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What Is a Peroxide Rinse?

By Megan Shoop
Updated May 17, 2024
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A hydrogen peroxide rinse has two basic definitions. The first is a rinse that dental patients use to soothe and disinfect wounds and sutures in their mouths. Some mixtures include distilled water and other ingredients to make the rinse taste better, or to improve its antiseptic powers. The second definition is a rinse that men and women use on their hair to make it lighter. This method is often used either to create bleached highlights or to turn hair completely blond without the use of commercial dyes. There are generally pros and cons to using both kinds of hydrogen peroxide rinse.

Many dentists recommend using a 3% hydrogen peroxide rinse instead of mouthwash because it is gentle and often cheaper than commercial mouthwashes. It also kills the germs in the mouth that cause gingivitis, bad breath, and cavities. When used in conjunction with an electric toothbrush, a hydrogen peroxide rinse can create whiter teeth. The hydrogen peroxide washes away germs that could cause plaque buildup, while the electric toothbrush removes tightly-packed bits of detritus from the teeth.

Those using a hydrogen peroxide rinse should swish about a capful of the liquid in their mouths before and after brushing daily. Most dentists strongly advise against keeping the peroxide in the mouth for longer than about a minute, and denigrate hydrogen peroxide whitening pastes completely. These things can dissolve tooth enamel, weakening the teeth and increasing one’s chances of developing exposed tooth nerves, cavities, and soft teeth that wear away very easily. People with sensitive teeth should ask a dentist before using hydrogen peroxide rinses.

Individuals who don’t like the flavor of peroxide may mix equal parts peroxide and distilled water with a few drops of extract to improve the flavor. Mint, orange, vanilla, and cinnamon are all popular. This may also be a gentle mouthwash for children, though parents should consult a dentist before trying this method. Hydrogen peroxide rinses should also never be swallowed as they could cause stomach upset and digestive issues.

The second kind of hydrogen peroxide rinse was frequently used on hair throughout the early 20th century. Women, especially, coated their hair with hydrogen peroxide and wrapped in a towel. After 15 minutes or so, the peroxide turned the hair very light blonde. Unfortunately, these rinses also tend to make hair rough, brittle, and dull-looking because the peroxide strips the hair strands of their protective cuticles. Those trying this method should follow it with a very deeply penetrating conditioner or hot oil treatment.

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