Cosmetics and personal care products

Hydrogen Peroxide

The Bottom Line

There are several grades of hydrogen peroxide. Not all are safe for home use. Swallowing small amounts of household (3%) hydrogen peroxide usually is not dangerous. It can create a lot of foam, though. Household hydrogen peroxide can be irritating to eyes and skin. Higher concentrations can cause burns.

The Full Story

Your child is foaming at the mouth! Chances are he got into the hydrogen peroxide bottle. And, chances are he will be perfectly fine…even though all of those bubbles look scary.

Hydrogen peroxide is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen. (The foam is oxygen bubbles.) It comes in several strengths.

  • Household peroxide is sold in brown bottles in drugstores and supermarkets. It contains 3 percent hydrogen peroxide.
  • Hair bleach is about 6 to 10% hydrogen peroxide.
  • "Food grade" hydrogen peroxide is 35%. Despite its name, "food grade" hydrogen peroxide should never be taken internally, unless it is extremely dilute.
  • Higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, up to 90 percent, are used in industry.

Children who swallow small amounts of household hydrogen peroxide have few if any problems. The most common symptom is stomach upset and possibly an episode of vomiting. When peroxide is swallowed, it generates oxygen bubbles in the stomach. If there are enough of them, they stretch the stomach out and the child vomits up the foam. Hydrogen peroxide can be mildly irritating, so the child could complain of a bit of mouth soreness and stomach distress. A small drink of water or milk usually is all that's needed. Hydrogen peroxide is not absorbed from the stomach into the body; once a child's stomach settles down, no other problems are expected.

It's different if someone drinks a large amount of household peroxide. When this happens, it's usually on purpose. There can be a lot of stomach irritation and even burns that require a trip to the emergency room and possible hospital admission.

Drinking higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide can be very dangerous because it can cause tissue burns. "Food grade" hydrogen peroxide is sometimes used as an alternative therapy for a variety of conditions: allergies, arthritis, HIV, diabetes, emphysema, lupus, shingles, warts, and irregular heart rhythms, among many others. (These recommendations are not based on scientific evidence.) Users are instructed to put a few drops of the concentrated hydrogen peroxide into a glass of water. Users often store the hydrogen peroxide in the refrigerator - and that's the dangerous part of this practice. People mistake the bottle of concentrated hydrogen peroxide for something good to drink. Children and adults who swallowed concentrated hydrogen peroxide suffered severe injury, and in some cases died.

Hydrogen peroxide and its relative, carbamide peroxide, are used in tooth bleaching materials. These preparations are sold for home use and in dental offices. Because hydrogen peroxide is known to be irritating to tissues, home users must follow directions closely to avoid problems. Tooth sensitivity may occur during treatment along with gum irritation. Anyone who chooses to use a home tooth-bleaching product should first consult with a dental professional.

If you swallow too much hydrogen peroxide, or any amount of a high concentration hydrogen peroxide, use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for guidance or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.

During use for any purpose, hydrogen peroxide could splash into the eyes. If this happens, immediately rinse with plenty of running water for fifteen to 20 minutes. Then, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.

Hydrogen peroxide splashed onto the skin could cause the skin to blanch, or whiten, for a short time. The area might feel tingly for a while, too. Again, rinse with plenty of running water. Skin burns are possible if it was a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide. Call Poison Control for advice.

At one time, hydrogen peroxide was used to disinfect skin wounds. This is no longer recommended, since research has shown that hydrogen peroxide can irritate or damage the cells needed for wound healing.

Hydrogen peroxide sometimes is still recommended to cause dogs and cats to vomit if they swallow poison. Find out from your vet what the correct dose would be for your pet should vomiting be needed. But, call your vet or Poison Control first before causing an animal to vomit. Some substances can be more dangerous to bring up than to leave down. Also, not all animals are capable of vomiting.

Rose Ann Gould Soloway, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita
Clinical Toxicologist

For More Information

Fact sheet about hydrogen peroxide (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)


Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.  Medical management guidelines for hydrogen peroxide [Internet].  Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2011 Mar 3 [cited 2012 Apr 22]. 20 p. 

American Dental Association. Tooth whitening/bleaching: treatment considerations for dentists and their patients [Internet]. Chicago: American Dental Association; 2009 Sep [cited 2014 Jul 16]. 12 p. 

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Animal Poison Control Center. What to do if your pet is poisoned [Internet]. New York: American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; [cited 2014 Jul 16]. [Approx 2 screens]

Pritchett S, Green D, Rossos P. Accidental ingestion of 35% hydrogen peroxide. Can J Gastroenterol 2007;21:665-667.

Wilson JR, Mills JG, Prather ID, Dimitrijevich SD. A toxicity index of skin and wound cleaners used on in vitro fibroblasts and keratinocytes. Adv Skin Wound Care. 2005;18:373:78.


Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • For household use, buy hydrogen peroxide 3% solution.
  • "Food grade" hydrogen peroxide should never be swallowed, unless it is very dilute.

This Really Happened

Case 1: An 82-year-old woman swallowed 32% hydrogen peroxide. Her husband, who said he was a homeopath, gave her two tablespoons or less. She vomited at home and had trouble breathing. In the hospital, she had bleeding from her stomach or intestines. She was treated in the ICU for continued breathing problems and abnormal brain studies. She died after 15 days in the hospital.

Reference: Bronstein AC, Spyker DA, Cantilena LR Jr., Green JL, Rumack BH, Dart RC. 2010 annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers' National Poison Data System (NPDS): 28th annual report. Clinical Toxicology. 2011;49:910–941

Case 2: A 2-year-old girl drank some hydrogen peroxide 3% that her mom had placed in a cup, with the intent of using it to treat a cut. Poison Control advised the child's mom to give her water to drink and observe for gastrointestinal upset. During a follow-up call from Poison Control a few hours later, her mom reported the child was fine.