University of Missouri Extension

WM6005, Reviewed October 1993

Store Hazardous Products Safely

Marie Steinwachs
Office of Waste Management

Your home may be an accident waiting to happen

Many preventable accidents, injuries, illnesses and fires occur in homes due to unsafe storage of hazardous products.

A product is considered hazardous if it has one of more of the following properties:

You can reduce your family's risks of accidental poisonings, exposure to indoor air pollution and accidental fires by safely storing and using hazardous products in your home.


Each year, poison control centers receive numerous calls about exposure to household hazardous products such as adhesives, arts and crafts materials, automotive fluids, cleaning substances, moth repellents, paints and pesticides.

Many of these calls concern children who accidentally swallow a hazardous product because it is within their reach, has an attractive color or is in a familiar container.

Exposures also occur among adults. Some accidentally swallow a hazardous product because it is in an unmarked container or improperly stored next to food or medicine. Other exposures can occur among both children and adults due to the improper use, storage or disposal of household hazardous products.

In 1991, the Center for Disease Control estimated that one out of every 10 children under the age of 6 were injured by a household hazardous product to the point where they required information from a poison control center, or treatment by an emergency room, family physician or knowledgeable parent.

In 1991, more than 1.8 million human poison exposure cases were reported to U.S. poison control centers. More than 45 percent of these exposures involved household hazardous products. The total number of exposure cases may be much greater because it is estimated that less than one-third of actual poisonings are reported to poison control centers.

Indoor air pollution

Excessive amounts of indoor air pollution can result from the unsafe storage of hazardous products. Volatile organic compounds found in many paints, adhesives, solvents and cleaning materials can significantly contribute to indoor air pollution if the product containers are not tightly sealed or are damaged.

The level of indoor air pollution created by household hazardous products may be especially high in energy-tight homes, where the rate at which outside air replaces indoor air is low. Pollutants have been found in concentrations ten times higher inside the home than in outside air.

Indoor air pollution can cause or worsen illnesses such as allergies, asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It can also lower a person's resistance to disease.

Indoor air pollution has been ranked the fifth most dangerous health risk for the country by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Fire risks

Numerous fires and injuries occur each year when flammable liquids are misused as cleaning agents or are improperly stored next to sources of heat, spark, flame or ignition. These sources include water heaters, light switches, pilot lights and motors. Gasoline is extremely flammable and its vapors can be ignited from a single spark. Even discarded rags soaked in flammables can create fire hazards.

The National Fire Protection Association reports that between 1983 and 1987, gasoline was responsible for an average of 11,300 household fires each year. These fires resulted in an average of 178 deaths and 1,283 injuries each year. Nearly one-quarter of the injuries were caused by the improper use of gasoline as a cleaning agent.

Identifying household hazardous products

The first step in determining whether your household hazardous products are safely stored is to identify the products and the hazards associated with each product.

You can tell whether a product is hazardous by reading the label. There are two specific sets of federal regulations for labeling hazardous products:

When reading the product label, look for the signal word and principal hazard information. The labels on both non-pesticide hazardous products and pesticides must contain the appropriate signal word depending on the hazard associated with each product. See Table 1 for information on signal words and other label requirements.

There are more than 27,000 hazardous products targeted for consumer use. You may be surprised at the number of hazardous products you have in your home. By knowing their hazardous properties, you can determine how to safely store these products.

Table 2 provides a list of commonly used products and the hazardous property(s) associated with each product.

Table 1
Signal words

Non-pesticide product label requirements Danger
the product is extremely flammable, extremely corrosive or highly toxic.
the product is highly toxic.
Warning or Caution
indicates products with lesser hazards.
Must contain statement "Keep out of reach of children" or its practical equivalent.
Must contain description of the principal hazards involved in using the product. Words and phrases used to describe these hazards include: Flammable, Corrosive, Vapor harmful, Harmful if absorbed through skin
Pesticide product label requirements Danger or Poison
the product is highly toxic.
the product is moderately toxic.
the product is slightly toxic.
Must contain the statement "Keep out of reach of children" on the front label
Must contain information on any fire, explosion or chemical hazards the pesticide poses.
Must contain information on how to avoid the product's hazards.

Table 2
Common hazardous properties of household products.1

Cleaners Ammonia-based — toxic and corrosive
Bleach-based — toxic and corrosive
Drain cleaner — toxic, corrosive and reactive
Floor wax/stripper — toxic and flammable
Furniture polish — toxic and flammable
Oven cleaner — toxic and corrosive
Spot remover — toxic, flammable and corrosive
Toilet bowl cleaner — toxic and corrosive
Personal care Aftershaves — toxic and flammable
Nail polish — toxic and flammable
Nail polish removers — toxic and flammable
Perfume — toxic and flammable
Home improvement Latex-based paint — toxic
Oil-based paint — toxic and flammable
Solvent-based paint stripper — toxic and flammable
Paint thinner — toxic and flammable
Stain and varnish — toxic and flammable
Automotive Antifreeze — toxic
Auto battery — toxic and corrosive
Auto body filler catalyst — toxic and reactive
Fluid car wax — toxic, flammable and corrosive
Gasoline — toxic and flammable
Motor oil — toxic and flammable
Windshield wiper fluid — toxic and flammable
Pesticides Herbicides — toxic
Insecticides — toxic
Moth balls — toxic
Fertilizer (with pesticides) — toxic, corrosive and reactive
Tree root/stump killer — toxic and reactive
Miscellaneous Air fresheners — toxic and flammable
Charcoal lighter fluid — toxic and flammable
Fabric dye — toxic and corrosive
Swimming pool chemicals — toxic, corrosive and reactive
Shoe polish — toxic and flammable
1Based on common product formulation. Ingredients may vary, changing a product's hazardous property(s). Refer to actual product label for specific hazards.

Guidelines for safe storage

After you have looked for signal words and identified product hazards, you are ready to move on to the second step. To determine whether your household hazardous products are store safely, use the following guidelines.


Preventing poisonings

Reducing indoor air pollution

Promoting fire safety

Securing and holding

If you have household hazardous products that are no longer usable, check with your local waste authorities about the proper disposal of these products. If the products must be saved for a household hazardous waste collection, follow these procedures for securing and holding the products.

Using flammable materials such as non-clay kitty litter or newspapers for overpacking may lead to spontaneous combustion (fire).

Personal action

By safely storing your household hazardous products, you can help to prevent accidental poisonings and other home accidents, reduce indoor air pollution, and promote fire safety.

You can further limit the risks from household hazardous products by reducing the amount of household hazardous products you purchase.

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.

Copyright 1994 by the Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority. Published by the MU Extension Household Hazardous Waste Project in cooperation with EIERA.
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