Safety and first aid

Buying, using, storing and disposing of household chemicals

A collection of coloured containers of household chemicals and poisons kept insecurely in a garden

Buying chemicals

Before buying chemicals, it is important to find out more about the product through your retailer or the manufacturer.

If there is more than 1 product suitable for the job, always choose the least dangerous product. Use the warnings on the label as a guide to help you decide.

All of the information you need to know about the dangers and safe use of chemicals is found on the label.

Always make sure you read the label carefully and ask someone if you do not understand the information. You can ask the product retailer, your local pharmacist or your local government environmental health officer to assist you.

Products that contain chemicals have labels that classify the level of its toxicity. By law, this information must be in large bold letters as a signal heading on the front of the label.

Learn more about what the labels on household chemicals mean.

Using chemicals

If you use chemicals exactly as directed on the product label – you are using chemicals safely.

All products containing chemicals must be used with care.

It’s important that you are prepared. Before you start using a chemical, make sure you read and understand the directions on the label.

Follow any safety directions carefully. For example:

  • Avoid breathing in vapours when spraying a pesticide or when applying a sealant.
  • Wear rubber gloves and eye goggles to prevent chemicals coming into contact with your skin or eyes, especially when handling corrosive chemicals such as spirits or hydrochloric acid.

Some labels will list items that you should have on hand in case of an emergency. These will be listed under ‘Safety directions’ and ‘First aid instructions’ – make sure you have them before you start.

Pay particular attention to the directions for use on the label and only use the exact amount stated. Using twice as much chemical will not be twice as effective – but it may be twice as toxic. Similarly using less chemical may require more frequent applications and increase the danger of poisoning.

Keep children and pets away when using chemicals, particularly those labelled ‘CAUTION’ and ‘POISON’. Read more about labels on household chemicals

How to handle chemicals safely

Do not:

  • eat, drink or smoke while using chemicals
  • mix chemicals or products unless specified on the label
  • add water to a chemical – when mixing strong acids or alkalis (for example solid caustic soda) always add the chemical to cold water
  • use hot water as there is a risk of explosion
  • become complacent using chemicals – take care even when there are no warnings or safety directions on the label.

Do:

  • wash your hands with soap and water after using chemicals
  • read the instructions every time before using a product, even if you have used it before (do not rely on your memory). This can save valuable time if first aid is required
  • be responsible about using chemicals, especially if children are nearby.

If you find the label has been damaged, destroyed, removed or cannot be read, then you should dispose of the product appropriately.

Storing chemicals

When you store your chemicals, always keep them in their original containers, making sure the lids are tightly sealed to prevent spills.

When storing chemicals ensure:

  • containers are easily identifiable, stored tidily and kept away from children in a secure location
  • any special storage instructions are followed – for example make sure that:
    • flammable liquids are stored away from a source of heat
    • acids stored away from alkalis
    • medicines and pesticides are stored in a cool place
    • pool chemicals are never stored near any kind of fuel
  • you routinely check storage areas to ensure that containers are not damaged or leaking, especially if the chemicals are being stored long-term
  • that you never pour or store chemicals into containers that are:
    • unlabelled
    • normally used for storing which food or drinks
    • attractive to children.

Important

It is illegal to store pesticides in containers other than the original, properly labelled containers that meet labelling requirements for products containing poisons.

Some household products, such as detergents and soap powders bought in large quantities, may be repackaged safely into smaller containers if the original packaging is damaged or broken.

If you repackage a product containing chemicals, the new container must:

  • be clearly and properly labelled
  • be unattractive to children
  • not be mistaken for a food or drink container.

Disposing of unwanted chemicals

Any empty chemical containers should be wrapped and placed in a rubbish bin or recycled where possible.

Your local rubbish tip, garage or larger auto retail shops may have collection points for recycling engine oil.

Paints and solvents, like paint thinners, turpentine, and lacquers, can be recycled by industry.

The best way to avoid the problem of disposing of unwanted chemicals is to make sure you only buy the amount you require.

If you have leftover chemicals, store them safely and securely (as described above).

Do not hoard chemicals.

Unwanted pesticides, fuels, solvents or other dangerous chemicals should never be:

  • put in the rubbish bin
  • poured down a drain
  • left in the backyard.

Where to get help

  • Call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 (24 hours a day) if you suspect poisoning. If the victim has collapsed, dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance.
  • Contact your local government (external site) environmental health officer for information about disposing of unwanted chemicals.
  • Phone the Waste Authority (external site) on 6467 5325.

Remember

  • Take extreme care when using chemicals labelled ‘CAUTION’ and ‘POISON’.
  • Do not store chemicals into unlabelled containers or containers that could be mistaken for food or drink containers.
  • Dispose of unwanted chemicals responsibly.

Acknowledgements
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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