Safe Home, Healthy Home
Products—Should You Be Concerned?
We are exposed to harmful
chemicals in many ways—including from the products we use to clean our
homes or maintain our gardens. Advertising for cleaners, detergents, polishes,
pesticides, and other products tells us they are fast, easy, and effective.
But how safe are they? Only a small portion of the more than 80,000 chemicals
registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been
thoroughly tested for human health concerns. Many common chemicals found
in our homes can have immediate toxic effects on adults, children, and
pets if not used properly. Others may have long-term health effects after
repeated exposure. Particles from detergents, cosmetics, pesticides, and
other chemicals are found in the dust in our homes, potentially contributing
We can make our homes safer
by changing our purchasing habits, adopting some minor changes to the way
we clean our homes or care for our lawns and gardens, and through proper
storage, use, and disposal of household chemicals.
Purchase and Use
of Chemical Products
When considering a chemical
product, ask yourself if something else you already have will do the job.
There are a wide variety of nontoxic or low-toxic products available.
Common household items such as baking soda, vinegar, and plant-based soaps
and detergents can often clean just as well as specialty cleaners.
Consider multi-purpose cleaners.
Having one multi-purpose cleaner reduces the need to buy and store other
Buy only what is needed.
special clean-ups, such as oven cleaning, or for painting and similar jobs
around the house, carefully estimate the amount of product you need to
complete the particular job and buy only that much. Avoid “super” sizes
or bundled products. The risk of storing unused hazardous products is not
worth the money you might save by buying a larger quantity.
Avoid aerosol sprays.
Aerosols contribute to indoor air pollution, and pose disposal issues when
empty. The containers can also explode when exposed to heat or fire. Most
products are available with pump sprays, or come in solid or gel alternatives.
Dispose of empty aerosol cans in the garbage, NOT in a recycling bin. Aerosol
cans containing hazardous materials, such as paint or pesticides, should
be taken to a hazardous waste collection event. Contact the District at
(413) 772-2438 or check the District’s website at www.franklincountywastedistrict.org
for the next collection event.
Choose water-based products.
Water-based latex paint, glue, shoe polish, and similar products are safer
and less toxic than petroleum-based products.
Look for plant-based products.
Products made from citrus, seed, vegetable, or pine oils are typically
biodegradable, less toxic, and made from renewable resources instead of
Avoid chemical scents.
Fragrance chemicals in air fresheners, detergents, fabric softeners, perfumes,
and personal care products can be harmful to your health and the environment.
Natural air fresheners made with citrus are available. Look for cleaning
and personal care products that are “unscented,” “fragrance-free,” or made
with nonpetroleum-based, natural scents.
A quick look at a product’s
label will help you find the safest product that will do the job. Labels
Words such as “caution” or “danger”
indicate that the product contains harmful ingredients. Choose the least
hazardous product—avoid products labeled “danger” or “poison.”
The level and type of hazard
associated with a product.
How to use a product safely
How to store a product safely.
labels are different. On pesticide labels:
Caution or warning: moderately
or slightly toxic.
Danger: extremely flammable,
corrosive, or highly toxic.
Poison: highly toxic
Other words on a
also indicate the toxicity of the product, such as “irritant to
and eyes,” “harmful if swallowed,” “vapor
harmful,” “flammable,” “corrosive,”
or “absorbed through the skin.” If a product does not give
a list of ingredients
or contain adequate instructions for its safe use, choose another
The term “non-toxic” is an advertising term and is not
defined by the federal
government. It can be used on products with hazardous ingredients.
Warning means that the
product is moderately toxic. This means that one teaspoon to one ounce
can kill an average size person.
Caution means that the
product is slightly toxic. It would take more than one ounce to kill an
Not following label instructions
is risky for your health, your family’s health, and the environment.
Always use the recommended amount.
Using more of a product does not mean a better job will result, and it
may be dangerous!
Wear gloves when using any chemical
Wear additional protective clothing
(long sleeves, long pants, eye goggles, closed shoes, hats, and respirator
or dust mask) as recommended on the product label. This is especially important
when using harsh chemicals, such as bleach, drain cleaners, and oven cleaners,
or if spraying products.
Touching and breathing some
products—even small amounts—can be harmful.
Don’t wear soft contact lenses
when working with pesticides and solvents, as they can absorb chemicals
and potentially cause the chemicals to enter your eyes.
Always put the product away
immediately after you finish using it.
Product labels may not be specific
about safety equipment use or indicate how much ventilation is adequate.
If concerned about additional safety requirements, call the manufacturer
and request a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or look up the product
at www.householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov. Basic first aid instructions may
be found on product labels, including antidotes in case of accidental poisoning.
However, especially with older products, many of the antidotes are not
in keeping with current medical recommendations.
Open several windows and position
a fan between your work area and an open door or window, with the fan pointed
outward to pull fumes away from the work area.
Take plenty of fresh-air breaks.
Don’t eat, drink, or smoke while
using hazardous products. Remove or cover food, cooking and eating utensils,
and pet dishes when using chemicals.
Keep the container tightly covered
when it’s not being used to avoid fumes and spills.
the environment: Apply the product only as directed
Warnings of environmental
hazards, particularly on pesticides, are important. Applying a product
where it could run into ponds, creeks, or other water supplies can contaminate
drinking water and kill pets, fish, and other wildlife.
not mix products
Never mix products unless
the labels say it is safe to do so. Don’t mix different brands of one type
of product (e.g., different brands of drain openers). Dangerous reactions
can occur when some materials are mixed. Never mix chlorine bleach with
ammonia or other cleaning products, as dangerous and deadly fumes will
children and pets away
Children and pets are more
susceptible to fumes that may be present in chemical products. Also, accidents
can happen quickly! Never leave a product or container where children can
see it or reach it. Do not leave cleaning buckets containing even small
amounts of liquid unattended. Keep household products in containers with
child resistant caps. If pregnant, avoid exposure to toxic chemicals, as
many have not been tested for their effect on the human fetus. For more
poison prevention information visit the American Association of Poison
Be ready for an accident.
Post the Poison Control Center telephone number, 1-800-222-1222, by your
telephone. For TTY/TDD call 1-888-244-5313. For medical emergencies and
large toxic spills call 911 or your fire department.
Store all chemical products
in their original containers with the labels intact. If a label comes off
or can no longer be read, make a new label with a permanent marker.
Follow label directions for
Always store hazardous products,
including detergents and bleach, out of reach of children and animals,
preferably in a locked cabinet or on a high shelf.
Never store hazardous products
in the same area as food.
Store away from heat, flames,
or sparks. Prevent products from freezing.
Batteries and flammable chemicals
should be stored away from direct sunlight.
Keep products away from your
well, cistern, or water pump.
Pesticides, flammable products,
and pool chemicals should be kept in a well- ventilated area away from
your home. Do not store them together.
Know where flammable materials
are stored in your home. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby and know how to
extinguish a fire in the event of an emergency.
If a product label tells you
to mix a product in another container, use all of the mixture. If you can’t
use it all, label the new container. If mixing your own homemade cleaners,
be sure to follow safety precautions as well.
Make sure chemical containers
are properly sealed so that they won’t leak or spill. If a container is
leaking, secure it in a secondary leak-proof container. Label the outside
of the secondary container. Never store hazardous products in food or beverage
containers. Keep containers dry to prevent rusting.
Store rags used with flammable
products, such as furniture stripper and paint remover, in a well-sealed
and marked noncombustible container (such as a metal container with a lid).
When ready for disposal, keep the rags in a noncombustible container and
discard in the trash. If the rags are sufficiently soaked that they drip,
they should be kept in the container, stored in a safe location away from
heat, and disposed as hazardous waste.
away usable product
If you have large amounts
of usable product, such as cans of oil-based paint in a color that you
no longer need, try to donate it to a responsible neighbor who can use
it or to a local non-profit group such as a theater group or school drama club.
Franklin County Solid Waste Management
50 Miles Street
Greenfield, MA 01301
Tel: (413) 772-2438
MA Relay for the hearing impaired:
711 or 1-800-439-2370 (TTY/TDD)
Fax: (413) 772-3786
Staff email addresses
This website is made possible through
a grant from the
USDA Rural Utilities Service.
FCSWMD is an equal opportunity provider.
Opportunity Disclosure Statement.