Did you know that there are differences in what the words "danger," "caution," "poison" and "warning" mean when they're printed on a consumer product? It's true. It's not up to the manufacturer to choose which word best goes with the design on the product label. Instead, it's the type of harm it can bring to the hapless user that determines which warning term is used on a product.

"Poison," for example, is the classification that refers to the highest level of danger. It describes a product that can be deadly when inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin. "Flammable" describes a product that's, well, flammable. Other words describe products that can explode or cause mental retardation, respiratory and renal failure, chemically burned skin and so on.

Now that your eyes are open, take a few moments to look around your house, your garage and your basement. Chances are, you'll be startled to find that your house is filled with an array of deadly chemicals and that there are only plastic bottles and metal containers standing between you and severe injury. These products, referred to collectively as household hazardous waste (HHW), can indeed cause injury or even death. Fortunately, in addition to words of warning, manufacturers must also include directions on how to safely use their products.

All of this is to say that when you see a caution word like "Danger" or "Poison" -- no matter how many times you've used a product before -- it's a good idea to read the directions.

A good rule of thumb is to prevent hazardous waste from entering your home. Look for less dangerous alternative products and if that's not possible, be aware of the harm a product can bring when misused. Let's take a look around your house to find what types of products make up HHW.