Why does hydrogen peroxide bubble up when you put it on your owie?


Why is it when you put hydrogen peroxide in your mouth it is bubbly?

Catalysts in your blood called peroxidases and catalases break down hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen.

Hydrogen peroxide is H2O2. You can see that this is water (H2O) with an extra oxygen atom attached.

Catalase is an enzyme (a protein the body makes that speeds up chemical reactions). It is very effective at speeding up the natural breakdown of hydrogen peroxide into oxygen and water. In each second, a molecule of catalase can break down 40 million molecules of hydrogen peroxide.

Your cells produce hydrogen peroxide as an undesirable side effect of breathing oxygen. Hydrogen peroxide is dangerous to cells, so they produce catalase to quickly break it down and escape damage.

When you have damaged your skin, the cells that produce catalase are exposed. When you add hydrogen peroxide, the catalase in the cells breaks it down, and bubbles of oxygen form.

We use hydrogen peroxide to damage germs that might find their way into the damaged skin. We use lots of hydrogen peroxide, so the catalase can’t keep up, and the bacteria get damaged. Some skin cells also get damaged, which is why the peroxide stings a little, and peroxide is no longer recommended as a disinfectant for wounds now that better alternatives are available.

Other organisms also breathe oxygen, and so they need their own catalase enzymes. You can see them in action if you add some dried yeast to a cup of hydrogen peroxide. The peroxide starts to bubble vigorously as the oxygen is produced.

If you light a toothpick and then blow out the flame, you can insert the glowing coal into the oxygen and it will burst into flame again.