Household poisons: keeping children safe

Household poisons are substances in your home that can cause harm when swallowed, inhaled or touched. They include medicines, detergents, cleaning products, toiletries, garden chemicals and other common household products.

Poisoning occurs most often in children under five years of age. It’s particularly common in children aged 1-3 years.

The first step in preventing childhood poisoning is to store household poisons up high in locked cupboards, safely out of reach and out of sight of your child. If possible, cupboards should be at least 1.5 m high and have child-resistant locks.

Below we list common household poisons, along with tips for keeping your child safe in different areas of your house.

If you think your child has swallowed something poisonous, stay calm. Take the poisons container and your child to the phone and call the Poisons Information Centre on 131 126. Don’t wait for symptoms to appear – call straight away. Don’t treat the poisoning until you’ve got correct advice from the Poisons Information Centre.

Bathroom poisons
Put the following items out of reach and/or in a bathroom cabinet that you can lock, because these can all be harmful to your child:

bathroom, shower or tile cleaners
lipsticks and other make-up, including facial toner and nail polish remover
moisturisers and gels
mouthwash, perfume, hand sanitiser and aftershave – these can have a high percentage of alcohol
shampoos, conditioners, soaps and bodywash, especially those with food smells
toilet cleaners – fluid and solid.

Bedroom and family area poisons
Items in the bedroom or family area that can poison include:

air fresheners
bubble-blowing solution
CD and DVD cleaners
cigarette butts
essential oils – for example, eucalyptus oil
pot pourri.

Here are tips to keep your child safe from some of these poisons:

If you use these items, put them up high, out of sight and reach of children. Store them in a locked cupboard.
If you smoke, check that your cigarette is completely out and then throw it in the bin, rather than in an ashtray. To protect your child from second-hand and third-hand smoke, always smoke outside your house and ask visitors to do the same.
Keep handbags out of reach and ask family and friends to do the same when visiting.

If you live in an older house, it’s a good idea to buy a lead test kit at a hardware shop to check whether there’s lead-based paint in your house. Old houses and furniture might have been painted with lead-based paint, which is poisonous.

Garage and shed poisons
Items in the garage or shed that can poison include:

acids – for example, brick cleaning solutions
cement and lime
epoxies and resins – for example, adhesives, coatings, varnishes and solder mix
herbicides and weed killers
mag wheel cleaners and other car care products
paint and paint thinner
pesticides and snail killers

Here are tips to keep your child safe from these poisons:

Keep paints and solvents (like mineral turpentine, kerosene and white spirits) out of reach and out of sight all the time.
Lock your shed or garage, as well as any storage boxes or cupboards that are inside the garage or shed.
Keep poisons in original containers, rather than pouring them into used soft drink or juice bottles.

Kitchen and laundry poisons
Items in the kitchen and laundry that can poison include:

baby bottle cleaners
dishwashing and laundry detergents
disinfectants and bleaches
drain cleaners
floor polish
hand sanitiser
liquid cleaners like floor cleaners
oven cleaners
rat and insect poisons
spray cleaners like window and bench sprays
stain removers and ironing aids.

Here are tips to keep your child safe from these poisons:

Store chemicals and cleaners out of sight and reach of children at all times.
Install child-resistant locks on cupboards.
Leave all chemicals and cleaners in their original containers – don’t pour them into used juice or soft drink bottles.
Put all chemicals and cleaners away immediately after use.
Safely dispose of any products no longer in use.
Consider using cleaning products that might be less dangerous. For example, a mixture of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda cleans most surfaces.
Take particular care with dishwasher detergent:

Buy dishwasher powder or liquid in a child-resistant container and store it out of sight and reach of children. Dishwasher powder and liquid are corrosive. They burn and are extremely dangerous if swallowed.
Keep children away if you’re adding detergent to the dishwasher. When filling your dishwasher, put the detergent in last then immediately close the machine.
Check for sludge or powder caking in or near the dispenser when emptying your dishwasher. This is particularly important if young children are helping to unload, because the sludge can cause serious mouth burns.

Medicine cabinet poisons
Medicines are the most common cause of poisoning in young children. Almost all medicines can be poisonous if they’re not used or taken properly.

Often poisoning happens when medicine is left within reach. This means that the key to preventing poisoning with medicines is to store medicines like any other household poison – up high, in a locked cupboard. If you or other family members need to use a medicine, put the medicine away immediately after use.

You can read more about medicines that can poison, including tips for safely storing, using and disposing of medicines.