Hazard labelling on household chemicals
We want to help you stay safe when using chemical substances around your home and garden, by knowing what to look out for on labels and understanding what they mean.
Many of the everyday products you use at home contain chemicals that fall into the category of ‘hazardous substances’ – from toothpaste to dishwashing powder, paint and garden sprays.
Labels on these products explain the physical, health and environmental risks that you need to be aware of so that you can use, store and dispose of them safely. Similar labelling requirements apply throughout the world.
This Caution Notice sets out why it’s important that you check product labels, so that you can keep yourself, your household, and our environment safe, while getting the result you want from the product you’ve bought.
Always read the label
Always read the information on a label before using a hazardous substance, even if you’ve used it before so you’re aware of what you need to do to stay safe when using it, the best way of storing it (for example, some pool chemicals need to be stored separately) and the safest way to dispose of leftover contents when you’ve finished with them.
If you don’t understand the instructions, or need more advice, check with the manufacturer or ask at the store where you bought it.
Commonly used symbols
Look out for red and black symbols indicating that contents are hazardous and could cause harm if not used or stored correctly. Keep yourself and others safe by learning what they mean.
Internationally used symbols include:
These products, such as garden sprays and pool chemicals, can harm the environment. Follow the instructions carefully to limit their impact.
Chemical burns (corrosive)
Oven, drain cleaners and other strong cleaning products can be corrosive, cause severe burning and eye damage. Wear protective gloves and safety glasses when you use them.
Serious health effects
This symbol indicates that the product can harm or kill if swallowed, inhaled, or in contact with your skin. Think about whether you really need to use these products.
Further examples are available on the Safety, storage and disposal page.
Words to look out for
You should take the most care with products with labels using the words DANGER and HARMFUL, and ensure you follow the safety instructions.
Products with WARNING or CAUTION on the label are generally safer than those with DANGER or HARMFUL.
Care should still be taken, regardless of whether a product label includes the signal words mentioned above.
It’s important to look for other warnings, such as:
- highly flammable liquid and vapour
- may cause respiratory irritation
- causes skin irritation
These provide actions you should take to prevent harm, respond to an emergency, store and dispose of the product. For example:
- Use only in a well-ventilated area
- Keep out of reach of children
- Keep cool. Protect from sunlight.
Response statements tell you what steps to follow after exposure, including first aid advice or treatment recommendations, for example:
- wash contaminated clothing before re-use
- if skin irritation occurs seek medical attention
- do not induce vomiting.
Storage statements tell you how to safely store substances, for example:
- store in a dry place
- store in corrosive-resistant container
- store away from other materials.
Disposal statements provide recommendations about how to safely dispose of substances. The following are examples of disposal statements:
- avoid release into the environment
- do not allow to enter into drains or waterways.
Be careful with all chemicals
All chemicals should be treated with caution, even if they haven’t been classified as a hazardous substance.
Remember that even ‘natural’, ‘organic’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ products can be harmful so make sure you read those product labels too.
Some labels refer to PE (protective equipment) or PPE (personal protective equipment).
PPE is used to minimise exposure to hazards.
It can include things like safety glasses, a face mask, or protective gloves.
When choosing appropriate clothing or equipment for a task:
- talk to experts, ie those who use the clothing or equipment
- ensure that clothing or equipment fits
- look for a standards mark on clothing or equipment, indicating that it meets safety requirements.
More details on the safety, storage and disposal of hazardous substances is available on this website:
- see the Safety, storage and disposal page
For information on how to safely dispose of the hazardous substances you use at home:
- read Consumer NZ’s free hazardous waste disposal guide, sponsored by the EPA.
The National Poisons Centre maintains a database of poisonous substances in New Zealand, and provides advice during poisoning incidents.
- call the Poisons Centre on free phone 0800 764 766