Hydrogen peroxide and sodium hypochlorite, commercially available as bleach, are two common disinfectants available in the market. Both these products have their differences, which often dictate their most suitable applications. To help you choose the right product between the two, we’ve highlighted their unique properties, applications, advantages, and everything in between.
What is Sodium Hypochlorite/bleach?
Sodium hypochlorite or bleach is a powerful disinfectant with a long history as a bleaching agent, water purifier, and surface disinfectant. With a slightly yellowish color and distinct odor, this solution usually comes in 5% concentration for household use and slightly above 10% for hospital disinfection use.
As a chloride compound, sodium hypochlorite disinfects like chlorine and is effective against viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Bleach exhibits broad-spectrum anti-microbial activity, and its efficacy as a disinfectant is directly proportional to its concentration levels. However, the higher the concentration, the more unstable the compound and the higher the safety risk.
Over the years, bleach has been used to disinfect specific rooms or surfaces in hospitals, typically in slightly higher concentrations. These surfaces/spaces include shared bathrooms, blood spills, and food prep zones. Often, all these areas must be pre-cleaned to avoid unwanted reactions with organic matter or other chemical compounds. Depending on the number of surfaces in the area that require precleaning, this additional step can be extremely time-consuming.
And while some of the commercially available bleaches are EPA-registered, most hospitals are now shying off from bleach due to the toxicity of chlorine. In fact, breathing high levels of chlorine may cause a condition called pulmonary edema, which results in fluid build-up in the lungs. Contact with compressed liquid chlorine has also been shown to cause frostbite of the eyes and skin, and these are some of the reasons why most institutions are slowly considering safer options in the market.
Another major concern with using bleach is that sodium hypochlorite is highly corrosive and could even burn surfaces in high concentrations. Additionally, it must not come in contact with air as it can make it disintegrate.
What is Hydrogen Peroxide
Unlike its chlorine counterparts, hydrogen peroxide is an environmentally safe disinfectant used in a wide variety of settings, from homes to public spaces. According to the CDC, hydrogen peroxide kills bacteria, fungi, yeasts, mold spores, and viruses. Some of the recent hydrogen peroxide solutions in the market have also been formulated against COVID-19.
Hydrogen peroxide works by producing hydroxyl free radicals that are destructive. These radicals attack lipid membranes, DNA, and several other cell components, hence killing the microbes. While typical hydrogen peroxide used as disinfectants often comes in 0.5% to 10% concentration, those with 6% to 25% concentration are classified as sterilants.
- Hydrogen peroxide is highly effective against a wide variety of germs, including high-resistance bacterial spores, infectious proteins, and protozoal cysts.
- The compound has a high safety profile making it a popular option among homeowners and businesses owners.
- Using hydrogen peroxide to disinfect surfaces is pretty easy and convenient since the product is environmentally friendly and doesn’t irritate or corrode surfaces.
- In higher concentrations, hydrogen peroxide can possibly bleach surfaces after continual use. A rule of thumb is to use commercially formulated products and for suitable applications. If you are going DIY, always pay attention to the concentration and the other ingredients you are using.
Differences between Hydrogen Peroxide and Bleach
Now that you know the basic properties and typical use cases of bleach and hydrogen peroxide, below is a quick comparison between the two:
- Both bleach and hydrogen peroxide are highly effective against a wide range of germs – from viruses and bacteria to fungi; however, bleach has a couple of safety concerns, making it less suitable for various settings, thus the reason there is more movement towards less toxic options.
- Hydrogen peroxide is better at removing mold than bleach since it can penetrate porous surfaces easily and is safer and more environmentally friendly.
- Bleach is an inexpensive option compared to hydrogen peroxide; however, it’s an irritant to humans and harmful to the environment and can be corrosive.
- Hydrogen peroxide finds more typical use cases as a disinfectant due to the lower health risk profile.
The major differences between the two disinfectants lie mainly with their safety to the environment and health risks to humans. And while hydrogen peroxide is generally considered safe, it’s still advisable to always take precautionary measures.
Choosing the Right Disinfecting Agent
Choosing between the two disinfectants is often a no-brainer for most people who understand the significant differences between bleach and hydrogen peroxide. For most people looking for safe and highly effective surface and object disinfectants, products formulated with hydrogen peroxide are often their go-to option.
One such product is the Halo Disinfection System® a large-scale hydrogen peroxide-based disinfecting unit used by hospitals, nursing homes, learning institutions, fitness facilities, etc. This system uses HaloMist™, a hydrogen peroxide formulation that’s highly effective, environmentally friendly, non-corrosive, and safe for humans. With hydrogen peroxide, eliminating pathogens doesn’t always mean harming the environment or risking your health and that of your loved ones.