Many common household products can be dangerous if inhaled or swallowed — especially for young children, elderly adults, and pets. Items such as cleaning products, medications, paint, and even certain household plants are all potential risks. To keep your family safe from these hazards, here are a few tips for poison-proofing your home.
1. Detect Carbon Monoxide Leaks
Carbon monoxide is a common but undetectable gas that can build up to toxic levels in your home. It is caused by fuels that don’t burn completely — from your dryer, furnace, or gas oven, for example — and is a leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths. To stop this unnoticeable threat, it’s important to select and install a functional carbon monoxide detector.
The National Fire Protection Agency recommends installing a monitor outside the door of every bedroom and on each floor of your home. If you have detectors already installed, keep them in working good condition: change the batteries every six months and replace the monitor at least every five years.
2. Prevent Lead Poisoning
The effects of lead poisoning are devastating — it can cause developmental delay and learning difficulties, as well as damage to the nervous system and kidneys — and they cannot be reversed, so it’s important to prevent exposure in the first place. Lead-based paints were banned in the United States in 1978, but homes built before then likely still have at least some lead paint.
Contact your local health department to test your home for lead levels, especially before starting any renovation projects. Soil, water, and even dust and children’s toys can also have elevated levels of lead, so it’s important to regularly wet mop, clean toys, and wash all food that may have been grown in lead-laden soil. Young children should also be screened regularly for lead poisoning.
3. Keep the Kitchen Clean
The kitchen may be the heart of the home, but it is also home to many potential hazards. Alcohol can cause issues with bone density, hormone development, and liver function in children and essential oils have been known to cause seizures. Keep those liquids stored safely away from the reach of children.
To avoid unintentional food poisoning or contamination, store foods in sealed containers and make sure your refrigerator is set below 40°F. Meats should be cooked to a safe temperature between 145°F and 165°F, and hands and countertops should be washed thoroughly after contact with raw substances.
4. Store and Dispose of Medications Properly
Keep over-the-counter and prescription medications in their original containers or blister packs with labels attached to avoid accidental overdose or dangerous interactions. Store medications in a place where children cannot reach them, and never call medicine “candy” to cajole them into taking it.
In general, it’s not a good idea to flush expired or unused medications down the toilet, as they can contaminate drinking water; however, some medications may be too dangerous to keep in the trash. Check the label for specific instructions, or contact your pharmacy or waste management company for disposal recommendations.
5. Manage Cleaning Substances
Household cleaners should be kept in their original containers and put away immediately after use to avoid accidental consumption or overexposure to fumes. Do not combine different cleaners — especially ammonia and bleach, which can cause poisonous chlorine gas — and throw away any products that are outdated. Keep tops tightly fitted and put containers on high shelves or in low cabinets with safety locks.
Using green cleaners is a great way to help poison proof your home, but don’t be swayed by the terms “organic” or “natural,” as these can create a sense of false security. Read the labels carefully and avoid purchasing cleaners with dangerous ingredients such as chlorine, ammonia, triclosan, and quarternary ammonium compounds.
6. Rearrange the Garage
The garage often holds many dangerous chemicals: antifreeze is poisonous if swallowed, motor oil can cause nerve and kidney damage, car batteries can cause severe burns, and windshield washer fluid can cause blindness. Tightly secure the lids of any chemicals and place them on high shelves.
Gasoline, a flammable liquid, should be stored at room temperature in a well-ventilated area away from any heat sources. To safely store opened paint cans, place a layer of plastic wrap between the can and the lid, use a rubber mallet to secure the lid, and store the cans upside down. Avoid storing paint in extreme temperatures or areas with high moisture. Check with your local recycling outlet for the best way to dispose of unusable paint.
7. Check the Bathroom
Many bathroom products like makeup remover, nail polish, sunscreen, and baby oil contain hydrocarbons, chemicals that contain carbon and hydrogen atoms and can cause breathing problems and lung damage if swallowed. Since a significant number of hydrocarbon products don’t come in child-resistant packaging, it’s important to make sure lids are secure and to store products out of reach. Always keep these products in their original containers and put them away immediately after use.
8. Know Who to Call
Post the number for the Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) near your phone in case of emergency. If your child has accidentally swallowed or come in contact with a poisonous substance, don’t wait to see if symptoms develop. Call 911 immediately, then consult the PCC. Do not make your child vomit until you have consulted a poison control expert, as this can actually make things worse.
If you’re ready to poison proof your home, installing carbon monoxide detectors is a smart and easy first step. And to fully protect your home, choose a complete security system that includes carbon monoxide monitoring.
Written by Hillary Johnston
A proud mother of four, Hillary is passionate about safety education. She holds a degree in Public Health and Disaster Management. Learn more