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Home, safe home

Every day, Canadians are exposed to toxic substances, which are any chemical or mixture that is harmful to humans, animals, or the environment. We know about a lot of them – we bring them home in the form of household cleaners, detergents, furniture polish, and other products. Others may not be so obvious, such as lead paint used in older homes.

Read the labels of household chemicals carefully. Look for safety information and symbols that say: "caution," "warning," and "danger" (the latter being the most serious). Use only as directed and keep them in the original containers out of the reach of children and pets. Don't spray or store products near human and animal food and water.

Safely discard expired products (find out if your community holds "hazardous waste" days). Store items that are flammable away from your living area and appliances, and keep all toxic substances out of the reach of children or pets.

Let's look at common hazardous items and how to handle them safely.

Lead paint

Lead is dangerous when accidentally inhaled or swallowed. Exposure can cause brain damage and nervous system damage, which may lead to learning disabilities. Lead poisoning can also lead to anemia. Lead poisoning in kids is still a problem in Canada. Children are more susceptible to lead poisoning because their developing bodies take up lead more readily.

Many homes built before 1960 have lead-based paint (it has since been banned for use in houses) in the interior of the house. Lead is also found in soil around homes with exterior lead paint, in household dust that contains lead from paint that is in bad condition, and in old painted furniture and toys. Lead-based paint that is peeling or cracking, or used on surfaces and objects that young children might chew on (such as windowsills and railings) is a hazard. Lead-based paint in good condition usually doesn't pose a threat. If you're concerned about lead, consult with your doctor and request for a blood test to assess how much lead you and your family is consuming. To remove lead-based paint safely, it might be a good idea to hire a trained professional – doing it improperly could worsen the situation.

Lead may also be in your water if your pipes are made with lead or lead solder. Contact the health ministry and ask about water testing. Read more about lead from Health Canada's lead information sheet at

Products used around the house

We use a lot of products to keep our homes and clothes clean and fresh-smelling, including disinfectant, glass cleaner, laundry detergent, chlorine bleach, air freshener, metal polish, spot remover, carpet cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, and furniture polish.

These contain various chemicals that can be harmful to people if used incorrectly or with excessive exposure. For example, if bleach is mixed with ammonia, they can produce a lethal gas. Ammonia in glass cleaners can irritate the eyes and lungs and cause headaches. Hydrochloric acid in toilet bowl cleaners can cause burns or gastrointestinal problems if swallowed. Blindness can result if it is splashed into the eyes. Some laundry detergents can cause vomiting, shock, and convulsions if swallowed.

Be careful when using these products – follow directions closely, heed precautions such as wearing rubber gloves or ensuring adequate ventilation, and know what to do in case of injury. Keep these products tightly capped or closed when not in use, and store out of the reach of children or pets.

Products found in the garage and backyard

Antifreeze, motor oil, batteries, paint and paint thinner, insecticides, windshield washer fluid, swimming pool tablets, insect repellents – these are just some of the potentially hazardous items in garages across the country.

Antifreeze, for example, is poisonous if swallowed, and can damage the heart, kidneys, and brain. (Clean up spills so pets, who like the sweet smell, don't drink them.) Motor oil contains heavy metals that can cause nerve and kidney damage, and the sulfuric acid in batteries can cause blindness and severe burns. The organophosphates and carbamates in insecticides can cause headaches, twitching, nausea, and dizziness.

To prevent injury, make sure containers are not leaking and caps are on tightly, and dispose of these items safely – consult your public health department.

For more safety information about household chemicals, contact the Poison Information Centre in your area.

Natural alternatives

If you want to reduce the number of chemicals you use in your home, consider switching to natural alternatives. Only a few decades ago, people used items like baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice to keep their homes clean. Here are some examples:

  • Baking soda deodorizes, cleans without scratching, and removes stains. To clear a clogged drain, for example, try a plunger first, then pour half a cup of baking soda and half a cup of white vinegar down the drain and cover it. (Don't use this after a commercial cleaner – it is dangerous.)
  • Vinegar makes a good window cleaner when mixed with water. Undiluted white vinegar also cleans stainless steel.
  • Lemon juice mixed with water is also a good glass cleaner.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

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