Common Household Poisons and How to React


[NOTE: If you need immediate assistance with common household poisons, remain calm and call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.]

What’s the second leading cause of unintentional injury death in the United States (after motor vehicle crashes)? Poisoning, which causes 82 deaths per day according to the CDC.

And while poison control centers save lives, reduce health care spending, and assist everyone from parents to health care providers, federal funding for them is set to be cut by $27 million this year. And many states are also chopping spending to local facilities.

Thankfully there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood that you’ll need the assistance of poison control.

Common Household Poisons

Prevention starts when you lock up, discard (or don’t buy), store separately from commonly used items, and buy small containers of the following common household poisons. If you’re looking for how to react to these common poisons skip to the next section.

1. Cleaning Supplies

Drain cleaners, oven cleaners, lime, lye, and toilet bowl cleaners are among the most dangerous of the cleaning supplies in your home. Ammonia, bleach, detergents, polishes, and most other purchased cleaning supplies can be poisonous if swallowed. Breathing their fumes or getting the cleaning product on your skin may also cause poisoning. (See also:30 Household Products Vinegar Can Replace)

2. Medicines

The most dangerous medicines include rubbing alcohol, iron pills, and prescription drugs. Prescription drugs or vitamins that children see their parents taking every day are commonly consumed by children and should be stored out of reach and with child proof tops.

3. Personal Care Products

False finger nail remover, hand sanitizer, facial cleansers, and mouthwash are all extremely dangerous, especially for children because of their high alcohol content. Perm solutions and hair relaxers are also very poisonous. The majority of personal care products from shampoo to perfume can be poisonous to children if swallowed.

4. Pesticides

Nearly anything that will kill a small animal is likely to be exceptionally poisonous for humans if swallowed or spilled on the skin. Besides storing pesticides in a safe place, remember to wear gloves and, for the extra caution, an n95 mask when applying. (See also: Easy Homemade Mosquito and Insect Traps and Repellent)

5. Paints and Paint Thinners

Paint, paint thinners, and paint chips may be poisonous both in the short term (fumes and swallowing) and long term (lead poisoning). Paint thinner fumes are especially toxic and paint thinner should only be used in a well ventilated area.

6. Gasoline, Kerosene, Motor Oil, and Hydrocarbons

Hydrocarbons include gasoline, motor and lamp oil, lighter fluid, furniture polish, and paint thinners. These are all highly poisonous if swallowed. Also take precautions to avoid spilling on skin and breathing in fumes.

7. Antifreeze

Windshield washer fluid and antifreeze can cause death if swallowed. Don’t leave them on the floor of the garage. Keep them locked up and out of reach.

8. Household Plants

Some household plants (and garden variety plants) are poisonous as many dog and cat lovers know. (Veterinarians typically give warnings about holly, mistletoe, and poinsettia over the holidays.) Poison control has a good list of safe and dangerous plants. However, note that to get assistance from poison control about poisonous plants you must know the plant’s common or botanical name. You can’t try to describe the plant and hope they will be able to identify it. So, it’s worth it to go around your home and garden this spring and learn the names of your plants.

9. Mushrooms

Some wild mushrooms can be deadly if eaten. The average person cannot distinguish between dangerous and safe mushrooms. So as Lindsey recommends in Foraging for Food: the Hunt for the Wild Mushroom, buddy up with an expert forager.

10. Batteries

Button sized batteries (like watch batteries) are easily swallowed and can get stuck in the esophagus or intestines. Because of unique complications with batteries there is a specific website and hotline (202-625-3333) for battery poisoning.

11. Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide poisoning is common in both homes and cars and is particularly scary because it is easily undetected and symptomless — especially if you are sleeping. Carbon monoxide detectors are a must and should be in every bedroom of every home and also near the furnace. Buy detectors that have both battery backup and electrical plug in to be extra cautious.

How to React to Common Poisons

If you or someone you know may have swallowed, spilled, or breathed something poisonous do the following.

DON’T induce vomiting, DON’T feed Ipecac, and DON’T use activated charcoal before consulting with poison control. Ipecac syrup is no longer recommended by poison control.

Follow this simple chart from poison control from the National Poison Control Center that gives the basics of how to react to poison depending on how you are affected.

The Minnesota Poison Control Center goes into a little more detail about each of the above on their first aid page including adding tips about how to flush a child’s eye, reminding you to remove the poisonous object if still in mouth or on skin, and to not try to use any neutralizing natural remedies like raw eggs, mustard, vinegar, etc.

Handling a poisoning is stressful, but try to remain calm. Prevent poisoning by removing or reducing the common household poisons from your home. And remember to keep the poison control number posted by your phone (or stored in your cell phone): 1-800-222-1222.

Remember, children aren’t the only ones at risk for poisoning. Adults and seniors can be affected too. Have you ever noticed how similar a can of parmesan cheese and Comet cleaning scrub look? If grandma weren’t wearing her glasses, she could easily sprinkle the wrong one on her pasta.

Take steps to replace some of these nasty chemicals with natural replacements such as vinegar and baking soda to help your home become safe.

Additional Resources for Common Household Poisons

The information on the page has been compiled from poison control center websites including the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the Minnesota Poison Control Center, and the National Poison Control Center.

This Minnesota Poison Control Chart has a more complete list of common poisons and the American Association of Poison Control Centers has a good chart that walks you through poisons found in various rooms in your home.

Finally, the US Department of Health and Human Safety has safety information on many household products.

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Guest's picture

The poison control centers are a GREAT resource if you have questions regarding accidental ingestion. However, their funding may be in danger. The phone number will remain, but there will be no one to answer it. Go to to learn more and to contact your congressmen!