Each year, millions of people are accidentally poisoned.1 Simple items you find in any home can turn into deadly toxins when not handled properly.
44% of poisonings involved children younger than six, who tend to be at greater risk of swallowing household cleaners and other products because they are curious and like to put substances in their mouths.2 Other poisoning victims include older adults taking several medications. They may become forgetful and mistakenly take too much or the wrong kind of medication. 65% of poison exposures were safely managed over the phone and did not need medical treatment in a health care facility.3
Here’s how to poison-proof your home. Follow these guidelines for optimal safety.
1) Carefully store medicines.
Medicine can often pose a very serious poisoning threat, especially in homes with young children. Those colorful tablets, liquids and capsules can resemble candy.
- Keep medicines—even-over-the counter remedies—under close supervision and completely out of reach of children and pets.
- Make sure all medications stay in their original containers with labels and directions visible. Even adults can accidentally take the wrong thing or too much.
2) Be careful with sprays.
Pesticides, insect repellents, spray paints, weed killers and products used to kill mold and mildew are necessary, but caution must be exercised when storing them. The spraying mechanism can also be a hazard for little children who don’t know how to point them and can accidently spray themselves and each other in the face.
- Choose a high shelf or lockable cabinet to store such items. Be sure to keep them in their original containers and make sure labels are legible.
- If containers become corroded or damaged, dispose of them immediately and in the correct manner. Your local waste management services should be able to instruct you on how to do this.
3) Keep control over household cleaners.
Once again, chemicals such as furniture polish, ammonia, laundry bleach and others are necessities in every household. But, they can cause any number of exposure and poisoning mishaps if mishandled.
- Keep cleaners up high where children can’t reach them. Use child safety closures on cabinets where you store them.
- Never put household cleaners into unmarked bottles, cans or food containers, such as plastic Tupperware types of containers. Children may confuse the contents for food.
- Don’t mix cleaning fluids of any kind. Doing so can cause poisonous vapors that can overcome even an adult.
- Supervise children if they are using cleaning products. Make sure they use adequate protection, such as rubber gloves, and always make them wash their hands after cleaning. That’s good advice for parents, too!
4) Avoid ant and roach baits and rodent pellets.
Children and pets don’t recognize the threats that these pose. These little items are often on floors behind furniture-hidden areas—and can look like toys. Also, children often instinctively put things in their mouths to try to understand what they are.
- Don’t leave these hazards where children and pets can reach them. If pests are a persistent problem, it may be better to retain the services of a professional extermination service that can use pesticides that don’t pose any poisoning threat.
- If these traps are your only option, place roach and rodent baits in areas where children can’t touch them. If possible, place rodent bait in a tamper-resistant bait station.
- If you have older children in the house, instruct them never to touch ant and roach baits or rodent pellets.
5) Know the best way to keep paint.
Storing paint is a great idea. You can always use it to touch-up scuffs and dings as needed. But, if you intend to keep paint around the house, you need to know how to do it safely.
- Make sure lids are tightly secured and that you have left a dab of the paint color on the lid or label. You can even label each can with the room in which the paint was used. This will make it easier to find the color you need.
- Keep paint in a cool, dark place, like a basement or garage.
- Label each can with a date. Latex or water-based paint expires after about 10 years. Oil-based paint can last up to 15 years.
- If the paint is expired or has gone rancid or separated, dispose of it. Call your local waster management service to get specific instructions for doing this safely.
- To dispose of latex paint without taking it to a recycling center, add equal parts cat litter to latex paint in the can. Stir the cat litter into the paint until it thickens and will not spill. Allow the mixture to sit for one hour. Throw the dried paint in the can in the garbage with the lid removed.
6) Live in harmony with nature and animals.
Some of the most unexpected poisoning incidents occur as a result of exposure to living things that occur naturally around your home—plants and animals.
- If you are new to an area, learn as much as you can about the local flora and fauna. Know which plants are poisonous to humans and animals, and remove them if possible.
- If removal is not possible, teach children to avoid these hazards. Tell them not to eat mushrooms and berries or to put any flowers or leaves in their mouths.
- Do not leave pets unattended around toxic plants.
- Know which snakes and insects are poisonous, and teach the entire family to be wary of these.
- Be vigilant about poisonous insects and snakes. Clean out dark or damp areas where these creatures can hide. Remove plants that attract certain animals and insects.
7) Be aware of invisible vapors.
Each year, people die from inhaling vapors and gases accidentally. Because some of these have no smell or can overcome adults quickly, they represent a serious household poisoning hazard.
- Never leave your car running in a closed garage. The fumes can render adults, children and pets unconscious, leading to death.
- Invest in a carbon monoxide detector. This gas can leak from gas stoves, heaters and refrigerators or via poorly ventilated gas appliances.
- Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors.
- Make sure your chimney is completely clear and clean before you light a fire.
- Never, ever burn charcoal in your house.
If you think that someone in your household has been poisoned, retain the substance that they have ingested and the container it came in. Immediately contact The National Poison Control Center.4 They will connect you to the poison control center closest to your location.
The National Poison Control Center phone number in the U.S. is 1-800-222-1222.