Household poisons: how to keep your child safe

Household poisons are substances in your home that can cause harm when swallowed, inhaled or touched. They include medicines, detergents, cleaning products, toiletries, garden chemicals and other common household products.

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

The first step in preventing childhood poisoning is to store household poisons up high in a locked cupboard, safely out of reach and out of sight of your child. If possible, the cupboard should be at least 1.5 m high and should have child-resistant locks.

Below we list common household poisons and substances that can harm your child, along with tips for keeping your child safe 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 call 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 medicine poisoning:

  • 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. This makes it harder for children to open medicines.
  • 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  • Dispose of any unwanted or out-of-date medications by returning them to the pharmacist.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 and laundry poisons

Items in the kitchen and laundry that can poison include:

  • alcohol
  • ammonia
  • baby bottle cleaners
  • dishwashing and laundry detergents
  • 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
  • dyes
  • stain removers and ironing aids.

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

  • Store chemicals and cleaners out of sight and reach in a child-resistant cupboard at all times.
  • Install child-resistant locks on cupboards.
  • Leave all chemicals and cleaners in their original containers – don’t pour them into used juice or soft drink bottles.
  • Put all chemicals and cleaners 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 and store it out of sight and reach of children. 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.

Bathroom poisons

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

  • bathroom, shower or tile cleaners
  • deodorants
  • lipsticks and other make-up, including facial toner and nail polish remover
  • moisturisers and gels
  • mouthwash, perfume and aftershave – these can have a high percentage of alcohol
  • shampoos, conditioners, soaps and bodywash, especially those with food smells
  • toilet cleaners – fluid and solid.

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.
  • 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’s lead-based paint in your house. Old houses and furniture might have been painted with lead-based paint, which is poisonous.

Poisons in the garage or shed

Items in the garage or shed that can poison include:

  • acids – for example, brick cleaning solutions
  • cement and lime
  • 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
  • turpentine.

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 or garage, as well as any storage boxes or cupboards inside the garage or shed.
  • Keep liquids in original containers, rather than pouring them into used soft drink or juice bottles.