Household Safety: Preventing Poisoning
From fertilizer to antifreeze and medicines to makeup, poisonous items show up throughout our homes. Here are some important ways to help prevent kids from ingesting a poisonous substance.
- Don’t rely on packaging to protect your kids — child-resistant packaging does not mean childproof packaging.
- Never prepare or give medication to a child in the dark: You may give the wrong dosage or even the wrong medication.
- Never leave vitamin bottles, aspirin bottles, or other medications on kitchen tables, countertops, bedside tables, or dresser tops. Small children may decide to try to copy adults and help themselves.
- Never tell a child that medicine tastes like candy.
- Store all medications — prescription and nonprescription — out of sight and out of reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet. Even items that seem harmless, such as mouthwash, can be extremely dangerous if ingested in large quantities by children. Just because cabinets are up high doesn’t mean kids can’t get their hands on what’s in them — they’ll climb up (using the toilet and countertops) to get to items in the medicine cabinet.
- Make sure purses and bags — yours and guests’ — that could contain poisonous items such as medications are kept out of the reach of kids at all times.
- Always keep pills and liquids in their original containers.
- Try to keep a record of how many pills are left in a prescription container.
- Be aware of all medications in your home (and in those of relatives if your kids spend a lot of time there).
Cleaning Products and Other Household Chemicals
- Never put cleaning products in old soda bottles or containers that were once used for food.
- Never put roach powders or rat poison on the floors of your home.
- Store household cleaning products and aerosol sprays in a high cabinet far from reach.
- Don’t keep any cleaning supplies, including dishwasher detergent and dishwashing liquids, under the sink.
- Use safety latches for all cabinets containing hazardous substances.
- Keep hazardous automotive and gardening products out of reach in a securely locked area (ideally, in your garage, if you have one).
- When you’re cleaning or using household chemicals, never leave the bottles unattended if there’s a small child present.
- Don’t leave alcoholic drinks where kids can reach them. Take special care during parties — guests may not be mindful of where they’ve left their drinks. Clean up promptly after the party.
- Keep bottles of alcohol in a locked cabinet far from kids’ reach.
- Keep mouthwash out of the reach of kids, as many brands contain substantial amounts of alcohol.
- Food extracts, such as vanilla and almond, may contain alcohol and can be harmful to kids.
- Don’t use cribs, bassinets, highchairs, painted toys, or toy chests made before 1978; these may have a finish that contains lead.
- If you have an older home, have the paint tested for lead. For more information on lead, call the National Lead Information Center at (800) 424-LEAD (5323).
- Keep up on toy recalls due to the use of lead paint — you can receive notifications from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
- Never leave cosmetics and toiletries within easy reach of children. Be especially cautious with perfume, hair dye, hairspray, nail and shoe polish, and nail polish remover.
- Keep kids away from houseplants — and plants around your yard — that can be poisonous. Either put plants out of reach or buy only plants that are nonpoisonous. A few examples of toxic houseplants include: rhododendron, English ivy, lily of the valley, and holiday plants such as holly and mistletoe.
- Discard used button cell batteries (like those in watches) safely, and store any unused ones far from kids’ reach (alkaline substances are poisonous).
If you’re expecting a baby or you already have a child, it’s wise to:
- Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the abdominal thrust procedure (the Heimlich maneuver).
- Keep the following numbers near the phone (for yourself and caregivers):
- poison-control number: 1-800-222-1222
- doctor’s number
- parents’ work and cell phone numbers
- neighbor’s or nearby relative’s number (if you need someone to watch other kids in an emergency)
- Make a first-aid kit and keep emergency instructions inside.
- Install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
Maintaining a Safe, Kid-Friendly Environment
To check your childproofing efforts, get down on your hands and knees in every room of your home to see things from a child’s perspective. Be aware of your child’s surroundings and what might be potentially dangerous.
Completely childproofing your home can be difficult. If you can’t childproof the entire house, you can shut the doors (and install doorknob covers) to any room a child shouldn’t enter to prevent wandering into places that haven’t been properly childproofed. For sliding doors, doorknob covers and childproof locks are also great for keeping little ones from leaving your home.
Of course, how much or how little you childproof your home is up to you. Supervision is the very best way to help prevent kids from getting injured. However, even the most vigilant parent can’t keep a child 100% safe at all times.
Whether you have a baby, toddler, or school-age child, your home should be a haven where your little one can explore safely. After all, touching, holding, climbing, and exploring are the activities that develop your child’s body and mind.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013