Environmental Health
Healthy Home Environment
Household Hazardous Materials
  Household Hazardous Materials  

What Can You Do?

  Use Safer Alternative  l  Follow Precautions  l Read the Label  l

Store Hazardous Products Safely

You can help protect your health and the environment by taking care to select the least toxic products available, and then using and storing them carefully. Here are some ways you can protect the health of yourself, your family, pets, and the environment.

Use Safer Alternatives

  • See our Guide to Safer Products for tips on safer substitutes.
  • For a list of nearly 100 different hazardous products, risks, and healthy alternatives, see King County's Hazardous Products and Healthy Alternatives page. (NOTE: Their disposal information is not for Thurston County residents.)
  • Use less-toxic cleaners. Clean efficiently using common, less-hazardous, and inexpensive products. For more information, see Green Cleaning Recipes [PDF] and Tips for Non-Toxic Cleaning [PDF].
  • Use of antibacterial products with Triclosan may create more resistant germs. Use of these products has not been shown to reduce the spread of disease. Instead, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, such as Purell. For additional information, see Tips for Handwashing [PDF].
  • Choose products with little or no scent. Perfume chemicals may be irritants for children and people with respiratory ailments or sensitive skin.
  • Avoid aerosols. Aerosols overspray, may contain hazardous propellants or solvents, and are difficult to dispose of safely. Instead, try pump sprayers or wipe-on formulas.
  • Paints and Solvents: Go Low
    • Buy a pint or quart rather than a gallon when still deciding on paint colors.
    • Use low odor, also called low-VOC latex paints. See Healthy Indoor Painting.
    • Re-use paint thinner.
    • Look for paints and stains that are water-based (tip: they can be cleaned up with water).
  • If you cannot find a non-toxic product to do the job:

    • Buy only the amount you need. This is not the time for bulk bargain shopping!
    • Read the label carefully and follow all safety instructions.
  • Batteries: Think Recharge
    • Look for rechargeable batteries.
    • Recycle old batteries.  Non-alkaline batteries can be taken to HazoHouse for recycling.  Please refer to the Where Do I Take My... website for locations of recyclers that will accept spent alkaline batteries.

Follow Precautions

  • When you do need to use a hazardous product, follow the precautions on the label.
  • This may sound like obvious adviceóbut many people assume they know the product's precautions and have never really taken the time to read them through.
  • Next time you are doing a project using a spray can, stain, glue, or cleaner, really read the label and notice cautionary statements, such as:
    • Wear gloves
    • Wear goggles
    • Use with adequate ventilation or fresh air
    • Wear a respirator
    • Avoid contact with skin and eyes
    • Do not expose to heat
    • Keep out of reach of children
  • These statements are there to protect your health, as required by the:

Read the Label

  • Before You Buy ó Read the safety precautions to see if you should be using this product at your home. Is it safe to use around children, pets, pregnant women, aquatic areas, etc.? If you know you will not be able to follow the warnings, cleanup, and disposal directions, look for another product!
  • Check the signal word (caution, warning, or danger) before you buy. Buy and use the least hazardous product that does the job. Avoid products labeled DANGER or POISON which indicate extremely toxic (most harmful). Signal words are required by law.
  • DANGER means:
  • ~ Highly to extremely toxic
  • ~ Extremely flammable (catches fire easily from a spark or heat)
  • ~ Extremely corrosive (can burn skin or eyes)
  • WARNING or CAUTION are used interchangeably on most cleaning and household products to mean:
  • ~ Mildly to moderately hazardous
  • ~ May severely burn your skin
  • ~ May irritate your skin and eyes
  • Pesticides and disinfectants: "Warning" means the product is more hazardous than "Caution."  For more details on reading a pesticide label, see the U.S. EPA, Read the Label First.
  • No signal word: means the product is not hazardous, however, this does not mean it is safe to eat!
  • Check the ingredients.
    • Unlike food products, manufacturers of household products are not required to list all the ingredients.
    • Many products don't list ingredients in the "inert" category, yet your family may be sensitive to these chemicals.
    • Even when the ingredients are listed, the information can be confusing. Use the warning words as a guide.

To learn more about potential health risks of products by name, see the National Institutes of Health, Household Hazardous Products Database.

Store Hazardous Products Safely

  • Store hazardous household products in secure cupboards, out of danger of floods or spilling.
  • Place hazardous products in tubs or other leak-proof containers in case of accidental spills.
  • Keep products in original containers with original labels.
  • If you must store a chemical product in a different container, use the type of container it came in (plastic, metal, or glass). Some chemicals react with their containers and can eat through them. For example, do not store acid in a metal container or solvents in plastic. Label the new container with permanent ink and cover the label with clear tape.
  • Do not store incompatible chemicals togetheródo not store acids, such as rust remover, with bases, such as toilet bowl cleaner.
  • Keep your hazardous materials well-organized so you know what you have.
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This page last updated: 03/30/18