Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical that is often used for cleaning, disinfecting and stain removal. It is also commonly used as an antiseptic to treat cuts, scrapes or other minor skin wounds.
Several people on social media (here, here and here) claim hydrogen peroxide should not be used to clean wounds because it can be irritating to the skin. VERIFY viewer Jehu asked whether these claims are true.
Should you use hydrogen peroxide on wounds?
No, you should not use hydrogen peroxide on wounds.
WHAT WE FOUND
“Hydrogen peroxide has fallen out of favor as a wound cleanser. Studies have found that it irritates the skin. It may prevent the wound from healing, doing more harm than good,” Sarah Pickering Beers, M.D., a family medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, said.
A blog post on Houston Methodist’s website explains that hydrogen peroxide can kill “normal cells within the wound, including healthy skin cells and immune cells, and slow down blood vessel formation.”
“Hydrogen peroxide is actually detrimental to wound healing. It prevents healing rather than promoting it,” Michael Yaakovian, M.D., a surgeon and wound care specialist at Houston Methodist, said. "When you have an open wound, you don't have that normal skin barrier there protecting you anymore. This exposed area of tissue then becomes vulnerable to infection.”
Rubbing alcohol, another product commonly thought to help sanitize wounds, also kills cells indiscriminately, which prevents healing, according to Houston Methodist.
So what is the best way to properly clean a minor wound?
“A good wash with soap and plenty of clean water is all you need,” Beers said.
- Wash your hands. This helps avoid infection.
- Stop the bleeding. Minor cuts and scrapes usually stop bleeding on their own. If needed, apply gentle pressure with a clean bandage or cloth and elevate the wound until the bleeding stops.
- Clean the wound. Rinse the wound with water. Keeping the wound under running tap water will reduce the risk of infection. Wash around the wound with soap. But don't get soap in the wound. Remove any dirt or debris with tweezers cleaned with alcohol.
- Apply an antibiotic or petroleum jelly. Petroleum jelly or antibiotic ointments help prevent infection by covering the wound and acting as a physical barrier, but they also serve another purpose: they help keep the wound moist.
- Cover the wound. Apply a bandage or gauze held in place with paper tape. Covering the wound keeps it clean.
- Change the dressing. Do this at least once a day or whenever the bandage becomes wet or dirty.
- Watch for signs of infection. See a doctor if you notice signs of infection on the skin or near the wound, including redness, increasing pain, drainage, warmth or swelling.
For larger wounds and gashes, excessive bleeding, or if there’s debris stuck in the wound, you should seek medical care, Beers says.
While hydrogen peroxide should not be used to clean wounds, Beers says it is a great alternative to bleach and can be used to disinfect several things around the house, including bathtubs, sinks and showers, toilets, mirrors, refrigerators and garbage cans. You can also use it to sanitize beauty and nail care tools, fix stained nails, make mouthwash and keep your toothbrush clean.
“Hydrogen peroxide kills bacteria, fungi and viruses. It can come in handy if you don’t have disinfecting wipes or bleach. Just be careful not to get it on your clothes or furniture, or it may bleach them,” Beers said.