Hazardous Chemicals in the Home

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 thinners, and windshield washer fluids. These types of products can be dangerous and cause burns, fires, poisonings and explosions.

Household chemical products are among the top products responsible for injuries and deaths in children under the age of five years. Bad taste and odours often do not keep children away from household chemical products. Even a small amount of a chemical product can be harmful to a child.


Understanding Hazard Symbols

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

Hazard symbols have three parts:

  • the picture
  • the frame
  • the caution (signal) words underneath the image
  1. Hazard symbol pictures – The picture tells you the type of danger
    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.
    The product can burn your skin or eyes. If swallowed, it can damage your throat and stomach.
    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.
    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:

    • 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.
  4. Safety Tips

    1. Read the label before you buy or use a household chemical product.
      • Follow the instructions every time you use a household chemical. By law, the label must include instructions on how to use and store the product safely. It must also show warnings of potential hazards.
      • By law, household chemical products must have a bordered label on the back or side. Inside the border, you will find instructions for safe use and first aid treatment, and a list of harmful substances in the product.
      • 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.
      • Do not cover up or remove the labels from household chemical products.
    2. Use household chemical products carefully, especially around children.
      • Never mix household chemical products together. Some mixtures can produce harmful gases.
      • 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.
      • Post emergency phone numbers by your telephone and/or program the number into your phone.
      • Store household chemical products safely.
    3. Store all household chemical products in their original containers. Keep all safety information.
      • Keep all household chemical products safely stored where children cannot see or reach them.
      • Try not to store products that may release harmful fumes or catch fire inside your home. These items include paints, solvents, gasoline, fuels or varnishes. Store them according to the instructions on the product’s label in a separate building if you can, or in an area that is well vented to the outside.
    4. Dispose of leftover household chemical products safely.
      • Buy only the amount you need for the job so there is no waste.
      • Check your city or town’s guidelines for instructions on how to dispose of chemicals and other hazardous waste.
      • Never:
        • burn household chemical containers
        • pour the contents down the drain unless directed
        • inappropriately re-use empty containers
      • Things to make your home safer

        1. Inventory all products in your homeFamiliarize 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.
        2. Ventilate your home
          • Let fresh air in. Make sure you have enough fresh air coming into your home. The consumer publications on ventilation from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation are a good source of advice.
          • Use a fan. Exhaust fans that vent to the outside should be installed in bathrooms and above stoves to remove moisture and pollutants produced indoors. Make sure to turn them on when showering and cooking, especially if you are frying or boiling water.
          • Open windows. Open windows when using products that may release chemicals into the air, such as when you are painting, varnishing or installing new carpets.
          • Go low. Choose low-emission paints, varnishes, glues, wood furniture, and building products. Look for an independent certification label to help you select low-emission products (like the EcoLogo program that sets standards for sustainable products).
        3. Wash your hands often
          • Wash often. Washing your hands often helps to prevent infection and reduce exposure to harmful substances. This is especially important before every meal.
          • Clean thoroughly. To clean your hands thoroughly, scrub with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
          • Use sanitizer. When it’s not possible to wash with soap and water, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
        4. Keep your floors clean
          • Take your shoes off. The soil outside your home can contain substances you don’t want inside. Taking off your shoes at the door is one way to help keep harmful substances out.
          • Vacuum often. Vacuuming up dust and dirt is a good way to reduce your family’s exposure to health hazards like lead, mould, and dust mites.

        Click here to take a virtual house tour to check for hazards