Do you use hazardous household products safely?

September 03, 2010|By LYNN LITTLE

Do you have these products in your home? Bleach, rat poison, mothballs, charcoal lighter fluid, oven cleaner, batteries, mercury thermometers, gas, oil, wood polish, shoe polish, bug spray, toilet and drain cleaners?

Household products are called hazardous if they can harm people when not used in the right way. Not every product is hazardous and some are more dangerous than others.

You can use most products safely if you follow the directions on the label. Doing things that are not on the label is risky for your health and your family's. People run into trouble by using too much of a product, or by mixing two products together.

Use hazardous household products safely by doing the following:

Read the label. That is one of the most important steps in using products.

Look for words like caution, warning, flammable, harmful, danger, poison. These tell you that a product may be hazardous. If you see these words on a label, take extra care.


Look for special instructions on the label such as: "Work in well ventilated area." This means work outside or with the windows open. The fumes can make you sick if you do not have enough fresh air.

"Wear protective clothing." This means wear goggles or safety glasses, gloves, long sleeves or other coverings. The right clothing can prevent burns or keep chemicals from going into your body through the skin.

Never mix products unless the label says it is safe to do so. For example, never mix products containing chlorine bleach with products containing ammonia. You will make a deadly gas by mixing these together.

Keep children and pets away from the area while you use hazardous products.

Always put the cap back on and put away the product right after you finish using it.

Never leave the product or container where children can see it or reach it.

Don't eat, drink, or smoke when using hazardous products.

Can you reduce the hazardous household products you use in your home? Do you buy only what you need, so you don't have extras?

Prevent or reduce pest problems so you don't need chemicals to kill them. Wash dishes and wipe counters often. Keep the garbage area tidy.

If you're pregnant, don't use hazardous products if something else will do the job.

Think about using tools or products known to be safe: Use a plunger to unclog sinks instead of chemicals. Clean with baking soda (for scrubbing) or vinegar (for cutting grease). Visit The Soap and Detergent Association's website at for more information on hazardous household products.

Children can be poisoned if products are not stored safely. Children's bodies are small, so even a little bit of some chemicals can cause big problems.

Eating or drinking a hazardous product is dangerous. Also, just touching or breathing some products, even a very small amount of them, can be harmful. They can burn your skin or eyes just by touching them. Some hazardous products can make you sick if they get into your body through your skin or when you breathe in their dust or fumes.

Sometimes you know right away if you or your child has come into contact with a hazardous product. You might feel sick to your stomach or dizzy. Your skin might itch or burn. Your eyes may water or hurt.

Other problems don't show up until later, such as cancer or damage to your lungs. Also, coming into contact with chemicals can affect a child's growing body.

You can protect your children and yourself from illness and injury. Use hazardous products safely and consider using alternatives. Store them carefully. Dispose of them properly.

In case of an emergency you can reach your local Poison Control Center by calling 800-222-1222 from anywhere in the country. Put this number next to all of your telephones and where you store your hazardous products.

For more information visit:

The Consumer Products Safety Commission

Environmental Protection Agency

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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