Use household chemicals safely

You probably use many household chemical products in and around your home and garage. These products may include cleaning liquids and powders, polishes, drain cleaners, paint and paint thinners, liquid laundry detergent packets and windshield washer fluids. These types of products can be dangerous and cause burns, fires, poisonings and explosions if not handled safely.

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Liquid laundry detergent packets are small and often brightly coloured, and can be attractive to children and to adults with cognitive impairment. They can be dangerous if ingested or if the contents are exposed to skin or eyes. Keep them safely stored out of sight and reach of children and adults with cognitive impairment.

Household chemical products are among the top products responsible for injuries and deaths in children under the age of 5 years.

What to do if someone is exposed

If someone has been in contact with a household chemical product and you think they may have been harmed:

  • Call a Poison Control Centre or your health care provider right away. You can find phone numbers for the Poison Control Centre nearest you by searching Poison Control Centre + (your province or territory) on the Internet.
  • Tell the person who answers the phone what the product label says. There should be first aid instructions surrounded by a border on the back or side of the product label.
  • Bring the product container with you when you go for help.
  • Report the incident to Health Canada

Safety tips

Buying

  • When you are buying a household chemical product, read the label to determine its ingredients and any special handling instructions.
  • Look for hazard symbols on the front of the product. If you don't already know what these symbols mean, learn them. If you follow the instructions, you could prevent an injury. You could even save a life.
  • Check to make sure products don't contain any chemical ingredients that you are sensitive or allergic to.
  • Read and follow directions on labels for cosmetics to ensure safe use.
  • If you are interested in learning more about the ingredients in a household chemical or cosmetic product, contact the retailer or manufacturer.
  • Check to make sure the product you're thinking of buying is not banned from sale in Canada or has been recalled. It may be banned because it contains high levels of a harmful chemical, or it includes an ingredient that is not allowed in this country.
  • Choose low-emission paints, varnishes, glues, wood furniture, and building products.

Using

  • Follow the instructions on the label every time you use a household chemical. The label must include instructions on how to use and store the product safely. It also shows hazard symbols and cautionary statements of potential hazards.
  • Never mix household chemical products together. Some mixtures can produce harmful gases.
  • Ensure proper ventilation by opening windows or doors and running exhaust fans, during and after using the product.
  • Check that child-resistant closures are in good working order.
  • Child-resistant does not mean child-proof. Close the cap on the container all the way even if you set it down for just a moment.
  • Teach children that hazard symbols mean Danger! Do not touch.
  • Program emergency numbers into your phone.

Storing

  • Store in original containers and according to instructions.
  • Keep all safety information.
  • Keep out of sight and out of reach of children and pets.
  • Store paints, solvents, gasoline, fuels, varnishes and other products that may release harmful fumes or catch fire outside of your home.
  • If possible, store products in a separate building that is not connected to your home's ventilation system.
  • Avoid storing chemical products in areas with fluctuating temperatures.
  • Regularly check containers for leaks or damage.

Disposing

  • Follow municipal guidelines on how to dispose of chemicals and other hazardous waste.
  • Dispose of prescription drugs safely
  • Never:
    • burn household chemicals and containers
    • pour the contents down the drain unless directed
    • re-use empty containers
  • Reduce waste by buying only what you need.

If you use a pesticide

Follow the above guidelines for the safe use, storage and disposal of household chemical products. Buy only as much pesticide as you need. Make sure that it is a product registered by Health Canada by finding the PCP (Pest Control Product Act) number on the label. See also: Homeowner Guidelines for Using Pesticides.

Understanding hazard symbols

Hazard symbols are on the labels of many household chemical products in and around your home and garage, like cooking spray, cleaning products, paint and paint thinners, drain cleaners and windshield washer fluid.

Hazard symbols have three parts:

  1. the picture
  2. the frame
  3. the caution (signal) words underneath the image

1. Hazard symbol pictures

The picture tells you the type of danger:

EXPLOSIVE
The container can explode if heated or punctured. Flying pieces of metal or plastic from the container can cause serious injury, especially to your eyes.

CORROSIVE
The product can burn your skin or eyes. If swallowed, it can damage your throat and stomach.

FLAMMABLE
The product or its fumes will catch fire easily if it is near heat, flames, or sparks. Rags used with this product may begin to burn on their own.

POISON
If you swallow, lick, or in some cases, breathe in the chemical, you could become very sick or die.

2. Hazard symbol frames

The shape of the frame around the hazard symbol tells you what part of the product is dangerous:

If it's a triangle, it means the container is dangerous.

If it's an octagon, it means the contents are dangerous.

3. Signal words

The signal word(s) underneath the hazard symbol explain the degree of risk:

Symbol -

Signal word - DANGER EXPLOSIVE

Signal words:

  • CAUTION means temporary injury may result. Death may occur with extreme exposure.
  • DANGER means may cause temporary or permanent injury, or death.
  • EXTREME DANGER means exposure to very low amounts may cause death or serious injury.
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