In a recent Mythbusters episode, where they tested some Breaking Bad chemistry assertions, they debunked the hydrofluoric acid body-dissolving myth referenced elsewhere in Chemistry.SE in the question "Is it actually possible to dispose of a body with hydrofluoric acid?".

The answer is no, not really, and for the same reasons as my answer to the linked question; fluorine's just too electronegative to let the proton go do its acid thing.

To attempt to replicate the results (in this case dissolving out the bottom of the bathtub they were using), they moved to a much stronger acid, sulfuric, and then "supercharged" it with what they simply called their "special sauce" (as they said, they're not in the business of showing people how to dispose of bodies). They gave it away in the end, however, by saying the special sauce was "basically a lot of hydrogen and oxygen", and since it wouldn't be water the obvious candidate is hydrogen peroxide, a strong oxidizer (in high concentrations at least).

This seems to be a well-known trick of household chemistry; add household peroxide to cream of tartar or lemon juice, for instance, and watch those rust stains come right out. It also seems to be the bracingly direct way to form perchlorates in the lab; add hydrogen peroxide to hydrochloric acid, and behold perchloric acid (or a fuming crater, if you weren't managing the exothermic nature of this reaction properly).

So, first question, what's the technical term for this trick? It can't just be "supercharging".

Second and related question, does it work for all acids and oxidizers, or do only certain combinations of acids and oxidizers have this effect?

Lastly, for purely academic purposes, what would the basic reaction have been between sulfuric acid, hydrogen peroxide and organic tissue ($\ce{HxCyOz}$)? The sulfate anion is pretty highly oxygenated as it is, so I'd imagine the combination, unlike with a hydrohalic acid forming an oxoacid, would cause the reaction to be less acid-base, and more rapid oxidation and "combustion" of the organic tissues, leaving behind mainly carbon in water and off-gassing a large amount of steam and sulfur dioxide.

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    $\begingroup$ Apparently the combination of $\ce {H2SO4}$ and $\ce {H2O2}$ is known as "Piranha Solution" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piranha_solution $\endgroup$
    – Tomcat
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 6:59
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @Snipergirl, that article has a lot of good info about the reactions involved. It looks like the primary mechanism of action is that the sulfuric acid strips an oxygen from the peroxide, becoming Caro's acid (peroxymonosulfuric acid), which has similar acidic, oxidizing and explosive properties as perchloric acid. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like pretty scary stuff I must say! I guess the technical term in that case for the trick is "oxidising" or "super oxidising"? $\endgroup$
    – Tomcat
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ Another term I found was "forced induction", but it seems to have been used in context of air-breathing combustion engines. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ Peroxysulphuric acid (which is what you get with sulphuric acida and hydrogen peroxide) is very good at destroying carbon-containing things (and many others). Chemists sometimes use it in labs to clean things like sintered-glass filters that have picked up too much carbon (e.g. from activated carbon based catalysts). It is one of the the few things that works well for certain insoluble contaminants. But it is really dangerous. $\endgroup$
    – matt_black
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 19:50

1 Answer 1


I don't know if it's called anything, but when you use an oxidizer in solution, you usually need a source of hydrogen ions for the oxidized oxygen to be reduced. In the case of hydrogen peroxide, $\ce{H2O2}$, the oxygen is in the $-1$ state rather than the normal $-2$. The usual way $\ce{H2O2}$ acts as an oxidizer is to be reduced to water in the presence of 2 hydrogen ions, usually from a strong acid:

$\ce{2H+ + 2e- + H2O2 -> 2H2O}$

Notice that the reaction consumes 2 electrons on the left, which would come from other reactants that have been oxidized (i.e. lost electrons).

The point is that a strong acid by itself has only a corrosive effect, and a highly dehydrating effect in the case of sulfuric acid. But if you add an oxidizer, then in the presence of a fuel (like an organic compound) plus sufficient energy (say from the heat of reaction), then you are effectively getting a combustion reaction as well. This is the sort of "combustion" that goes on inside your body to use food as fuel, for example. I supposed this could be called "supercharged".

EDIT: So to answer your specific questions:

1) No technical term that I know of;

2) Yes, assuming the acid is strong enough to donate protons;

3) In most organic molecules, carbon is more electronegative than hydrogen, so it can be oxidized by oxygen. And so you get a "combustion" reaction where molecular carbon is oxidized to elemental carbon (i.e. burnt).


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