What Are Your Household Cleaning Labels Telling You?

Danielle Farias
October 13, 2021

Everyone uses hazardous chemicals in the home. These include products such as household cleaners, paints and solvents, pesticides, automotive products, hobby supplies, and batteries. Household hazardous products represent a small percentage of the waste stream. However, they are of concern to health officials and solid waste planners because, even in small amounts, they can be harmful to people and the environment. Products, such as pesticides and drain and oven cleaners, can cause poisoning or respiratory problems, or burn the skin or eyes. It's also been noted that long-term use of items, such as paint strippers, adhesives, spot removers and waxes may cause cancer, nerve damage or reproductive failures.

Product labels can provide clues to the hazard of the product. They may not say "hazardous," but other words mean the same thing: "flammable," "corrosive," "reactive," "explosive," "toxic," "poisonous," "volatile," "combustible" or "caustic." All of these products should be handled with care and attention given to the directions on the label for safe use. If the product is toxic to humans, it will carry one of the words, "DANGER," "WARNING" or "CAUTION."

These warnings pertain only to acute toxicity, not to long-term effects. Absence of a warning label does not mean a product is safe nor are all products required to list ingredients. Because a household may use several products with toxic contents at a given time, it is difficult to gauge the risk of combined exposure. Children and the elderly who spend concentrated periods of time indoors are at the highest risk. Since assessing risks can't be reasonably done by consumers, avoiding as many toxic products as possible is the best approach. Let's look at below for what common warnings on labels actually mean.

"DANGER" - Products with the warning label "DANGER" are highly toxic to humans. Most poisons fit into this category. Such products require substantial precautions in their use, and disposal of excess may be difficult. Fatal dose range: A taste to a teaspoon.

"WARNING" - Products with the warning label "WARNING" indicates moderate toxicity. Caustic cleaners are moderately toxic and have "WARNING" printed on their labels. Fatal dose range: A teaspoon to a tablespoon.

"CAUTION" - Products with the warning label "CAUTION" generally means low toxicity. For example, liquid laundry detergent is a low toxicity household product. Fatal dose range: An ounce to a pint.

The best way to prevent the hazards of chemicals in your home is to reduce or eliminate their use. For safer alternatives, check out www.EWG.org for recommendations. Or, while you're shopping utilize the ThinkDirty app where you can scan barcodes of products and it'll provide a health rating based on the ingredients.

Check out this list for safer alternatives organized by use: EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning | Top Green Cleaning Products

Hope you found this educational and useful in making your home a safer environment!

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