How to Clean and Disinfect with Hydrogen Peroxide

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Using hydrogen peroxide to disinfect and clean your home is simple, safe, and affordable when done correctly and on the appropriate surfaces.

Woman's hand wiping flat surface with paper towel after using hydrogen peroxide to disinfect household surface

Maintaining a clean, healthy home does not require the use of strong-smelling, irritating products. That’s good news for people with asthma or chemical sensitivities, as well as those concerned about indoor air pollution.

If you don’t like the smell or risks associated with using bleach, vinegar, or store-bought cleaning products, use hydrogen peroxide to disinfect surfaces in your home instead. (And check out these other 25 uses for hydrogen peroxide around your home.)

Can I Disinfect My House with Hydrogen Peroxide?

Hydrogen peroxide works by producing destructive free radicals that attack potential sources of infection. Those foaming bubbles you see when hydrogen peroxide comes into contact with something? That’s the result of free radicals doing their thing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), hydrogen peroxide is a safe way to kill bacteria, spores, and fungus. It can kill germs and is virucidal, too. But, as with all household disinfectants, its effectiveness depends on proper use. When it comes to disinfecting a surface, you need to clean it first.

Doesn’t a Disinfectant Also Clean Stuff?

Cleaning and disinfecting are not the same thing. Cleaning involves the physical removal of dirt and grime but may leave behind potential sources of infection like certain germs or bacteria. Disinfection, on the other hand, reduces the level of germs or bacteria to safe levels but may not actually remove dirt and grime.

In very germy areas like kitchens and bathrooms, you need to clean before disinfecting if you want to keep your home healthy. Without cleaning, the organic load of grime and dirt may be too high for the disinfectant to work properly.

What Should I Clean with Before Disinfecting?

When it comes to cleaning a surface, the entire point is physically removing dirt and grime. Soap and water are enough to accomplish this.

Soap’s fatty ingredients dissolve the chemical bonds between household surfaces and things like grease, spills, and other substances. Water helps this process, too. And, as you scrub with a microfiber cloth or whatever you like to use, you’re adding elbow-grease to the mix that mechanically removes soil, too.

You can, of course, use other things to clean. This homemade all-purpose cleaning spray is one, or you can use your favorite store-bought cleaner. You can even simply apply hydrogen peroxide and wipe it away, then reapply to disinfect. If you do use something other than soap and water to clean, be sure you thoroughly wipe it away before applying a disinfectant, or you may create a toxic compound.

What Strength of Hydrogen Peroxide Should I Use?

Hydrogen peroxide comes in several strengths. For home disinfection, use the 3% hydrogen peroxide sold at the grocery store or pharmacy. It’s inexpensive and easy to find.

Do not use 20% and 30% hydrogen peroxide sold at beauty supply stores. At that concentration, hydrogen peroxide has powerful bleaching properties, which is why it lightens hair. This strength isn’t appropriate for cleaning or disinfection since it can damage household surfaces.

Also, don’t bother with “food grade” hydrogen peroxide, which has a 35% strength. It is expensive and not at all appropriate for household disinfection.

How to Disinfect with Hydrogen Peroxide

Disinfecting with hydrogen peroxide is really easy to do once you’ve properly cleaned the surface. Just be sure to keep it in the original bottle. Exposure to light decomposes it back into water and oxygen, and then it won’t properly disinfect.

1. Attach a Spray Nozzle

Hydrogen peroxide usually comes in 16-ounce bottles — the perfect size for a spray nozzle. You can buy a new nozzle or reuse one from an empty spray bottle and cut the tube to fit. Be sure to thoroughly wash and dry a nozzle before you reuse it, though, so you don’t run the risk of combining products dangerously. (Read more: Household Cleaning Products You Should Never Mix.)

2. Leave It On for the Right Time

After you’ve cleaned a surface with soap and water, disinfect it by pouring or spraying full-strength hydrogen peroxide to saturate the area.

For most freshly-cleaned household surfaces, let full-strength hydrogen peroxide sit for five minutes then wipe it away with a clean, damp cloth.

In homes with active illness, saturate the area thoroughly with full-strength hydrogen peroxide, so it remains wet for 30 minutes, then wipe it away or allow it to air-dry.

What Surfaces Can Hydrogen Peroxide Disinfect?

Hydrogen peroxide is safe to use full-strength on these household surfaces:

  • Kitchen countertops and backsplashes (see exception list below)
  • Grout in the kitchen or bathroom
  • Refrigerator and freezer shelves and drawers
  • Sink basins
  • Doorknobs and light switch plates
  • Showers and tubs
  • Toilets
  • Trashcans and wastebaskets
  • Diaper pails
  • Cat litter boxes and animal cages
  • Toothbrushes, retainers, and mouth guards
  • Kitchen sponges and dish wands
  • Cutting boards
  • Toys and pacifiers
  • Dingy white fabrics

Do NOT Use Hydrogen Peroxide on These Surfaces

Hydrogen peroxide is a weak acid with bleaching abilities, so it’s not safe for use on everything. Do not use hydrogen peroxide on surfaces that are prone to etching or bleaching.

  • Marble, granite, or other natural stone. (Can be used occasionally but must be diluted with an equal amount of water.)
  • Certain metals (lead, brass, copper, and zinc)
  • Wood furniture
  • Colored fabrics

The Takeaway

When used the right way, hydrogen peroxide is a safe, affordable, and effective disinfectant.

  • Use hydrogen peroxide to disinfect hard surfaces that are not prone to etching or bleaching.
  • First clean the area that you plan to disinfect, and then spray it with hydrogen peroxide.
  • To disinfect, let hydrogen peroxide sit for at least 5 minutes and up to 30 minutes before wiping it away.
  • Do not apply hydrogen peroxide at the same time as other cleaning products or layer it with other household ingredients.

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2 Comments

  1. Hannah Ryan says:

    Hi Katie!!

    I cannot tell you how pleased I am with your website and how much you’ve helped me!!! I got all of the makeup stains out of my white washcloths, thanks to you!! WOW!! AMAZING!! You are a genius!! Thanks for all of your tips and how-to’s!!!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Hannah,
      I’m so glad to have helped!