We come into contact with chemicals and hazardous substances every day: use them with care. Things like cleaning products, barbecue fuel, plant food and even toothpaste can harm us, our whānau and the environment, if they are not used, stored or disposed of properly.
111 in an emergency
Healthline on 0800 611 116 for medical advice
National Poisons Centre on 0800 764 766 for poisons advice
Always read the label
Use as intended and never mix them together
Close containers, lock them up, and keep out of reach
Store in original containers
Dispose of according to label instructions
The everyday household chemicals we use
Using household chemicals
Storing household chemicals
Getting rid of household chemicals
Keep kids safe around household chemicals
Keep pets safe around household chemicals
Warnings and symbols on the label
Everyday household products that contain chemicals and hazardous substances include:
- cosmetics and toiletries, for example, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, shaving products, insect repellents, sunscreen and make-up
- face paint, crayons and children’s art supplies
- fireworks, crackers and poppers
- fuel, for example, LPG for barbeques and petrol stored for lawnmowers or cars and motorbikes
- gardening products, such as weed sprays and pesticides
- household cleaners such as sprays, detergent and washing powder
- paint, paint thinners and solvents
- pet products, for example, flea and worm treatments and pet shampoo
- poison, such as insecticides and pest and insect bait
- spa and swimming pool cleaners.
Take extra care with heavy-duty household chemicals like poison, pesticides, and flammable products. You and your whānau can get sick or worse if you accidentally breathe in, eat or drink, or spill these household chemicals onto your skin.
Remember that everyday products like toothpaste and washing up liquid can contain chemicals and hazardous substances and also need to be used with care.
Read our advice here and always read the product label.
Before you start
- Buy only what you need.
- Think about using alternative products that do not contain as many hazardous chemicals or harmful ingredients.
- Read the label and follow the instructions. The label has the information you need to keep yourself and others safe. For example, wearing gloves and goggles or what to do in an emergency.
- If you want more information about the product, its ingredients and their hazards, read the product’s safety data sheet. You can look online for a copy or ask at your retailer or shop.
- If you need to wear protective clothing, put it on before you start using the product.
- For cosmetics and toiletries, do a patch test on your skin before you use it for the first time. Apply to a small area of your skin, and if you develop a rash or a skin irritation, do not use the product.
While you are using the product
- Use the right product for the right job. For example, don’t use a flea treatment for a cat on a dog, and make sure you use the right amount.
- Never mix chemicals unless you are instructed to on the label.
- Cover up. Wear goggles and gloves and long sleeves and trousers if you are using heavy-duty cleaners and sprays. For some paint and paint strippers wear a face mask and safety glasses. Follow the instructions on the label.
- Keep doors and windows open if you are using heavy-duty products, such as solvents or paint thinners, inside.
- Don’t use spray cans or garden sprays when it is windy. It could blow onto your skin or drift into areas you don’t want sprayed.
- Keep products out of reach of children and pets.
When you have finished
- Clean up any spills.
- Make sure the lid is tightly closed, there are no leaks and put away immediately.
- Keep out of reach of children and pets. Even if the product has child-resistant packaging, it is not child proof.
- Store high up or in a locked cupboard or cabinet and in a well-ventilated area.
- Check the label for special storage instructions. For example, you may be asked to store the product in a cool, dry place; or to keep it away from other chemicals.
- Keep away from water, food, pet food and medicines.
- Keep away from anything hot, for example, barbeques, fireplaces and stoves. Take special care with spray cans and flammable products.
- Do not store large amounts of flammable products, like petrol, in or near your home.
- Keep the product in its original bottle or box. This is important – the safety information you need is on the label and the packaging may be designed so it does not react to the contents inside.
- Never transfer chemicals into food or drink containers. Children may not know the difference and eat or drink the contents.
- Seal and clean all containers properly before you put them away.
- Check if there is an expiry date. If the product has expired, get rid of it by following the instructions on the label.
- Check the label. It will tell you whether it’s safe to put in your household rubbish, if it needs to go into landfill or be disposed of in a managed way. If you are unsure, contact your council for advice.
- Consumer NZ has a guide that tells you which chemicals your local council will accept for disposal and where to take them.
- Some shops accept products for recycling and disposal, for example, paint or batteries. Ask at the shop you bought the product from.
- Do not put any flammable, corrosive or poisonous chemicals into your household rubbish or recycling bin. It could be bad for the environment and your health.
- Don’t pour chemicals directly down the drain. It is bad for the environment and can get into our waterways.
- Make sure children and pets are kept away from rubbish that contains household chemicals you have thrown away.
- Only buy what you need so you have less to get rid of and you’re not storing large quantities in your home.
Download our factsheet: Using household chemicals safely (pdf, 310 KB)
Babies and children need you to keep household chemicals and other harmful products away from them.
- The packaging used for household chemicals can come in all sorts of interesting shapes and colours which can be attractive to babies and small children. Keep products high up and locked up.
- Child-resistant packaging is not child proof. Child-resistant packaging makes it harder for kids to open containers but there is no guarantee it will stop them. Keep products high up and locked up.
- Use child safety locks on cupboards where chemicals are stored.
- Never transfer household chemicals into food or drink containers. Children may not know the difference and they could eat or drink the contents.
- Think about the places babies and young children can reach. For example, perfumes, sunscreen and lipstick in your bag can be easy to get into. Babies and young children can get very sick if they eat them.
- Dogs are the most commonly poisoned pets: they can unknowingly eat large amounts of a hazardous substance, and puppies will chew anything and everything.
- Cats lick their fur and paws so could accidentally swallow chemicals they have walked through or brushed up against.
- Smaller pets like guinea pigs and rabbits can get into enclosed spaces where could be chemicals, for example, snail bait, and they like to chew on things.
Advice if you think your pet is poisoned
- Look out for symptoms of poisoning: unusual licking, chewing or swallowing; unusual body temperature and breathing rate; lethargy, twitching or shaking; drooling, vomiting or diarrhoea. Tell your vet.
If you think your pet has been poisoned:
- phone the vet
- try and identify the poison by looking for chewed up material, empty containers, poison around your pet’s mouth
- do NOT make your pet vomit if they are awake and alert; but always ask your vet.
Take the most care with products with DANGER, HARMFUL, POISON, WARNING or CAUTION on the label.
The words DANGER, HARMFUL and POISON are used for the most dangerous products. Products with WARNING or CAUTION are generally safer but may still be harmful.
It causes harm
- highly flammable liquid and vapour
- may cause respiratory irritation
- causes skin irritation.
How to prevent harm
- wear gloves or safety goggles
- use only in a well-ventilated area
- keep out of reach of children
- keep cool and protect from sunlight
- keep away from heat.
What to do in an emergency or chemical exposure
- call 111, the National Poisons Centre or Healthline
- do not induce vomiting
- if skin irritation occurs seek medical attention
- wash contaminated clothing before re-use.
How to store and dispose of the product
- store in a dry place
- store in corrosive-resistant container
- store away from other materials
- avoid release into the environment
- do not allow to enter into drains or waterways.
What the hazard symbols mean
Chemical burns (corrosive)
- Can cause severe burning and eye damage.
- Wear gloves and safety goggles.
- Products that may have this symbol are oven cleaners, drain cleaners and other strong cleaning products and can be corrosive.
- These products are flammable and can catch on fire.
- Keep away from direct heat and open flame, for example, lighters.
- Products that may have this symbol are hairspray, turpentine and some paint.
Fire accelerants (oxidisers)
- These products feed fires and explosions.
- Keep well away from heat sources and flammable substances.
- Products that may have this symbol are pool chemicals may have this symbol.
- Keep gas bottles and other pressurised containers out of direct sunlight and store them in a well-ventilated area.
- Products that may have this symbol are gas bottles containing CO2 for making soda water.
Serious health effects
- Can cause severe poisoning and be fatal if swallowed or come into contact with your skin.
- Think about whether you really need to use these products.
Moderate health effects
- May cause a rash, sleepiness or affect your breathing.
- Products that may have this symbol are washing powder and some cleaning agents.
Long-term health effects
- Can cause long-term and serious health issues.
- Products that may have this symbol are petrol and fire-starters.
- Can harm the environment.
- Follow the instructions carefully to limit their impact.
- Products that may have this symbol are garden sprays and pool chemicals.
Download our factsheet: Hazard symbols and safety advice (pdf, 185 KB)