hydrogen peroxide, chemical compound, H2O2, a colorless, syrupy liquid that is a strong oxidizing agent and, in water solution, a weak acid. It is miscible with cold water and is soluble in alcohol and ether. Although pure hydrogen peroxide is fairly stable, it decomposes into water and oxygen when heated above about 80°C; it also decomposes in the presence of numerous catalysts, e.g., most metals, acids, or oxidizable organic materials. A small amount of stabilizer, usually acetanilide, is often added to it. Hydrogen peroxide has many uses. It is available for household use as a 3% (by weight) water solution; it is used as a mild bleaching agent and medicinally as an antiseptic. The 3% solution is sometimes called ten volume strength, since one volume of it releases ten volumes of oxygen when it decomposes. Hydrogen peroxide is available for commercial use in several concentrations. Highly concentrated solutions were first used in World War II by the military, e.g., in fuels for rockets and torpedoes. It is used as a bleaching agent for textiles, e.g., wool and silk, and in paper manufacture. It is also used in chemical manufacture. Hydrogen peroxide is prepared commercially by oxidation of alkylhydroanthraquinones and by electrolysis of ammonium bisulfate. It can also be prepared by reaction of barium peroxide with sulfuric acid and is prepared (with acetone) by oxidation of isopropanol. Hydrogen peroxide was discovered (1818) by L. J. Thenard.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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