Using hydrogen peroxide to disinfect and clean your home is simple, safe, and affordable when done correctly and on the appropriate surfaces.
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. (Related: 25 Uses for Hydrogen Peroxide.)
Can Hydrogen Peroxide Disinfect Household Surfaces?
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.
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.
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.
Why You MUST Clean Before Disinfecting
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.
That means, in very germy areas like kitchens and bathrooms, you need to clean before disinfecting if you want to keep your home healthy. You should also clean before disinfecting things in a sickroom or which are frequently used by someone with a compromised immune system.
Always clean before disinfecting. Dirt or grime on a surface can make a disinfectant ineffective. That’s because the organic load may be too high for the disinfectant to do its job.
Clean with Soap and Water 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. (Related: How to Make Homemade Cleaning and Disinfecting Wipes.)
It loosens grime. The fatty ingredients in soap help dissolve the chemical bonds between household surfaces and things like grease, spills, and other substances. Water helps this process, too.
It removes dirt. Using a microfiber cloth plus soapy water adds mechanical cleaning action to the process, both from the elbow-grease you use as well as the small, bristly fibers that make up the cloth.
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.
How to Disinfect with Hydrogen Peroxide
Before you begin disinfecting your home using hydrogen peroxide, review the section about which surfaces it may damage.
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.
Leave It in the Original Bottle
Hydrogen peroxide is the ugly duckling on the store shelf, but it’s in a boring brown bottle for a good reason.
Exposure to light causes the active ingredients in hydrogen peroxide to decompose into water and oxygen. This decomposition destroys the free radicals needed for effective disinfection.
So, leave it in the original bottle if you want it to remain effective. You can always slip a cute sock or beverage cozy over the container if it bothers you that much.
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.
Either way, wash the sprayer before attaching it to the hydrogen peroxide bottle.
- Use the nozzle to spray a bit of soapy water to clean the inside of the tube.
- Repeat by spraying plain water to rinse it.
- Let it completely dry before attaching it to the bottle of hydrogen peroxide.
Contact Times Required for Disinfection
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.
Use Hydrogen Peroxide on These Surfaces
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
- 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
Related: 10 Most Germy Places in Your Home
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
(Related: Homemade Granite-Safe Disinfecting Spray.)
When used the right way, hydrogen peroxide is a safe, affordable, and effective disinfectant.
- Store hydrogen peroxide in a cool, dark place in its original bottle or another opaque, dark container.
- 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.