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This article explains how to use hydrogen peroxide as a drinking water disinfectant. Use of vinegar as a vegetable disinfection wash? This article series outlines methods to purify or sanitize drinking water in an emergency following a disaster such as an earthquake, flood, or hurricane. Below at How much disinfectant to use in drinking water? we review the amount of bleach or other disinfectants needed in more detail.
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Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) sold as a topical disinfectant to reduce the chance of infection in minor scrapes, cuts, and burns, may also be used to purify water, and its odor will dissipate rapidly. Our page top photo shows typical drugstore hydrogen peroxide topical solution sold for home use as a disinfectant for cuts and abrasions. This hydrogen peroxide solution is found at 3% concentration.
How much hydrogen peroxide to add to drinking water? We have not yet found an authoritative source that provides guidance on the concentration needed to disinfect drinking water. One of our readers spoke to a company that sells food grade 32 percent hydrogen peroxide. They recommend 1/8 of a cup per gallon but we do not know how they have determined this advice.
More on uses of hydrogen peroxide and warnings about this substance are provided just below.
According to Dr. Omar Amin, of the Tempe AZ Parasitology Center, who corresponded with one of our readers who asked him about using hydrogen peroxide as a drinking water disinfectant: "You can use hydrogen peroxide if you want to but we do not have a track record of percentage dilution". Dr. Amin has done research for the US military and for the CDC.
H2O2 has been combined with UV light to sterilize water quickly, and this substance is used in medical sterilization equipment.
H2O2 breaks down into water vapor and oxygen; if your H2O2 supply is quite old, it may have deteriorated and be ineffective for any use as a disinfectant, including in its intended application as a topical or skin/cut/abrasion disinfectant. In that case don't use it - it's ineffective.
For explanation of the types of contaminants found in water and how they are removed in residential water systems, see WATER TESTS, CONTAMINANTS, TREATMENT. See WATER TREATMENT EQUIPMENT CHOICES for details on other water treatment options. See Filters for Drinking Water Purification for a discussion of portable and emergency water filters that are designed to purify drinking water, including portable ceramic water filters, silver ceramic filters, magnetic (bogus) water purifiers, paper and polypropylene water filters, etc.
See DRINKING WATER PURIFICATION for a discussion of various methods used to purify emergency drinking water. A companion article, DRINKING WATER - EMERGENCY SOURCES,describes possible sources of drinking water that may be useful in emergency conditions.
Hydrogen peroxide vegetable soak
Some websites describe use of 35% food grade H2O2 but without citing authoritative sources. "Vegetable Soak: (CLOROX substitute): Add 1/4 cup of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide into a gallon of Cold Water. Soak light Vegetables (Lettuce, etc.) 20 minutes, thicker skinned Vegetables (like Cucumbers) for 30 minutes. Drain and dry, (they keep LONGER too). If time is a Problem, you can spray the Vegetables with straight 3% Hydrogen Peroxide, let stand for a couple of minutes, rinse and dry." But is this treatment effective for just for Ecoli or also for Giardia?
Cryptosporidium cysts might survive a typical chlorine disinfection process (such as at a municipal water treatment plant).
For this reason some municipalities where Cryptosporidium cysts are a concern add a water treatment step using chlorine dioxide. Others may use a combination of UV light and chlorine in the water treatment procedure. This treatment is also available to hikers, travelers, and for emergency water supply use.
Warning about Drinking Hydrogen Peroxide
In July, 2006, the FDA issued a warning about the high strength hydrogen peroxides, saying they could lead to serious health risks and even death. A warning from the BC Cancer Agency in Canada said that over a three year period 6 children were seriously poisoned and one died from drinking the high strength hydrogen peroxide. They report one near-fatal case of an adult ingesting high strength hydrogen peroxide. This article cites a 2003 entry in Journal of Food and Science on using Hydrogen peroxide to sterilize vegetables, referring to E.coli - NOT to Giardia.
We have not obtained information about the necessary concentration nor contact time when using vinegar for a vegetable disinfectant wash.
Other current disinfectants for drinking water include ozone, chlorine dioxide, iodine, mixed oxidants electrochemically generated from brine, and halogenated resins. Ozone has been successful but with high contact times.
Reader Comment: effectiveness of vinegar as a disinfectant for Giardia cysts in drinking water
I am the person who wrote about Dr. Amin not knowing the concentration of peroxide to kill Giardia Cysts.
I do use pure vinegar to sterilze vegetables as it is highly acidic and breaks down the cysts. You cannot add vinegar to water to sterilyze water. The dilution would not be strong enough but the pure vinegar works to soak hard eggies like onions, cucumbers, peppers, etc. I put them in a large bowl with vinegar, cover with a plastic bowl lid that is smaller than the bowl so that I can put some weight on it and weigh it down and I soak the veggies for 25 minutes. Then I remove the veggies and wash off the vinegar with sterile water.
I battle an immune disorder, called "CVID" and this method has worked for me and over the 20 years that I have been doing this, I have never reinfected with Giardia or any other parasite. I keep the vinegar standing in the bowl, covered with the right sized cover when not in use. and I use it a number of times before replenishing it.
I am the same person who had spoken to Dr. Amin about this. You may contact him yourself to verify the information. - G.B. 5/24/2013
Reply: Giardiacidal activity of lemon juice, vinifer & vinegar on viable Giardia intestinalis cysts
We are obligated to stick to information and disinfection solutions supported by authoritative, expert, unbiased research from appropriate experts. Consumer experience is important to factor into such information but cannot substitute for it. In this case thanks to G.B. we can cite two articles offering details that may not have been available when Dr. Amin offered the opinion described above:
The effectiveness of vinegar as a disinfectant has been widely studied. One thing experts cite is the importance of temperature in the disinfection procedure (see my second citataion below).
A second useful citation on the effectiveness of vinegar as a disinfectant that can treat giardia is:
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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Technical Reviewers & References
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