Homeowner Guidelines for Using Pesticides

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The word "pesticides" includes many products, like:

  • herbicides to control weeds
  • fungicides to control certain types of plant diseases
  • insecticides to control insects
  • rodenticides to control rats, mice and other rodents
  • sanitizers for swimming pools and spas to control micro-organisms

Pesticides are made from both conventional (synthetic) and naturally occurring (biochemical) active ingredients. For example, the lawn care product 2,4-D is synthetic, while a pesticide with the active ingredient of acetic acid, like found in vinegar, is biochemical.

A homeowner, pet owner, farmer or golf course operator may use the same pesticide ingredients, but each product is designed specifically for an intended use. Health Canada assesses all of the ingredients, determines label directions for each product, and registers only those products that will not harm human health or the environment.

If you choose to use a pesticide in or around your home, you are responsible for its proper use. This includes being familiar with safe handling and application procedures, the precautions described on the label, and how to dispose of pesticides properly.

Following are general homeowner guidelines on the proper use, storage and disposal of pesticides.

The following will help you, as a homeowner, how to properly use, store and dispose of pesticides.

Managing and Controlling Common House and Garden Pests

It is up to you how much damage from a pest you will accept before trying to control it. However, before purchasing a pesticide, check on possible alternatives that may be available. Some pests may be controlled by using traps and physical barriers, or by sealing cracks and crevices that may allow pests to enter the home. You may also want to hire a pest control operator, who is licensed and familiar with alternative methods of pest control.

Some provinces and municipalities have placed restrictions on what pesticides you can use (referred to as 'cosmetic bans'), so check with your local authorities before buying or using them.

Do not buy a pesticide if the packaging is visibly damaged or seems to have been tampered with. Instead report it to the vendor. If you notice damaged or defective packaging after purchase, report this as an incident to the pesticide company listed on the label, or to Health Canada.

General Safety Precautions

  • Always read the label carefully. You must follow all safety precautions described on the product label to protect your health, the health of others and the environment.
  • Generally, pesticide application should only be done when there are no children, pregnant women, elderly persons, pets or animals present.
  • Never mix or combine different pesticides together unless the label instructions say to do so.
  • Use a pesticide only for its intended purpose, for example, never use a pesticide indoors when it is intended for outdoor use.
  • Do not apply pesticides directly to people, clothing or bedding, except when told to do so on the label (like when using personal insect repellents).

Pet Products

Do not treat pets with pesticides unless the pesticide says it is intended for use on pets. If you need to use a flea control product, be sure to use it only on the animal specified on the product label: dog products for dogs, cat products for cats. Apply only the amount stated for the size, weight or age of the animal being treated. Apply only as often as it says on the label.

Additional Safety Precautions

Pregnant women should follow the additional safety precaution of not entering a pesticide-treated area for 24 hours after the pesticide has been applied. Pregnant women may also be more sensitive to the strong odour of ingredients contained in some pesticides. The odour itself is not harmful and should go away if there is enough ventilation. This residual odour may be caused by trace amounts of sulphur-based compounds and solvents in the pesticide.

Children and pets should not be allowed to enter a pesticide-treated area until the applied product is dry, or as specifically directed on the label.

As with many natural and synthetic products, some pesticides may cause allergic reactions in some people. Information on known allergic reactions can be found on the product label. Persons prone to allergic reactions should stay out of the treated area for a period of 24 hours after application.

General Guidelines for Indoor Use of Pesticides

  • Cover or remove food, dishes and utensils from any area that is to be treated.
  • Cover or remove aquariums and pet food dishes.
  • Do not smoke, drink or eat while applying pesticides.
  • Do not rub your eyes or touch your mouth while working with pesticides.
  • After applying pesticides, wash your hands and face with hot soapy water.
  • Do not touch treated surfaces until the pesticide has dried completely (label directions will tell you the anticipated drying time).
  • To help the product dry, provide some air ventilation (for example, open your doors and windows for a few hours).
  • Wash all surfaces that normally come in direct contact with food with hot soapy water, like counters, tables and stove tops.

General Guidelines for Outdoor Use of Pesticides

  • When using a pesticide for the control of home garden pests, be sure to wait the directed amount of time for each garden crop before harvesting.
  • Never spray a pesticide outdoors if wind speed is more than 8 kph (5 mph), or if the air temperature is above 30°C (86°F), or if it is raining. Check your local weather forecast for up-to-date temperature, wind and precipitation information.
  • If noted on the pesticide label, post appropriate warning signs to notify neighbours so that children and pets may be kept away from the treated area.
  • Wear protective clothing as stated on the label, like rubber gloves, long-sleeved shirts, aprons or coveralls. Keep sleeves outside gloves and pants outside boots to prevent the pesticide from getting inside gloves or boots.
  • Use only the rate of application stated on the label. A higher rate may cause injury to plants, kill beneficial insects, and leave undesired residues on plants. On the other hand, a lower rate may not control the pest at all.
  • Do not smoke, drink or eat while applying pesticides.
  • Do not rub your eyes or touch your mouth while working with pesticides.
  • After applying pesticides, wash your hands and face with hot soapy water.
  • Thoroughly wash clothes used during application, separate from regular laundry.
  • Many residual pesticides can be removed from surfaces simply by washing with soap and water.

What's that Smell?

Residual odour from some insecticides or herbicides may be caused by trace amounts of ingredients, like sulphur-based compounds and solvent systems in the formulation. Although somewhat unpleasant, these odours are harmless.

Storage and Disposal

Follow these tips for storage:

  • Always store pesticides out of reach of children and pets, and away from food or water.
  • Store pesticides under lock and key. This will avoid confusing pesticide containers with other household products.
  • Always store pesticides in their original container.
  • Do not expose pesticides to extreme heat, cold or humidity.
  • Check the label for specific storage requirements, including expiry dates.
  • For more information on pesticide storage, consult your provincial pest control authority.

The best solution to the problem of pesticide disposal is good planning. It is important to buy only the amount needed for a specific problem. Here are a few suggestions on how to dispose of house and garden pesticides:

  • Never burn or pour pesticides down the drain.
  • Do not re-use empty pesticide containers.
  • Return extra unopened containers to the supplier.
  • For partially used pesticides, contact municipal officials for information on household hazardous waste disposal facilities.

In Case of Accidental Poisoning

  • If pesticide poisoning is suspected, contact a poison control centre or a doctor immediately.
  • Follow the first aid statements on the label, if applicable.
  • Bring the pesticide container or the label to the emergency facility or doctor. This may save time for diagnosis and treatment.
  • In case of accidental poisoning of pets, see a veterinarian right away.
  • Report the incident to the pesticide company listed on the label, or to Health Canada. Have the information for the specific product you used available when you call or write. Damaged or defective packaging should also be reported.

Government of Canada's Role

Before they can be imported, sold or used in Canada, all pesticides must be registered under the Pest Control Products Act (PCPA) and Regulations, administered by Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). The main goal is to prevent unacceptable risks to people and the environment from the use of pesticides. To accomplish this, Health Canada evaluates all pesticides before they are registered to ensure that they meet the latest health and safety standards, and that the pesticide works as claimed. The pesticide label specifies how to use the product safely and effectively.

All pesticides registered in Canada are subject to re-evaluation every 15 years, or sooner if warranted, to ensure that they meet Canada's stringent health and environmental protection standards.

More Information on the Health Canada Web Site

Consult the Pest Notes series for specific information on managing and controlling common household and garden pests.

See important information on Homemade Pesticides for the risks of making or using some homemade pesticides.

For more information on a variety of issues related to pesticide use in and around the home or garden, see the Proper Use of Pesticides section of the Health Canada Web site.

For more information on starting and maintaining a healthy lawn, see the Healthy Lawns section of the Health Canada Web site.

For more information on reporting pesticide incidents, see the Reporting Pesticide Incidents information note.

For more information on the regulation of pesticides in Canada, see the fact sheet The Regulation of Pesticides in Canada, and the information note Cosmetic Bans and the Roles of the Three Levels of Government.

You can also call the Pest Management Information Service at 1-800-267-6315 (toll free in Canada).

For articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health section of the Health Canada Web site. You can also call us toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-465-7735.

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