Safety, storage and disposal
Keep your family safe by understanding labels, and storing and disposing of products properly.
Many things you use at home are considered ‘hazardous substances’ – from toothpaste to dishwashing powder, paint and garden sprays. These need to be treated carefully from the time you buy them, store them, until you throw them away when you're done. Special care is needed to keep children safe.
Here are some tips to keep you safe when storing and disposing your hazardous substances; some advice on keeping children safe; and advice about what all that information on the label means.
Alternatively, refer to Consumer NZ's free hazardous waste disposal guide, sponsored by the EPA, which includes a council-by-council breakdown on how to dispose of unwanted chemicals safely in your region.
For more advice call The Poisons Centre on 0800 764 766.
If a person is not breathing or is unconscious, call 111 immediately.
What to look for on the label and what instructions to follow
The label of products that can be harmful has important safety information on it. Many also have the words DANGER, WARNING, POISON, or CAUTION to signal they can be dangerous.
The words DANGER and POISON are used for the most dangerous products. Products with WARNING or CAUTION on the label are generally safer than those with DANGER or POISON. It’s important to note though that just because a product doesn’t have one of these words on its label doesn’t necessarily mean the product is not dangerous. It’s still important to look for other information that signals a product can be harmful, such as:
- information about the harm the product can cause, for example – Causes skin irritation
- actions you can take to prevent harm from the product, for example - Use only in a well ventilated area, Keep out of reach of children
- information about what to do in an emergency, such as first aid actions, for example - Do not induce vomiting.
- The label could also have information about how to store and dispose of the product safely.
Remember that even ‘natural’, ‘organic’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ products can be harmful so make sure you read those product labels too.
Follow the instructions on the label
Once you understand the harm that can be caused by the product you’re using, keep reading the label as it will provide advice about how you can stay safe while using the product. For example, it might tell you to wear rubber gloves and safety glasses.
Commonly used symbols found on labels
Internationally used symbols indicate the level of harm a product may cause if not used or stored correctly. Keep yourself and others safe by learning what they mean.
Indicates that the product contents are flammable. May be found on hairspray, turpentine, and some paints. Keep these products away from lighters and other sources of direct heat and/or flame.
Fire accelerants (oxidisers)
These will feed fires and explosions. Pool chemical labels may include this symbol. Keep them well away from heat sources and other flammable substances.
Chemical burns (corrosive)
Oven, drain cleaners and other strong cleaning products can be corrosive, cause severe burning and eye damage. Wear gloves and safety glasses when you use them.
Gas bottles containing CO2 for making soda water may include this symbol. Keep gas bottles out of direct sunlight, and store them in a well-ventilated area.
Serious health effects
This means severe poisoning and product contents may be fatal if ingested or in contact with your skin. Think about whether you really need to use these products.
Moderate health effects
Contents may could cause rashes, induce sleepiness or affect your breathing. Washing powder and some cleaning agents may include this symbol.
Long term health effects
Products with this symbol can cause long-term and serious health issues. Petrol, fire- starters and DIY products may include this symbol.
These products, such as garden sprays and pool chemicals, can harm the environment. Follow the instructions carefully to limit their impact.
Keeping children safe
Babies and small children move quickly and explore the world around them. They don’t know what can harm them and need you to keep products like these away from them.
Keep them up or lock them up
Household chemicals are often packaged in interesting containers with colourful labels. Their colours and shapes can appeal to babies and young kids. But they need to be out of sight of prying eyes and small hands. So lock them in a cupboard, or up high, out of sight and reach. Keep them up high when you are using them too.
Keep products in their original container
Cleaning products often have child-resistant lids on them to make it more difficult for children to get into the product. While helpful, these lids aren’t child-proof and kids may still be able to open them. We recommend keeping the product in the original container with the child-resistant lid on, closing the lid tightly and then putting the product in a locked cupboard or up high out of reach.
Never transfer household chemicals into food or drink containers.
Put household chemicals away straight away
Put household chemicals away as soon as you bring them home from the supermarket and straight away after you’ve used them.
Also be aware of products you have in other places that kids might get into. Perfumes, sunscreen and lipstick in your handbag for example, can be easy for your kids to access and can make your kids very unwell if they eat them.
Storing household chemicals safely
Many products you use every day can be harmful if they aren’t used and stored properly. From the dishwasher detergent you use in the morning to the sprays you use in your garden – you need to know how and where to store these products to keep yourself and your family safe.
Where to find out how to store products safely
Your best bet for finding good information about safely storing harmful products at home is by reading the label on the bottle or package. Some need to be kept in a cool, dry place. They should all be kept out of reach of children.
The EPA sets the rules for the labelling of many hazardous products and our advice is that you read the label and follow the instructions.
Keep products in their original containers
Keep household chemical products in the packaging they came in. Some are in special packaging so it doesn’t react with the substance inside. Others have child-resistant lids to help stop kids opening them.
Moving the substance into a different container means you’ll also lose the safety information printed on the label, which can include emergency numbers and important first aid information.
Remember ‘child resistant’ packages are not child proof
Child resistant packages make it hard for kids to open them. While helpful, these lids aren’t completely child-proof. We recommend keeping the product in the original container with the child-resistant lid on, closing the lid tightly and then putting it in a locked cupboard or up high out of reach.
Make sure you always seal child-resistant packages properly before you put them away.
Our top tips for storing household chemicals safely
- Keep your hazardous substance products in their original containers, and store them according to the directions on the label.
- If the label says ‘keep out of reach of children’ or similar, make sure it is kept in a locked or child-safe cabinet that’s out of children’s sight and reach.
- If the product is flammable, store it away from heat sources, such as heaters or barbeques. Avoid storing large amounts of flammable products, like petrol, in or near your home.
- Keep poisons away from food, pet food, and medicines.
- Try to keep your products in a well-ventilated storage area.
- Never put products in soft drink bottles, milk or other food or drink containers.
- Keep the poisons centre phone number (0800 764 766) by your telephone.
How to safely dispose of the hazardous substances you use at home
Hazardous substances need to be treated carefully not only during use, but also when you throw them away when you're done.
Start by reading the label
You should check the label to see if there are any special steps you need to take to dispose of the product you want to get rid of. You can also ask at the store where you bought it to get more details about what you should do. Some stores even have recycling services for some products (for example, paint).
Watch what you put in your rubbish
Some types of hazardous substances can’t go in your usual council rubbish. You should check the label for special advice on this, or call your local council or rubbish collection agency.
If you do put hazardous substances in your household rubbish, make sure young children can’t get into the rubbish and access them.
Think before you pour hazardous substances down drains
Check the label for advice about whether it is okay to wash your product down your sink drain. If you are still not sure, check with the place where you bought the product, call the manufacturer, or call your local council.
Buy only what you need
Try to plan ahead and only buy as much of a product as you will need. This will help you avoid having to dispose of left over product, or store large quantities in your home.