What Are Peroxide Antiseptics? - Definition, Types & Uses

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  • 0:08 Vitamin C Protection…
  • 0:47 Hydrogen Peroxide
  • 3:54 Peracetic Acid
  • 6:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

We will discuss chemical substances known as peroxides. You'll learn about hydrogen peroxide and peracetic acid as well as the way by which they kill microbes and whether or not they are used as a sterilant, disinfectant, or antiseptic.

Vitamin C Protection for Microbes

Around wintertime, you probably stock up on some vitamin C. The reason is likely because, thanks to a scientist called Linus Pauling, you believe that taking plenty of vitamin C will somehow prevent infection or onset of disease.

While that may not necessarily be the case, taking vitamin C does have its benefits - namely, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, which is something that microbes wish they could take as supplement to combat the killing effects of the substances we are going to cover in this lesson.

Hydrogen Peroxide

The two substances we're going to talk about in a little bit are both known as peroxides. A peroxide is a chemical compound that contains two oxygen atoms linked by a covalent bond. A covalent bond is like a really strong handshake between two atoms - in this case, oxygen atoms, which link them together.

The most famous peroxide that many have heard of is known as hydrogen peroxide, which is a chemical than can be used as an antiseptic or a sterilant. This means that it can be used to clean living tissue such as skin from most living organisms or can be used to kill off all living microbes on inanimate objects.

Depending on its concentration and mixture with other chemical compounds, hydrogen peroxide can kill bacteria, viruses, fungi, and even hardy bacterial spores. The way it is able to kill so many different microbes is by generating something known as 'free radicals.' Free radicals are extremely dangerous particles that react with anything in their path.

I sometimes liken the free radicals to an extremely dangerous little bullet that can destroy any substance. In reality, one type of bullet may be able to annihilate flesh, but not armor, and others can destroy both, but not boulders, and so forth.

Well, free radicals are like a magic bullet - they can damage everything and anything. This includes a microbe's cell membrane or nucleic acids, such as DNA or RNA. If these structures are bombarded with enough free radicals, they will be demolished, which will lead to the death of the microbe.

This is why these microbes would love to pop a vitamin C pill or drink some orange juice that contains vitamin C. That's because vitamin C is an antioxidant and is able to essentially absorb free radicals like a force shield would absorb and stop our magical bullet in order to protect the structures that make up a microbe.

The great thing about hydrogen peroxide is its versatility. It can be put on a table's surface and used as a disinfectant, or it can be put on a cotton swab and used as an antiseptic on a wound.

However, this latter point is still controversial and is best avoided unless absolutely necessary, as the free radicals generated by the hydrogen peroxide aren't picky - meaning they will attack and kill your own body's cells and may actually not do all that great a job of killing microbes in your wound, as some research has shown.

In any case, the final way hydrogen peroxide can be used in certain preparations is as a chemical sterilant for medical equipment.

Peracetic Acid

With that latest point in mind, another peroxide-based chemical sterilant is known as peracetic acid, which again is a chemical compound used as a sterilant for medical equipment.

The way by which peracetic acid works is very similar to how hydrogen peroxide kills off microbes. Because peracetic acid is considered to be a sterilant, something that kills all microbes on an inanimate object or surface, it should make sense that it can kill bacteria, viruses, fungi, and bacterial spores when used properly.

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