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A Guide to Home Safety

How to Poison-Proof Your House

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Children can be poisoned by eating or drinking common household chemicals.

Many household products that we use every day pose a hidden danger: they may be poisonous. Learn which products are poisonous, how to prevent your loved ones from accidentally ingesting them, and steps to take in case a poisoning occurs.

Each year thousands of people die from accidental poisoning, many of them children. Children, especially those under five years of age, learn by exploring and investigating their world.


Unfortunately, what they see and reach for often ends up in their mouths. For example, when babies are in the crawling stage, they can find drain cleaners and dishwasher detergent under the sink. As soon as they become toddlers, they can grab furniture polish and medicines in purses on beds.

When they start to climb, they can drag a chair over to a tall dresser or high cabinet and get into perfume, medicine, and other potential poisons. The substance doesn't even have to taste good; children will eat and drink almost anything. Moreover, some substances do not have to be swallowed to be toxic. They can also be inhaled or absorbed by the skin.

Almost 90 percent of poison exposures are accidental and, therefore, preventable. Insecticides, including those used domestically, are a common form of accidental poisoning because they often are purchased in large quantities and may be stored open and unprotected in cupboards, making them easily obtained by toddlers.

Iron pills are one of the most common causes of accidental poisoning deaths in toddlers. Vitamin and mineral supplements may seem harmless, but in large doses, some are dangerous, and it does not take very much to be a large dose for a toddler. Birth control pills, alcohol, vitamins, tranquilizers, nail polish remover, pesticides, plant fertilizer, and hobby chemicals such as glue, enamel paint, ink, paint thinner, and photography liquids are all potentially poisonous if ingested by a child.

The key to preventing accidental poisoning is simple: Don't allow your children to have access to any potentially toxic substances. That doesn't mean merely telling them that this cabinet is not for children or that these items are "poisons." It means locking cabinets and heeding labels when they say "keep out of reach of children." Make sure your children know what is off limits, but also actively take steps to prevent accidental poisoning. Here are some important safety tips for adults and adults with children:

  • Keep all household products and medicines out of children's reach, preferably in a locked cabinet.
  • When you're using any of these products, never let them out of your sight, even if that means taking them with you when you answer the telephone or doorbell.
  • Store medicines separately from household products.
  • Keep medicines and household products in their original containers. Never transfer them to soft drink bottles, paper cups, or other containers.
  • Leave original labels on all products and read the label before and after using. There are many look-alike bottles -- such as various juices and cleaning liquids, grated cheese and cleansers, and candies and antihistamines. Adults, especially those with limited vision, can grab the wrong product just as easily as a child can.
  • Pour liquids on the side opposite the label so the moisture doesn't blur the writing.
  • Never give or take medicines in the dark.
  • Avoid taking medicines in front of children, as youngsters tend to imitate adults.
  • Use child-resistant containers properly by closing them securely after each use. However, don't rely on "childproof" caps to prevent your child from discovering a way to open a bottle of medicine or cleaning chemicals. They are merely "child-resistant," not "childproof," and many youngsters can open them faster than adults can.
  • Never refer to medicine as "candy" or to how good it tastes.
  • Sort through your medicines at least twice a year. Dispose of medicines no longer used by flushing the contents down the toilet and rinsing out the container before throwing it away.
  • Be more attentive at peak times. Most accidental poisonings occur between 4 and 6 p.m. when children are hungry and fussy and parents are tired and busy fixing dinner. Other peak times for an accidental poisoning are when a parent or sibling is ill or the family is on a trip.
  • Never store poisons in your pantry or food cabinet.
  • Be alert when you have guests who may have medications in their purse or suitcase or when you visit someone else's home, which may not be poison-proofed.
  • Never go to bed leaving dirty ashtrays or alcohol in glasses after a party. A child can awake early, get out of bed, and ingest these potentially toxic agents.
  • Know the number of the National Poison Control Hotline (1-800-222-1222) and keep it posted by every telephone in your home.

Children are not the only ones at risk for accidental poisoning. Those who take many prescription drugs, such as the elderly, may forget they have taken their medication and take another dose. Alcohol compounds the problem. It can lead to forgetfulness and taking too much medicine. Also, mixing alcohol with certain prescription drugs can create dangerously toxic effects.

In case of accidental poisoning, you need to know some basics so that at the very least, you don't make matters worse. The very first thing to do is contact the National Poison Control Hotline and follow their instructions. Often, if the product ingested is caustic, such as lye, bleach, toilet bowl cleaner, or other corrosive household chemicals, you will be told not to induce vomiting, but to dilute the substance with water as rapidly as possible.

Also, do not induce vomiting if you're unsure what was swallowed, or if it was an alkali or a petroleum product, such as gasoline or kerosene. Do not give syrup of ipecac or use any other method to induce vomiting unless Poison Control tells you to.

Some children may vomit when they have swallowed a poisonous substance. Others become sleepy or sluggish for no apparent reason. You may notice that the contents of a particular bottle have been reduced or that some of the substance remains around the child's mouth and teeth or has been spilled on the clothes. There may be burns around the lips or mouth from corrosive items or a breath odor from items such as alcohol or petroleum products.

Get medical advice even if you suspect, but don't know for sure, that your child has ingested a potentially hazardous product. Call the National Poison Control Hotline. It is staffed by professionals who are familiar with how poisonous a particular substance is (known as its "toxicity"). You will be given immediate information on what you should do to dilute or eliminate the poison, how to maintain the victim's breathing and circulation, and how to get medical aid. Their service is free and confidential.

A different kind of danger can come from the power source in our homes -- electricity. To learn how to safeguard your loved ones from electical dangers in the home, read the next section of this article.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.