This comes directly from my ‘what not to do’ column: Never mix hydrogen peroxide and vinegar and seal them in a container. But before I knew this was a bad, bad idea, I’d learned that peroxide and vinegar can be combined to form a sanitizer that is better than bleach. So, me being me, I went right to my cupboard and pulled out a large bowl, thinking I’d mix up a new and improved version of my DIY cleaning wipes solution. I had everything ready when my husband walked by and asked, “Are you sure it’s safe to mix peroxide and vinegar?” This annoyed me because, well…I’m not sure why. But I stopped what I was doing and Googled the question.
Turns out, it was good he asked.
Here’s what I learned.
The good news: The fizzy substance that costs a couple of bucks for a brown bottle is on the EPA’s list of sanitizers. That means it can kill 99.9% of germs, like some strains of E.Coli, flu, and mold. It’s also not harmful to the planet and, unless you seal it in a mason jar with something it shouldn’t be mixed with, the 3:97 peroxide:water ratio available at grocery stores is generally harmless for us. You could even use it as a mouth rinse. (To read an article about the many uses for peroxide in Truth or Fiction click here.)
A word of warning: Greater ratios of HP to water are available at health food stores; but the purer the hydrogen peroxide the more dangerous it CAN be. (The 3% solution is potent enough to do most jobs, besides.) And, peroxide should NEVER be mixed with vinegar and sealed in a container. That can cause a chemical change that could form the highly corrosive peracetic acid. A whiff of that could damage a person’s lungs!
Back to the good news: But, from Michael and Judy Stouffer’s blog I learned that the chemical reaction that can occur when peroxide and vinegar are put into a container does not happen if they are combined in other ways. In fact, when the two liquids are kept in separate spray bottles and applied to a surface as a mist one after another, they actually become a safe and effective sanitizer.
In Michael and Judy’s article I read about a food scientist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute who’d researched this. She reported that when used sequentially this way, a peroxide and vinegar combination is safe enough to clean vegetables and fruit with, while at the same time powerful enough to kill virtually all Salmonella, Shigella, or E. coli bacteria on heavily contaminated surfaces. The latter was confirmed by tests done at two universities.
This combo is even safe if accidentally consumed. And, if you’re worried about your strawberries tasting like vinegar, the taste and smell won’t linger. In fact, vinegar is a pretty good neutralizer of odors. That said, the recommendation is to spray the fruit with the two agents in a sort one-two punch, let the combo sit on the surface for a few seconds, then rinse. The article claims that this spray combination is more effective for killing germs than chlorine bleach or any commercially available kitchen cleaner.
My next move
I bought some misting spray bottles and plan to label two as either being for ‘peroxide,’ or ‘vinegar.’ (I want to be careful about mixing up the bottles when I refill them. Also, I chose aluminum, rather than clear bottles because I wanted something that would block out sunlight, which can cause peroxide to break down.) (Click here if you’d like to check the bottles out on amazon.) I plan to use the one-two punch for my dishes. I’ve been concerned for some time about bacteria there, because we don’t own a dishwasher.
The moral to the story
Even along the journey to a greener lifestyle there are dangers to be aware of. I should never have assumed that two planet-friendly agents would be harmless when combined. There are also uses for even the most mild green cleaner that should be avoided. It’s important to stop and check. So, the next time I play mad scientist, I’ll Google the question: ‘is it safe…’ before I break out my mixing bowl.