Pesticide Safety

Prepared by Robert G. Bellinger, Extension Pesticide Coordinator, Clemson University. (New 03/99.)

HGIC 2751

Printer Friendly Version (PDF)

Pesticides include insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, rodent poisons and some other kinds of poisons. They also include insect repellents and disinfectants, such as bleach. Always keep pesticides and other household chemicals out of the reach of children.

Read the Label

Safe pesticide use begins with reading the label. Always read the pesticide label before you buy the product. Read the label before you use the product. The pesticide label lists the hazards of using the product. It also lists the precautions to take when using the product. Read and follow label directions exactly. Be sure you understand how to apply the pesticide and are able to follow the application directions exactly before you buy it. And finally, read the pesticide label before you store the pesticide.

Note Signal Words

How toxic a pesticide is to humans is indicated by a signal word on the label. There are three signal words: CAUTION, WARNING or DANGER. Signal words will usually be in capital letters. Least toxic products carry the signal word CAUTION. Products with the signal word WARNING on the label are more toxic. The most toxic pesticides have the signal word DANGER on their labels. Signal words do not indicate the potential for environmental harm.

Wear Protective Equipment & Clothing

Before you buy or use a pesticide, be sure you have the protective clothing and equipment you need. At the least, you will need long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, shoes with socks, a hat, and rubber gloves. DO NOT use latex rubber-type household gloves. Never wear leather gloves. In fact, don’t wear anything leather when applying pesticides, including leather shoes, belts, watchbands, or leather hat bands. Leather absorbs pesticides readily and cannot be decontaminated. If the label tells you to wear eye protection, wear at least splash-resistant goggles. Glasses for correcting vision or sunglasses are not protective. The personal protective clothing and equipment stated on the label must be worn; it is not just a suggestion!

Mix Pesticides Carefully

Be especially careful when you mix pesticides. When you open a pesticide container you are exposing yourself, and potentially others, to the concentrated product. Put on gloves made to resist pesticides and any other protective equipment, such as eye protection, required by the label before you open the container. Keep children and pets away from the area where you are mixing pesticides. Close the cap on containers when you are finished using them. Do not leave containers unattended while applying pesticides.

Keep a separate set of tools used only for mixing and applying pesticides. These include measuring spoons and cups and stirring paddles. Use plastic or metal items, not glass or wood. Open and mix pesticides outdoors or in a well-ventilated space. Mix only the amount of pesticide you will use. Use all that you mix.

Have on hand materials needed to clean up a spill. You will need absorbent materials such as cat litter (best), sawdust, or sweeping compound. These materials can be used to clean up other spills too, such as paints, solvents and fuels. Spread absorbent materials on the spill, then sweep them up and put them into a heavy-duty plastic bag.

Do not wash down spills with water. Many pesticides can be neutralized with household bleach. Remember that bleach can be hazardous and is also a pesticide. If you use bleach, first absorb the spill, as explained above, and then use the bleach. Soak up the bleach with absorbent material, also. Again, don’t wash down the spill with water.

Any material used to clean up the spill should be properly disposed of, including the broom. Small quantities of spilled homeowner pesticides and clean-up materials can be placed into a heavy-duty plastic bag and securely sealed and disposed of in household trash. Wash your hands and any exposed areas of your skin with soap and plenty of water immediately. Shower if necessary. 

Apply Pesticides Safely

The allowed use sites for pesticides are stated on their labels. For example, some pesticides may be used on lawns, but not in vegetable gardens. Many pesticides may be used outdoors, but not indoors. Use pesticides only in the places and for the uses stated on the label.

Be sure to use the amount of pesticide stated on the label. Never use more pesticide than stated on the label. Never use the pesticide more often than the label says.

Don’t apply pesticides when it is windy. Don’t spray overhead, such as when you treat tree branches, building eaves or ceilings. Don’t eat, drink or use tobacco when you are applying pesticides.

Shower immediately after you apply pesticides, even if you don’t think you got pesticide on you. Wash your hair, ears, and your hands and forearms well. Clean under your fingernails especially well.

Always keep people, especially children, and pets away from the area being treated.

Store & Dispose of Pesticides Properly

Store pesticides in a locked place away from children and anyone else not able to read and understand the pesticide label. Store pesticides separately from paints, solvents and fuels, especially gasoline. Store bottles and other containers of pesticides on a nonabsorbent surface, or place in plastic trays or pans. This will help to keep them organized, keep them from falling and breaking, and catch leaks. Write the date you opened the container on the container.

Never put a pesticide or other household chemical into other containers. Children may mistake them for a drink.

When you use all of the pesticide, follow the label directions for disposing of the empty container. For rinseable containers, put the rinse water into your sprayer and spray it out on your application target site. To dispose of unused pesticide you should also follow the label directions. Typically the label will tell you to wrap the container securely in several layers of newspaper and place in the trash. If possible, save the pesticide for household chemical collection days.

Remember to read and follow the label directions. From the time you open the pesticide container until you properly dispose of the empty container, you are responsible for protecting yourself, protecting others, and protecting the environment. And always follow the six most important words on the label: "KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN."

Page maintained by: Home & Garden Information Center


This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.