University of Missouri Extension

WM6002, Reviewed October 1993

Selecting Household Safety Equipment

Marie Steinwachs
Office of Waste Management

Hazardous substances can enter your body in three ways: they can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Common sense and a few pieces of safety equipment can protect you from exposure to hazardous substances.

Preventive measures and equipment you may need for protection from different household hazardous products are discussed in this guide.

Selecting household safety equipment

Before using household hazardous products, always consider how to reduce the risk of exposure. Limit exposure to hazardous chemicals by selecting less toxic products.

Wearing safety equipment should be your last option for protection since it does not protect people and pets who share your working environment.

Too many people risk unnecessary injury, poisoning, or even long-term health complications by using hazardous products without proper protection.

The comfort, money or time that is lost in using the correct protective equipment and procedures is of little consequence compared to the potential costs of poor health, time lost to illness and medical bills if safety is neglected.

General safety equipment guidelines

The type of safety equipment you may need depends upon the type of risk and ingredients to which you are exposed. Safety guidelines include:

When purchasing safety equipment, tell the salesperson what products you will be using so that they can help you select the appropriate equipment. Use the tables in this publication as guidelines for the recommended type of safety equipment for specific household activities.

For further information on your safety equipment, contact the manufacturer's technical department. The phone number should be listed in the product's instructions.

Code words and phrases on labels that indicate potential risks from exposure

Ingestion prevention

Ingestion of most toxic materials can be avoided by not putting anything in your mouth while working with a hazardous product and by cleaning all contaminated surfaces.

Inhalation prevention and respiratory protection

Many types of materials pose inhalation hazards. Each type varies in its degree of toxicity and physical hazard.


Good ventilation is essential when using hazardous products.

Individual respiratory protection

Different types of masks and respirators are available for protection from specific ingredients. This equipment protects only the wearer and leaves others in the area unprotected. In environments with limited oxygen, an oxygen-supplying respirator is necessary. Masks and respirators are not adequate protection in this type of environment.

The respirator or dust mask you choose should be approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for the particular ingredients you will be exposed to (Table 1). There are two kinds of dust masks: those with NIOSH approval and those without it. Look for product labels with the phrase "NIOSH approved" or for the NIOSH approval number that consists of the letters "TC" followed by two sets of three numbers (for example: TC-343-595).

Respirators do not remove all the hazardous chemicals from the air you are breathing, but they do reduce the chemical's concentration to target levels set by NIOSH.

Some respirators are designed with the face piece, cartridges and filters in one unit. These disposable respirators are discarded when the cartridges or filters are spent or the mask is damaged. (See the "Safe Use and Care of Respirators" section for more information on the lifespan of cartridges and filters.) Disposable respirators may be more convenient when the project is a one-time, short-lived task.

People with special medical conditions, especially heart or lung problems, may have their condition worsened by the additional stress of drawing air through a respirator. If you have either of these conditions, or if you are pregnant, please contact your physician before using a respirator or using a product that is an inhalation hazard.

Table 1
Respirators: types of cartridges and filters needed for specific tasks

  Product Cartridge Filter
Paints and solvents Aerosol spray paints and varnishes Organic vapor + Paint spray
Lacquer thinner Organic vapor  
Paint and varnish removers Organic vapor  
Turpentine Organic vapor  
Varnishes Organic vapor  
Garden Pesticides Organic vapor + Pesticide
Hobbies Dusts from wood, stone, pigment, clay, fiber, shell and bone   Dust or dust and mist
Photographic developing Organic vapor/acid gas  
Printmaking solvents Organic vapor  
Soldering   Dust, mist and fumes
Cleaners Aluminum cleaner (with hydrofluoric acid) Acid gas  
Oven cleaner1 Organic vapor + Dust and mist
Septic tank cleaner Organic vapor  
1The product requires a respirator if it contains sodium or potassium hydroxide and is in an aerosol can.

Safe use and care of respirators

Correct fit
The respirator should be comfortable and have a correct fit so that it is leak-proof. Different people have different face sizes and shapes, so try on respirators until you find the right one. Respirators are built to either cover the nose and mouth (quarter-face respirator); the nose, mouth and chin (half-face respirator); or the nose, mouth, chin and eyes (full-face respirator).

Ask your safety equipment supplier to provide a proper fit test by a qualified tester. If this is not available, test the fit by covering the cartridge or filter inlets with the palms of your hands, inhale gently until the respirator collapses slightly, and hold your breath for 10 seconds. If the fit is not adequate, the respirator will resume its normal shape because of air leakage. Another test of the fit is to block the exhalation valve and gently breathe out. This should cause the mask to expand. If air leaks past the edge of the mask (particularly near the eyes), the mask will collapse to its normal shape. If your eyeglasses fog up while trying these tests with a half-face respirator, then it has a poor fit.

If the respirator fails any of these tests, try adjusting the straps and face piece. The salesperson can help you determine the correct fit. People with beards or small faces may not be adequately protected by a respirator because of poor fit.

Cleaning and storage
Remove the cartridges and filters. Wash the respirator according to the manufacturer's directions. While washing, inspect the respirator for wear, cracks and distortions. Damaged respirator parts should be replaced before wearing again. Rinse in clean water and air-dry. (Do not wash disposable respirators.) Store the respirator, cartridges and filters in an air-tight container (such as a resealable plastic bag) in a clean, cool, dry place.

Filters and cartridges must be replaced regularly. When it is difficult to breathe through a respirator, the filter is probably clogged and needs to be replaced. Some general guidelines for cartridge replacement are after two weeks, after eight hours of cumulative use, or if you can smell the contaminant. If you can smell the hazardous ingredient through the respirator, the purifying chemicals are used up and the cartridge needs to be replaced. If you rely on the odor as a cue to replace the cartridge, be sure the material is odor-producing. Follow the directions given with each respirator.

Absorption prevention/eye and skin protection

Eye protection

Eyes are particularly vulnerable to injury from hazardous products (for example: oven cleaners, drain openers or paint thinners).

Table 2
Examples of products whose use required chemical splash goggles


Hand protection

Hands and fingers are the areas of the body most exposed to hazardous products.

Table 3
Types of gloves that provide protection while doing specific activities1


1This list is not exhaustive. Other activities aside from those listed may require wearing gloves for protection.
2Wear only unlined gloves when working with these products.

Body protection

It is important to protect more than your hands and face when using some hazardous products (for example, spraying pesticides or applying solvents). Cover your arms, legs, head, feet and any exposed body part with protective clothing. The clothing will protect your body from contact with the product, preventing absorption through your skin.

Fire prevention

In case of fire

Always follow these steps in case of an actual fire:

Selecting a fire extinguisher

The appropriate fire extinguisher depends upon the type of fire. There are three different classes of fires, each requiring specific fire extinguishing chemicals.

Class A fires are fueled by ordinary combustibles such as paper, cloth, wood, rubber, plastics and upholstery.

Class B fires are fueled by flammable liquids, such as oil, gasoline, paint or grease.

Class C fires are ignited by malfunctions of electrical equipment, such as household appliances and televisions.

Using the wrong type of fire extinguisher can be dangerous since it may cause the fire to spread. Because most households contain combustibles, flammable liquids and electrical equipment, an ABC or Multi-purpose Dry Chemical fire extinguisher is recommended. Consult with a salesperson from a local safety equipment store, fire extinguisher store or hardware store to determine which extinguisher meets your needs.

Avoid purchasing fire extinguishers using a halon propellant (halon-1211). The release of halon contributes to ozone-layer depletion.

Maintenance of fire extinguishers


For more information

The Guide to Hazardous Products Around the Home is a personal action manual for protecting your health and the environment. This comprehensive, 178-page handbook explains product ingredients, safety issues, disposal, recycling outlets, safer product alternatives, and more! Promoted by Greenpeace, the United Nations Environmental Programme, 50 Simple Things You can do to Save the Earth and The Green Consumer. The Guide was written by the Household Hazardous Waste Project, winner of the 1991 President's Environment and Conservation Challenge Award.

Though much effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained herein, the Household Hazardous Waste Project assumes no responsibility and disclaims any injury or damage resulting from the use or effect of any product or information specified in this publication.
Copyright 1994 by the Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority. Published by the MU Extension Household Hazardous Waste Project in cooperation with EIERA.
WM6002 Selecting Household Safety Equipment | University of Missouri Extension

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