Guide for Handling Household Chemicals

Each year new environmental regulations are created around the world that effect the way industry creates the goods we consume. We expect industry to properly handle their hazardous materials and waste, yet have you ever stopped to think about how you use and dispose of hazardous materials around the home?

All of us have many products in our homes and garages that may be hazardous if used, stored or disposed of improperly. They may pose serious fire, health or environmental hazards. If they are used, stored and disposed of properly, however, they can be relatively safe.

Things to make your home safer

Inventory all products in your home

Familiarize yourself with each product, its location and purpose. More products are hazardous than you may think. Here are a few of the common ones:

  • Automotive fluids (oil, anti-freeze, fuel, brake fluid, windshield washer fluid, transmission fluid etc.)
  • Household cleaners (bleach, ammonia, disinfectants, carpet freshener, air freshener, window cleaner, furniture polish, etc).
  • Laundry products (laundry detergent, fabric softener, etc)
  • Health and beauty products (hairspray, hair remover, fingernail polish, fingernail polish remover, hair coloring products, medications, etc.).
  • Lawn and garden products (fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, gasoline, oil, etc.)
  • Barbecue products (propane, charcoal briquettes, lighter fluid, etc.)
  • Home maintenance (paint, varnish, stains, oils, mouse/rat poison, etc.)

Some of these products we wouldn't think of as hazardous because we use them on our bodies, however, if misused they can be dangerous. For instance most hairsprays and aerosols are highly flammable.

Read the product labels

Hazardous products must be handled with respect! Read labels and follow directions carefully. Words to look for:

  • Poison: can injure or kill if absorbed through the skin, injested or inhaled.
  • Toxic: can cause injury or death if swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin.
  • Irritant: causes soreness or swelling of skin, eyes, mucous membranes, or respiratory system.
  • Flammable: easily catches fire and tends to burn rapidly.
  • Flammable Liquid: has a flash point below 140°F (100°F for US DOT purposes).
  • Combustible Liquid: has a flash point from 140°F (100°F for US DOT purposes) to 200°F
  • Corrosive: a chemical or its vapors that can cause a material or living tissue to be destroyed.

Buy only what you need

Do not purchase more than is need for the job, you'll only have to contend with left over material. If you have an unneeded product that was recently purchased, well-stored, and well labelled, give it to a friend neighbor or community group that could use it.

Keep out of reach of children

Cleaners and other household chemicals can be very deadly and should be stored in cabinets that are out of reach of children. Lock the cabinets if necessary. Teach children about the dangers of chemicals. In addition keep emergency phone numbers right next to the phone or attached to the phone. These numbers should include Ambulance, Fire, Police, Poison Control (or equivalent if you don't live in the United States), and your personal doctor.

Don't store chemicals with food

Household chemicals should not be stored with food products as they could spill contaminating your food.

Don't store flammable liquids or gasses in the home.

Propane cylinders, gas cans, charcoal lighter and automotive fluids should not be stored in the house. Compressed gasses like propane should be stored outside or in sheds that are extremely well ventilated. Never store flammable liquids or gasses near sources of heat or ignition, and only store them in their original containers or containers approved for the flammable liquid or gas. In the United States these containers should approved by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

Keep chemicals in original containers

Household chemicals should not be transferred to different containers unless the container is properly labeled and compatible with the chemical. In addition chemicals should never be transferred to containers that originally contained food (such as soda bottles or milk jugs).


Many products are recyclable. Contact your recycling coordinator or local department of environmental services to find out what is being recycled in your community.

Use alternative products

Less hazardous products can be used for common household chores. For instance occasionally pouring baking soda and vinegar down your drains will keep them from clogging up.

Dispose of properly

Products should NEVER be discarded on the ground or poured into storm drains. Many products shouldn't even be disposed of in the trash or down the toilet. These products should be saved and taken to Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) collections. Contact your sanitation department, local or state department of environmental services for information on HHW collections in your area.

Post emergency contact telephone numbers

Post the emergency contact telephone numbers by your telephone and on your refrigerator. These numbers should include: your fire department, police, ambulance your personal doctor and if you live in the United States the Poison Control Center. In most areas of the United States (but not all) the emergency telephone number for fire, police and ambulance is 911. The Poison Control Center now has one central toll free number that can be used anywhere in the United States, it is: 1-800-222-1222. For more information on Poison Control Centers please visit the American Association of Poison Control Centers webpage.

Preferred handling options for common products
Product typePersonal SafetyOptions
U Use Up
S Save for HHW Collection

All hazardous products should be: kept out of reach of children & pets; used in well-ventilated areas only; and kept in original containers & labelled. Always thoroughly wash your hands after handling hazardous products.

Labels that can be printed and attached to products

Abrasive CleanerMay contain ammonia (see ammonia)U
AmmoniaDO NOT mix with bleach (poisonous gas)u
BleachDO NOT mix with ammonia or acids (poisonous gas)U
DisinfectantMay contain bleach (see bleach)U
Drain OpenerMay contain lye (corrosive)Us
Flea CollarAvoid skin contactuu
Furniture PolishKeep away from heat & flameuu
Household BatteriesBeware of leakage corrosiveuu
MothballsKeep away from children & pets (resembles candy)
Mouse & Rat PoisonKeep out of reach of children & petsUS
Furniture OilsDon't bury oily rags in a rag bucket, clothes hamper, etc. (may spontaneously combust if not allowed to air out)US
Oven CleanerMay contain lye (corrosive)US
Roach & Ant KillerKeep out of reach of children & PetsUS
Rug & Upholstery CleanerAvoid skin contactUS
Enamel or Oil-Based PaintKeep away from heat & flameURS
Latex or Water-Based PaintMay contain mercury (toxic)URS
Paint ThinnerAvoid skin contactUS
Paint & Varnish RemoverKeep away from heat & flameUS
Photographic ChemicalsUse exhaust hood and avoid skin contactUS
Stains & VarnishesKeep away from heat & flameUS
AntifreezeKeep away from children & pets (highly toxic and sweet taste)URS
Auto BatteryBeware of leakage; corrosiveURS
Used OilAvoid prolonged exposureRS
Transmission FluidAvoid prolonged exposureRS
Windshield Wiper FluidMay contain methanol (toxic)US
FertilizerKeep seperated from fuel oil, gasoline, etc.US
InsecticidesAvoid inhalation, skin contactUS
HerbicidesAvoid inhalation, skin contactUS

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