly bound to impurities like iron pyrite and sulfides. The normal and mechanical ways of removing these impurities are long and difficult, and a low yield of product is obtained because of wastage during the process.
Hydrogen peroxide, on the other hand, provides a much easier and efficient solution to help industries extract their desired product from impurities. The key for the extraction of minerals using hydrogen peroxide lies in the oxidation capabilities of the said compound.
Copper is one of the most widely used minerals in the electrical and machinery industries. When it is obtained from Earth in the form of Chalcopyrite, it is bound to impurities like iron pyrite and iron sulfides. Industries that have used hydrogen peroxide for the removal of copper impurities have reported the ease of the process. Moreover, hydrogen peroxide provides up to a 10% increase in the yield of the desired product because of its efficient way of extraction.
Other important minerals that are extracted by hydrogen peroxide include uranium and gold. Both of them are commercially and industrially important elements. Hydrogen peroxide aids in the concentration preparation and ore leaching processes of these minerals.
6. Cosmetics and Pharmaceuticals
Because of its excellent bleaching and disinfecting properties, hydrogen peroxide is widely used in the manufacturing of cosmetic as well as medicinal products. When it comes to dyeing your hair, hydrogen peroxide is a parlor favorite. It is a universally acclaimed hair dyer, and several people use hydrogen peroxide directly on their hairs for bleaching. Many commercially produced dyes and hair colors use hydrogen peroxide as an ingredient for a completely natural look!
Also in the pharmaceutical industry, hydrogen peroxide is a star. Because of its excellent and generalized anti-microbial properties, it is used in manufacturing tinctures and wound cleaners. Hydrogen peroxide is a well-known component of a first-aid kit. And is characterized by the instant “bubbling” effect on the wound when it’s killing bacteria and germs.
7. Treating Wastewater
On average, a person uses about 80 to 100 gallons of water every day. Combine it with the current 7.8 billion population of Earth and we have got ourselves a water crisis. If it weren’t for the constant recycling and reuse of water, our planet would have run out of water reserves a long time ago!
One of the foremost tools used in cleaning water is hydrogen peroxide. The advantages of using hydrogen peroxide over other water cleaners are staggering. Hydrogen peroxide not only can disinfect water from numerous bacteria and germs, but it also reacts with and oxidizes harmful minerals like copper, zinc, and molybdenum present in the water.
Moreover, hydrogen peroxide is the close cousin of water. During its cleansing action, it breaks down into harmless oxygen and water. Both of which are already a component of our target. On the other hand, treating water with chlorine and bleach is not only inefficient but toxic as well. People can get very sick after ingesting chlorine water, a problem seen in many third-world countries that don’t know the implications of hydrogen peroxide.
8. Textile Bleaching
In addition to bleaching sugar and papers, hydrogen peroxide is widely used in removing stains and paint from the raw materials of your cloth.
Textile industries are one of the biggest industries of a country. And hydrogen peroxide provides a cheap and effective source in bleaching the raw materials used to make your clothes.
One of these raw materials is cotton. The naturally available cotton is yellowish-brown in color. Therefore, it has to be stripped of all the stains and color to be remodeled into gorgeous white clothes for you to wear. Moreover, various types of dyes are applied only to the whitened cotton, for the most appearance of the color.
Hydrogen peroxide has been used to bleach cotton for decades. By combining it with caustic soda, sodium silicate, and heat, it becomes a potent bleacher of cotton fibers.
9. Disinfecting Farm Produce
The farm produce, harvested and delivered to your home, has to undergo a thorough cleaning process. When a crop is harvested, it is covered with millions of bacteria and germs. Moreover, some farms use pesticides to conserve the produce to be eaten away by land microbes. However, this pesticide is fatal for human consumption.
By washing and cleaning them with hydrogen peroxide, the majority of harmful bacteria and pesticide is washed away. Hydrogen peroxide reacts with the harmful compounds of pesticides and makes them ineffective.
Moreover, by reducing the number of contact bacteria, hydrogen peroxide avoids the early spoilage and rotting of farm produce.
10. Cleaning Circuitry in the Electronics Industry
Hydrogen peroxide is an effective tool in the electronic industry too. It is used for oxidizing and cleaning different parts of electronic circuits and machinery.
Moreover, hydrogen peroxide is also used in the etching of printed circuit boards. Even semiconductors that are not easy to clean, use high-grade hydrogen peroxide for its cleaning and oxidizing.
Is Concentrated Hydrogen Peroxide Harmful if You Inhale or Ingest it?
Hydrogen peroxide is available in a variety of concentrations. The one you have in your home is most likely 3% hydrogen peroxide. At this concentration, hydrogen peroxide is generally harmless. You can use it on your wounds and for gargling. However, at high doses 3% hydrogen peroxide can have its side effects.
Higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide like food-grade hydrogen peroxide (35%) or industry-grade hydrogen peroxide (90%) can be dangerous and even fatal. Just being near an industry-grade hydrogen peroxide can cause eye burn and rashes!
Ingesting a significant amount of 3% hydrogen peroxide can cause:
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Irritation of esophagus lining (mouth, throat, stomach)
- Foaming from mouth
Ingesting food-grade hydrogen peroxide or at concentrations higher than 20% can cause
- Internal burns
- Loss of consciousness
- Respiratory paralysis
On the other hand, inhalation of commonly available 3% hydrogen peroxide can cause:
- Respiratory irritation (mild)
- Burning feeling of eyes, throat, or chest
- Eye irritation
At concentrations of 10% and higher like food-grade hydrogen peroxide can lead to:
- Severe pulmonary irritation
- Edema of lungs
Ingesting food-grade or industry-grade hydrogen peroxide is a medical emergency. If you witness someone having this crisis, immediately call an ambulance or poison control department.
Can You Use Hydrogen Peroxide to Neutralize Viruses like COVID-19?
It is well-known hydrogen peroxide is an excellent disinfectant that is non-specific in its killing. Its use in water treatment and sterilizing farm produce is evidence of that. Keeping that in mind, can we use hydrogen peroxide against the infamous COVID-19? Let’s test our theory in the light of research and evidence.
A similar study was conducted in Mexico City which was based on finding how effective hydrogen peroxide is in treating patients with COVID-19. A case series of 23 patients was chosen in a hospital setting and they were given oral sprays of 0.06% or mouth rinse of 1.5% hydrogen peroxide. Moreover, 28 caretakers were given similar hydrogen peroxide doses to determine if hydrogen peroxide is effective in preventing COVID-19.
The results showed subjects started “feeling better” after an average of 9.5 days and were completely recovered by day 17. Moreover, none of the caregivers who were in close contact with COVID-19 patients reported contracting the virus.
However, a similar experiment conducted in Brazil did not find any conclusive evidence regarding hydrogen peroxide’s effectiveness in treating COVID-19.
Therefore, in light of the evidence, we can safely say given the low cost of hydrogen peroxide oral and nasal spray, they are safe to use. However, there is not sufficient evidence to conclude hydrogen peroxide as a treatment for COVID-19. Moreover, people can opt for hydrogen peroxide oral and nasal sprays to prevent COVID-19 infection.
When it comes to efficient industry usage, there is no other product more versatile than hydrogen peroxide. From textile bleaching to wastewater treatment and even in mining, hydrogen peroxide emerges as a key tool.
The effectiveness of hydrogen peroxide lies in its highly reactive oxygen which is a potent oxidizer and disinfectant. So much so, some evidence even suggests it is a remedy for the prevention of hydrogen peroxide.
Moreover, it is extremely cheap and has wide household applications too. So grab your set of hydrogen peroxide bottles today!