There is a vast literature on the generation and effects of reactive oxygen species in biological systems, both in relation to damage they cause and their involvement in cell regulatory and signaling pathways. The biological chemistry of different oxidants is becoming well understood, but it is often unclear how this translates into cellular mechanisms where redox changes have been demonstrated. This review addresses this gap. It examines how target selectivity and antioxidant effectiveness vary for different oxidants. Kinetic considerations of reactivity are used to assess likely targets in cells and how reactions might be influenced by restricted diffusion and compartmentalization. It also highlights areas where greater understanding is required on the fate of oxidants generated by cellular NADPH oxidases and on the identification of oxidant sensors in cell signaling.