About household poisons and poisoning
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 5 years of age. It’s particularly common in children aged 1-3 years.
Household poisons: how to keep your child safe
The first step in preventing childhood poisoning is to store household poisons up high in locked cupboards, safely out of reach and out of sight of your child. If possible, cupboards should be at least 1.5 m high and have child-resistant locks.
To keep your child safe from household poisons, you can also take the following steps:
- Put all household poisons or poisonous products away immediately after use.
- Safely dispose of any products no longer in use.
- Keep products in original containers, rather than pouring them into other containers or bottles.
If you think your child has swallowed something poisonous, stay calm. Take the poisons container and your child to the phone and call the Poisons Information Centre on 131 126. Call straight away – don’t wait for symptoms to appear. And treat the poisoning only when you have correct advice from the Poisons Information Centre.
Items in the bathroom that can poison include:
- bathroom, shower or tile cleaners
- make-up, including facial toner and nail polish remover
- moisturisers and gels
- mouthwash, perfume, hand sanitiser 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.
Bedroom and family area poisons
Items in the bedroom or family area that can poison include:
- air fresheners
- bubble-blowing solution
- CD and DVD cleaners
- cigarette butts
- essential oils – for example, eucalyptus oil
- pot pourri.
If you smoke, check that your cigarette is completely out and then throw it in the bin, rather than leaving the butt 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.
Garage and shed poisons
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
- herbicides and weed killers
- mag wheel cleaners and other car care products
- paint and paint thinner
- pesticides and snail killers
- petrol and other engine oil
Locking your shed or garage, plus storage boxes or cupboards inside the shed or garage, puts an extra barrier between your child and these poisons.
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.
Kitchen and laundry poisons
Items in the kitchen and laundry that can poison include:
- baby bottle cleaners
- dishwashing and laundry detergents
- disinfectants and bleaches
- drain cleaners
- floor polish
- hand sanitiser
- liquid cleaners like floor cleaners
- oven cleaners
- rat and insect poisons, including fly sprays
- spray cleaners like window and bench sprays
- stain removers and ironing aids.
Take particular care with dishwasher detergent:
- Buy dishwasher powder or liquid in a child-resistant container and store it out of sight and reach of children. Dishwasher 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 and turn it on.
- 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 the dishwasher, because the sludge can cause serious mouth burns.
You could consider using less dangerous cleaning products. For example, a mixture of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda cleans most surfaces.
Medicine cabinet poisons
Medicines are the most common cause of poisoning in young children. Almost all medicines can be poisonous if they’re not used or taken properly.
You can read more about medicines that can poison, including tips for safely storing, using and disposing of medicines.
It’s a good idea to put handbags out of reach of children. This includes your handbag, as well as handbags belonging to visitors. Handbags might contain things that can poison, like make-up, medicines, hand sanitiser, sunscreen and so on.