Chemical safety in the home

Chemicals are used in the home every day. They include cleaning fluids, plant food, paint and fuels. Homes even contain chemicals within plastics used for insulation and flooring. Getting to know the labels on chemical products will help protect you and your family from harm.

Chemical products in the home

Cleaning products like bleach, oven sprays and toilet cleaners are chemicals. So are paints, glues, oils, pesticides and medicines.

Most of the chemicals you use at home aren’t dangerous if you use them properly. However, some chemicals need more careful handling than others.

Labels can help you identify the more hazardous chemicals, tell you what the dangers are and advise how to use them safely.

Recognising chemicals

Most chemical products carry hazard symbols telling you whether a substance is harmful and in what way. You might see one or more symbols on a single product.

There are nine chemical product symbols.

Meaning Symbol
Very toxic (fatal) If this label showing a skull appears on a chemical product it shows that it's toxic
Contains gas under pressure Chemical symbol for contains gas under pressure
Harmful skin and eye irritation If this label appears on a chemical product it shows that it's harmful to skin and might cause eye irritation
Flammable Chemical symbol for flammable
Explosive Chemical symbol for explosive
Harmful to the environment Chemical symbol for harmful to the environment
Increases fire risk Chemical symbol for increases fire risk
Serious long term health hazards Chemical symbol for serious long term health hazards
Severe skin burns and eye damage Chemical symbol for severe skin burns and eye damage

More detailed information on chemical symbols is available from the Health and Safety Executive for NI (HSENI).

Chemical products will also usually have information about safely using the product – it’s important to read and follow this advice. Sometimes, labels will give details of the supplier so you can get further advice.


Medicines are specialist chemicals. They won’t carry the symbols above but can be harmful if taken in the wrong quantities or by children.

Using hazardous chemical products safely

Always read the warning label and follow the instructions.

It’s also advisable to follow these guidelines:

  • only use as much as you need of a product
  • if a substance is hazardous, remove children, pets and their toys from the area for as long as is recommended on the label
  • properly ventilate the area by opening the windows – if recommended, wear gloves, long sleeves and a mask
  • don't leave chemical products unattended – if you have to leave the room in the middle of a task, put the product away or take it with you
  • it’s dangerous to bring together two common household cleaners, chlorine bleach and ammonia, as this forms a highly toxic gas
  • after using chemicals, wash any part of you that came into direct contact with the substance with warm soapy water

Storing and disposing of chemical products safely

Safely store chemicals by following the storage instructions on the label.

In most cases, you should:

  • not move products into other containers – these containers might not be capable of safely storing the substance, you might not remember what is in the bottle and children might mistakenly think the substance is safe
  • keep all hazardous chemicals out of the reach of young children or locked up
  • never store hazardous chemicals near food or food products
  • keep hazardous chemicals away from items used to prepare and cook foods, like pots, pans and cooking utensils

If a product is leaking, expired or looks bad, you should dispose of it. Never pour products down the drain unnecessarily – remember that your drainage ends up in seas and rivers. Instead:

  • follow the advice on the label
  • take it to your local civic amenity site (waste and recycling centre), who can get rid of it safely


Contact with a toxic substance

If you or a member of your family may have swallowed or come into contact with a potentially toxic chemical, you must seek medical advice.

Remember to provide a full description of the product and describe any symbols or guidance from the manufacturer detailed on the bottle or package.

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