Is it possible to oxidize ethanol to acetic acid with hydrogen peroxide and if yes then under what circumstances? I tried it in room temperature but either concentration was too small (of hydrogen peroxide(3%)) or I couldn't quite precisely read the the results of the universal indicator. I also tried heating it up, but it didn't change anything. The color stayed the same (of indicator). Can someone please explain me if the mistake was in my experiment (if the reaction can happen in room temperature) or the reaction needs some specific catalyst or other conditions. The reaction would be:

\begin{align} \ce{\underset{(ethanol)}{C2H6O} + H2O2 &-> \underset{(aldehyde)}{C2H4O} + 2H2O}\\ \ce{\underset{(aldehyde)}{C2H4O} + H2O2 &-> \underset{(acetic acid)}{C2H4O2} + H2O} \end{align}

Or the reaction without the middle part (since aldehyde will try to oxidize faster then ethanol) would be:

$$\ce{C2H6O + 2H2O2 -> C2H4O2 + 3H2O}$$

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ What are you trying to oxidize it to? Ethanal? Acetic acid? Carbon dioxide? $\endgroup$
    – Zhe
    Apr 19, 2017 at 19:05
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Oxidizing ethanol to acetic acid with H2O2 is pretty much like throwing a lump of bubble-gum from the roof of a building in the hope that it would stick to the wall at the height of 3rd floor, no more, no less. With great chances, it would either stick at some other height, or fall all the way down to the ground. $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2017 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, that doesn't seem good idea. At very least you'd need much more concentrated and probably acidified solution. $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Apr 19, 2017 at 22:19

2 Answers 2


First things first: Don't mess with higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide unless you are a trained and well-equipped chemist. We're talking "steel-reinforced gauntlets" here. This chemical is as volatile as nitroglycerine.

At 3% you have mostly de-ionized water and for good reason. Hydrogen peroxide is extremely, violently unstable, and is just as likely to oxidize anything else than what you actually intend to react it with.

Anything above a concentration of 30% is very dangerous. Above 60% is suicidal in ill-equipped scenarios. 100% is a hypothetical, and is in essence a potential component of rocket fuel.

So, yes it will work. You may lose a hand, but it will work.


Listerine Total Care Stain Remover AntiCavity Mouthwash contains 21% ethanol (from the label) and hydrogen peroxide (lower down on the ingredients list; I would hazard a guess of about 0.75 - 1.0% from the amount of foaming in use).

The product is stable for months - perhaps years. My bottle is way past its expiration, yet still foamable. Although the concentrations are not extreme, the long term stability suggests that H2O2 doesn't react significantly with ethanol, at least not at these concentrations.

Higher concentrations are more reactive: On 16 July 1934, in Kummersdorf, Germany, a tank containing a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and ethanol exploded during a test, killing three people.

Fenton's Reagent, which is hydrogen peroxide with a catalytic amount of ferrous sulfate, is used to oxidize waste water containing organic compounds, but as indicated in a comment above, getting it to stop at acetic acid may be tricky.


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