Tuesday, 24 December 2013

By on December 24th, 2013 in Barbara

14:53 – Barbara has started her annual Deep Clean. She spent most of the morning in my office, and has declared herself satisfied with all but my main desk, which I haven’t even started on. Actually, I still have some work to do on my secondary (microscope) desk as well. My workroom is a disaster area, but I had to get my office organized and cleaned up first so that I’d have somewhere to use as a staging area while I cleaned up the workroom.

While I was cleaning off the microscope desk, it occurred to me that I probably still had everything there that I’d used to shoot the cover image for Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments. Sure enough, I did. Not just the microscope itself, but the slides, coverslips, 96-well plate, 20-microliter minipipette, tubes, rack, and so on. And the bottles of 3% hydrogen peroxide and 70% isopropanol. Well, not the original bottles, but ones just like them.

And it occurred to me that we never mentioned in the book what that bottle of hydrogen peroxide was for. Drugstore (3%) hydrogen peroxide is death on microorganisms. Not just bacteria, but fungi, protists, viruses, many spores, and even prions. Of course, there are many other solutions that are good at killing microorganisms. The nice things about 3% hydrogen peroxide are that it presents no serious handling hazards and that it’s fugitive. That is, it quickly breaks down into ordinary water and oxygen gas, leaving no residue that might kill organisms that you’re trying to culture. It’s not as effective as autoclaving, but nearly so, and it can be used to sterilize materials that can’t be autoclaved. For those reasons, 30% hydrogen peroxide is commonly used as a stock solution to prepare dilute solutions to sterlize commercial food preparation equipment, which means it’s cheap and readily available locally.

5 Comments and discussion on "Tuesday, 24 December 2013"

  1. jim` says:


    I attach a spray pump apparatus to an el cheapo bottle of H2O2 for just such a purpose.
    It’s available as a 1 liter bottle, in packs of 2 IIRC, at Wally-World for a couple dollars.


  2. ech says:

    Food prep equipment is sanitized, not sterilized, by chemical means. I used iodophor, an iodine based sanitizer, on my beer equipment. I don’t think that H2O2 will sterilize to medical standards. My dad washed his instruments, then used an autoclave for sterilization at his podiatry practice.

  3. SteveF says:

    it quickly breaks down into ordinary water and oxygen gas

    But… but… water is a greenhouse gas and oxygen is used by that enemy of all nature, mankind. Why do you hate Gaia, you monster?

  4. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    There’s actually a large literature on hydrogen peroxide in both liquid and vapor form for sanitation and, yes, sterilization. Obviously, concentration, temperature, and contact time have a major effect, but even the 3% stuff can achieve log-5 or better reductions pretty quickly. Compare that to hand sanitizers, which typically claim log-3 reductions.

  5. Robert (Bob)Philips says:

    Gaia – (Greek mythology) goddess of the earth and mother of Cronus and the Titans in ancient mythology
    Gaea, Ge

    Greek mythology – the mythology of the ancient Greeks

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