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Children under three years of age are likely to put everything in their mouths. This includes household poisons, chemicals and medicines. Keep these substances locked up and out of your child’s way.

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Medications are responsible for more than 70% of childhood poisonings, usually the most serious cases.
 

Poisoning occurs most often in children under five years of age. It’s particularly common in children aged 1-3 years.

Below we list common household substances that can poison your child. Our checklists also suggest how you can keep your child safe from these substances in the following areas of your house:

If you think your child has swallowed something poisonous, stay calm. Take the container to the phone and ring the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 (24 hours a day, seven days per week, Australia-wide). Don’t treat the poisoning until you’ve received correct advice from the Poisons Information Centre.

The kitchen

  • Store chemicals, medicines and cleaners in a child-resistant cupboard at all times.
  • Install child-resistant locks on cupboards.
  • Leave all chemicals, medicines and cleaners in their original containers – don’t pour them into used drink or soft drink bottles.
  • Safely dispose of any products no longer in use.
  • Consider using products that are less dangerous. For example, a mixture of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda cleans most surfaces.
  • Buy containers that are child-resistant.
  • Buy dishwashing powder or liquid in a child-resistant container – it’s corrosive, it burns and is extremely dangerous if swallowed.
  • Keep children away if you’re adding detergent to the dishwasher. When filling your dishwasher, put the detergent in last then immediately close the machine.
  • Check for sludge or caking of powder in or near the dispenser when emptying your dishwasher. This is particularly important if young children are helping to unload, because the sludge can cause serious mouth burns. If sludge is present, the machine hasn’t been loaded correctly or is faulty.

Items that can poison include:

  • alcohol
  • ammonia
  • baby-bottle cleaners
  • cream cleaners
  • disinfectants and bleaches
  • drain cleaners
  • floor polish
  • kerosene
  • liquid cleaners, such as floor cleaners
  • matches
  • oven cleaners
  • rat and insect poisons
  • spray cleaners, such as window and bench sprays.

The laundry or shed

  • Keep paints and solvents (such as mineral turpentine, kerosene and white spirits) out of reach and out of sight all the time.
  • Lock your shed, garage and any storage boxes.
  • Keep liquids in original containers, rather than pouring them into used soft drink, juice or beer bottles.

Items that can poison include:

  • acids (for example, brick cleaning solutions)
  • cement and lime
  • disinfectants and bleach
  • drain cleaners
  • dyes
  • epoxies and resins (adhesives, coatings, varnishes, solder mix)
  • fertilisers
  • glues
  • herbicides and weed killers
  • kerosene
  • mag wheel cleaners and other car care products
  • paint and paint thinner
  • pesticides and snail killers
  • petrol
  • stain removers and ironing aids
  • turpentine
  • washing detergents.

The medicine cabinet

Medicines are the most common cause of poisoning in young children. Often poisoning occurs when medicine is left within reach. All family members should avoid leaving medicines in places that are accessible to children.

  • Store all medicines out of reach and out of sight in a locked cabinet or cupboard.
  • Put a child-resistant lock on your medicine cabinet.
  • Don’t refer to pills and tablets as ‘special lollies’ – this can confuse your child, who might be tempted to try them.
  • Keep any measuring cups and droppers used for medicine separate and safe.
  • Read the label carefully. Make sure you’re giving the correct medication and dosage, especially at night. Taking more than the recommended dose could be harmful.
  • When giving medicine to a child, take care that it isn’t accessible to other children.
  • Put medicine away as soon as you’ve finished with it.
  • Dispose of any unwanted or out-of-date medications by returning them to the pharmacist.
  • Avoid routinely giving non-prescription medications without consulting your doctor.
  • Read more about medicines that can poison.

The bathroom

Put the following items out of reach or in a bathroom cabinet that you can lock, as these can all be harmful to your child:

  • bathroom, shower or tile cleaners
  • lipsticks and other make-up, including nail-polish remover
  • moisturisers and gels
  • mouthwashes – these can have a high percentage of alcohol
  • perfumes and aftershaves
  • shampoos, conditioners, soaps and bodywash lotion, especially those with food smells
  • toilet cleaners – fluid and ‘cake’
  • toners and astringents.

The family area/bedrooms

  • Children might try to eat cigarette butts – check that your cigarette is completely out and then throw it in the bin, rather than in an ashtray. Smoking exposes your child to second-hand smoke, so it’s best not to smoke around your child at all.
  • Keep perfumes and beauty products out of reach.
  • When family and friends visit, ask them to put handbags up out of reach.
  • Old houses and furniture might have been painted with lead-based paint, which is poisonous. You can buy a lead-test kit at hardware stores to check whether there is lead-based paint in your house.

Items that can poison include:

  • air fresheners
  • alcohol
  • bubble-blowing solution
  • CD and DVD cleaners
  • essential oils (for example, eucalyptus oil)
  • glues
  • incense
  • mothballs
  • paints
  • pot pourri.
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  • Last Updated 26-01-2011
  • Last Reviewed 31-05-2010
  • Ashby, K., & Routley, V. (1996). Childhood domestic chemical and plant poisonings. Hazard, 28, 1-16.

    Routley, V., Ozanne-Smith, J., & Ashby, K. (1996). Poisonings in early childhood. Hazard, 27, 1-16.

    Victorian Poisons Information Centre (2008). Poisoning Advice. Retrieved December 29, 2010, from http://www.austin.org.au/Assets/Files/Poisoning%20advice%20pamphlet.pdf.