Children and household poisons

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 poisons and substances that can harm your child. Our checklists also suggest how you can keep your child safe from these substances in different areas of your house.

If you think your child has swallowed something poisonous, stay calm. Take the container and your child to the phone and ring the Poisons Information Centre on 131 126 (24 hours a day, 7 days per week, Australia wide). Don’t wait for symptoms to appear – call straight away.

Medicine cabinet poisons

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

Here are some tips for keeping your child safe from these poisons:

  • Put medicine away as soon as you’ve finished with it.
  • Store all medicines out of reach and out of sight in a locked cabinet or cupboard.
  • Ask your pharmacist to put child-resistant closures on your medicines, if they don’t already have them.
  • Avoid describing 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.
  • Make sure you’re giving the correct medication and dosage, especially at night – always read the label carefully and follow the directions.
  • When you’re giving medicine to a child, take care that other children can’t reach the medicine.
  • Dispose of any unwanted or out-of-date medications by returning them to the pharmacist.

You can read more about medicines that can poison.

Kitchen poisons

Items in the kitchen that can poison include:

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

Here are tips to keep your child safe from these poisons:

  • 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.
  • Put all chemicals and cleaning products away immediately after use.
  • 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.

Take particular care with dishwasher detergent:

  • Buy dishwashing powder or liquid in a child-resistant container. Dishwashing powder and liquid are corrosive. They burn and are 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 powder caking 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.

Poisons in the laundry or shed

Items in the laundry or shed that can poison include:

  • acids – for example, brick cleaning solutions
  • cement and lime
  • disinfectants and bleach
  • drain cleaners
  • dyes
  • epoxies and resins – for example, adhesives, coatings, varnishes and 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.

Here are tips to keep your child safe from these poisons:

  • Keep paints and solvents (like 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.

Bathroom poisons

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

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

Poisons in the bedroom and family area

Items in the bedroom or family area that can poison include:

  • air fresheners
  • alcohol
  • bubble-blowing solution
  • CD and DVD cleaners
  • cigarette butts
  • essential oils – for example, eucalyptus oil
  • glues
  • incense
  • mothballs
  • paints
  • pot pourri.

Here are tips to keep your child safe from these poisons:

  • If you smoke, check that your cigarette is completely out and then throw it in the bin, rather than in an ashtray. To protect your child from second-hand and third-hand smoke always smoke outside your house and ask visitors to do the same.
  • Keep perfumes and beauty products out of reach.
  • When family and friends visit, ask them to put handbags up out of reach.
  • If you live in an older house, it’s a good idea to buy a lead test kit at a hardware shop to check whether there is lead-based paint in your house. Old houses and furniture might have been painted with lead-based paint, which is poisonous.