Products we commonly use for the maintenance of our homes and vehicles can make our jobs easier but many of these materials are also considered a household hazardous material. Product labels contain signal words relating to their hazardous properties as well as use, storage and disposal recommendations.
Children, seniors and pets can be particularly sensitive to household chemicals. Repeated exposures during use and storage of large amounts of unwanted HHMs can have negative impacts on health and safety. In response to customer demand and environmental responsibility many companies are now producing cleaners with natural ingredients such as coconut and lemon oil, glycerine and ethanol. Nontoxic alternatives are not only as effective and easy to use as their commercial counterparts, but are also safer. Using less toxic or nature-based household products can help keep your home healthier, safer and helps protect the environment.
Here are some simple guidelines to follow when purchasing HHMs:
Read the Label
The label should tell you what the product is for, how to use it, the risks you are exposed to, and what to do if there is an accident. Product labels are required to list certain words to alert the consumer if a product is considered hazardous including Danger, Poison, Caution and Warning.
The most important time to read the label is before you buy a product; think of the following questions while you are reading:
- What is this product for? Does it do just one job, or can I use it for several tasks? Will something else I already have do the job? Are there any restrictions, such as avoid using product around plastic, metal, or fabric?
- How do I use it? Is the product ready-to-use, or do I mix it with water? How can I mix the product safely? How much will I need to do the job?
- How hazardous is the product? All product labels are required to contain signal words to inform the consumer if the product has hazardous properties. The easiest way to determine if a product is considered hazardous is to read the label.
- What do I do if I have an accident? Does the label say what to do if the product contacts skin, or is inhaled or swallowed? Does the label give enough information to prepare for and respond to these accidents?
Have the Iowa Poison Control Center hotline number (1-800-222-1222) within easy reach should you ever need it. The Iowa Poison Control Center reports that the number one cause of accidental poisonings in children is HHMs.
Consider a Less Hazardous or Green Alternative
Now that you have read the label, a quick look at several products will help you find the right and safest product that will do the job. Manufacturers of HHM products are beginning to also offer product lines that are less toxic and nature based to address the desires of their customers. If your primary desire is to use less toxic or non-HHM products, here are some tips:
- Avoid products, if possible, that have labels that say any of the following: Caution, Warning, Danger or Poison. Choose a product labeled Caution over Warning; avoid products labeled Danger or Poison which signify that a product is capable of causing serious damage or injury to your health.
- Buy the least hazardous product needed to get the job done. For instance, it is better for health and environmental reasons to use oven cleaner labeled No Caustic Fumes or No Lye.
- Choose products with label statements such as: non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, non-petroleum-based, free of ammonia, phosphates, dye or perfume, readily biodegradable, and non-fuming.
- Look for natural plant based cleaners that will do the job you need. Not all natural cleaners are created equal and many still contain hazardous materials, so read the label for a listing of ingredients and look for the signal words.
- Use aerosol sprays. Aerosols cause air pollution through the use of air propellants such as Isopropanol, and can pose disposal issues when empty. Choose solid or gel products or pump sprays.
- Buy perfumed products. Scented products can add chemicals to the indoor air environment and may be disruptive to children and to people with respiratory ailments or sensitive skin.
Buy Only What You Need and Use It All
Once you have decided on a particular product:
- Carefully consider before buying “super” sizes and bundled products. The few cents you save may not be worth the risk of storing unused hazardous products.
- Thank retailers for providing safer alternatives.
- Use the entire product you purchase according to manufacturer's directions. If you cannot use the entire product, give remaining product to someone who can use it or take it to your Regional Collection Center for placement in their Swap Shop.
- Store HHM’s: More is not always better. Storing HHMs can be a health and safety risk, plus they take up space and clutter your home.
Note: It is unlawful to give away or sell open containers of pesticides. Either use the pesticides until gone according to the manufacturer's directions or contact your Regional Collection Center.
All hazardous product labels are required to contain signal words to inform the consumer the product has hazardous properties. The easiest way to determine if a product is considered hazardous is to read the label.
Look for these words on the label:
- Poison means that a product is highly toxic and can cause injury or death if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
- Danger means that a product is highly toxic, flammable or corrosive. Products containing the word "Danger" could be poisonous, cause serious damage to skin or eyes, or is easily ignitable.
- Caution means the product is slightly toxic if swallowed, absorbed through the skin, inhaled, or it causes slight eye or skin irritation.
- Warning indicates the product is moderately toxic if eaten, absorbed through the skin, inhaled, or it causes moderate eye or skin irritation.
Products that do not contain any of these words on the label are the least hazardous.