What are Household Hazardous Products?
Many of the products that people use to clean and maintain their homes, cars and hobbies can cause harm. The only way to know if something is hazardous and what steps are needed to protect yourself and your family is to carefully read labels.
The words Poison, Danger, Warning, or Caution on the product label tell you that the product is hazardous. Poison and Danger indicate the highest hazard levels:
- Poison means that a product is highly toxic, and can cause injury or death if ingested, breathed in, or absorbed through the skin.
- Danger means that a product is either highly toxic, flammable, or corrosive. Look for the word danger on cleaners, polishes, paint strippers and pesticides. Danger means the product could poison you, cause serious damage to your skin or eyes, or easily cause a fire.
- Warning and Caution both indicate that a product may be mild to moderately toxic, corrosive, reactive, or flammable.
Products that don't have any of the above words on the label are considered the least hazardous.
Hazards of Common Household Products
A product is hazardous if it has at least one of the following properties:
Toxic — Poisonous or causes long-term illness (such as cancer). Pesticides, paint thinners, many auto products and some cleaners are toxic. Look for words on the product label like:
- "Harmful or fatal if swallowed"
- "Use only in a well-ventilated area" (this means product fumes are toxic)
Flammable — Burns easily. Paint, thinners and other solvents, and auto products are the most flammable home products. Look for words on the product label like:
- "Do not use near heat or flame"
- "Do not smoke while using this product"
Corrosive — Eats through materials (acid, for example). Oven cleaners, drain cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, and auto batteries are common corrosive products. Look for words on the product label like:
- "Causes severe burns on contact"
- "Can burn eyes, skin, throat"
Reactive — Can catch fire or create poisonous gases when mixed with other products (NEVER mix household products). Can also explode when exposed to heat, air, water, or shock. Except for fireworks, there are few consumer products still on the market that are explosive. Some older explosive products might still be stored in homes.
|Warning or Caution|
What Can You Do?
Protect your health and the environment by selecting the least toxic products available. Use and store them carefully.
Use Safer Alternatives
- Resources for Choosing Safer Products:
Choose products with little or no scent. Perfumes and fragrances may be irritants for children and other sensitive people.
Avoid aerosols. Try pump sprayers or wipe-on formulas.
Paints and Solvents: Go Low
- Buy a pint or quart rather than a gallon when still deciding on paint colors.
- Use low odor, also called low-VOC latex paints. See Paint Smart.
- Re-use paint thinner.
- Look for paints and stains that are water-based (tip: they can be cleaned up with water).
If you can't find a non-toxic product to do the job:
- Buy only the amount you need.
- Read the label carefully and follow all safety instructions.
Batteries: Think Recharge
- Look for rechargeable batteries.
- Recycle old batteries. Non-alkaline batteries can be taken to HazoHouse for recycling. Please refer to the Where Do I Take My... website for locations of recyclers that will accept spent alkaline batteries.
- When you do need to use a hazardous product, read and follow the precautions on the label.
- Some products will produce greater harm if they are allowed to mix - for example, never mix ammonia and chlorine bleach.
- This may sound like obvious advice—but many people assume they know the product's precautions and have never really taken the time to read them through.
- Next time you are doing a project using a spray can, stain, glue, or cleaner notice cautionary statements, such as:
- Wear gloves
- Wear goggles
- Use with adequate ventilation or fresh air
- Wear a respirator
- Avoid contact with skin and eyes
- Do not expose to heat
- Keep out of reach of children
- These statements are there to protect your health, as required by the:
- Cautionary statements can only protect you and your family members (including future children) if you follow them!
Read the Label: Avoid products labeled DANGER or POISON
- Before You Buy — Read the safety precautions to see if you should be using this product at your home. Is it safe to use around children, pets, pregnant women, aquatic areas, etc.? If you know you won't be able to follow the warnings, cleanup, and disposal directions, look for another product!
- Check the signal word (caution, warning, or danger) before you buy. Buy and use the least hazardous product that does the job. Avoid products labeled DANGER or POISON which indicate the most harmful.
Check the ingredients
Store Hazardous Products Safely
- Unlike food products, manufacturers of household products are not required to list all the ingredients.
- Many products don't list ingredients in the "inert" category, yet your family may be sensitive to these chemicals.
- Store hazardous products in secure cupboards, out of danger of floods or spills.
- Place hazardous products in tubs or other leak-proof containers in case of accidental spills.
- Keep products in original containers with original labels.
- Don't store incompatible chemicals together—do not store acids, such as rust remover, with bases, such as toilet bowl cleaner.