How to Protect Kids from Toxins in the Home

Poisoning from household substances sends tens of thousands of kids to the ER every year. Here's how to protect your kids from household toxins.

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Accidental poisoning is a leading cause of harm in children, sending more than 65,000 kids under the age of five to the emergency room every year. And where do 90 percent of these poisonings occur? In the home.

Unfortunately, our kitchens, bathrooms, garages and backyards are full of chemicals and substances that are poisonous to kids, and often for adults, too. This is National Poison Prevention Week, which means it’s time to take a closer look at common — and less common — household toxins and how to keep them away from our kids.

Most Dangerous Household Poisons for Kids

The list of dangerous products commonly found in households is shockingly long. It includes items we use every day, as well as objects we take for granted as safe that often aren’t. Here are the top offenders, according to the National Capital Poison Control Center:

  • Medications, prescription and over-the-counter, plus vitamins and supplements.
  • Cleaning products, especially corrosives like drain openers, rust removers and oven cleaners, as well as laundry pods.
  • Cosmetics and personal care products, including nail polish and polish remover, hair dye and toothpaste.
  • Hydrocarbons, which include gasoline, motor oil, lighter fluid, furniture polish and other flammables.
  • Pesticides, many of which can cause harm when inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
  • Antifreeze and windshield washer fluid, both of which can cause serious injury and death.

Some other items may seem innocuous, but can be just as harmful — and tempting — to small children:

  • Liquid nicotine is sold in colorful packages and is often fruit- or candy-flavored. Ingesting just a small amount can kill a young child.
  • Button batteries, like those used in watches and small handheld electronic objects.
  • Toxic plants and mushrooms. Plants may be ornamentals in your garden, and toxic mushrooms can pop up in the yard.
  • Alcohol, not just in adult beverages but in mouthwash, astringents and hair products.
  • Creams and ointments, such as teething gel, sunscreen and hydrocortisone.

How to Safeguard Kids From Home Toxins

For parents, grandparents or anyone who frequently has small children in their home, safeguarding kids from household poisons demands vigilance — and requires you to think like a child. Consider what items are colorful, smell good, look edible or might otherwise be interesting to a small child. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) offers the following tips for child-proofing your home:

  • Medicines. Keep medicines in their original, childproof containers and out of reach of small children. If vitamins and supplements, including bags or jars of powdered supplements, are not in child-proof containers, keep them well out of reach of children. Consider a locking pill case for medications and any other tablets or capsules. Properly and promptly dispose of expired or unused medications. When your child watches you take medication, be sure not to refer to it as candy, treats or anything else that might be tempting to a little one.
  • Cleaning products. If your household is like most, there are cleaning products under the kitchen sink, in a bathroom cabinet or at floor level in a pantry. Because it’s not always practical to keep these items up out of a child’s reach, use safety locks or latches so curious kids can’t get at these toxic products. The same goes for laundry products — especially those colorful detergent pods.
  • Batteries. It’s way too easy for little kids to swallow one of those coin-sized batteries, and parents might not even realize they’ve done so. Because remote controls are often within reach of children, make sure they have screw closures. Failing that, keep them — and any other items with accessible batteries — up and out of reach. At the least, seal the battery compartment closed with duct tape.
  • Liquid nicotine. By law, liquid nicotine has to be sold in child-proof packaging. The CPSC says to leave it in that packaging when it’s not in use, and keep the bottles or cartridges far out of the reach of anyone underage. Remember that e-cigs and vape pins emit chemicals that can be dangerous to kids, so avoid using them around children.

Additional Preventive Measures

Here are some other precautions to keep dangerous substances and items out of the mouths of babes:

In the garage

  • Store tightly sealed pesticides on high shelves, well out of reach of children (and pets).
  • Store gas, oil and other flammables, as well as automotive supplies, in their appropriate containers, with lids tightly sealed or screwed shut.

In the garden

  • Before buying ornamental plants, do a little research on their toxicity. If they’re toxic to humans or pets, find an alternative.
  • Check your yard periodically and remove mushrooms or other fungi.

In the bathroom

  • Keep anything remotely toxic up high and out of reach, or invest in cabinet locks. If your kids like to play with your cosmetics, give them a few makeup brushes and some of your almost-used-up makeup to play with. Anything from Physicians Formula or Bare Minerals is safe for kids.

Call for help

  • Keep the National Poison Help Line number (800-222-1222) on the refrigerator and saved on your phone. It will connect you with your local poison control center.