The Poison Control Center

Safer Alternatives

The next time you open your kitchen or medicine cabinet, take a close look at the items stored inside. You will most likely find a wide variety of products ranging from household cleaning substances to personal care products to medicines.

You depend on these items daily and are so used to having them around your home that you may overlook one important fact: These products may contain chemicals that can harm a child or pet.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the potential for serious poisonings without eliminating these useful products from your home. Prevention should start when you make your purchasing decisions. Most people make selections based on quality and value without considering the safety of the product's contents.

Prevention

Make sure ingredients are clearly listed

Whether you contact The Poison Control Center or a doctor during an emergency, a list of ingredients is important for quick assessment and assistance. If you don't know the contents, treatment may be delayed while the contents of the product are being identified.

Choose the right product packaging

Many products are available in spray-pump, aerosol or twist-off cap containers. Select the spray or aerosol container because a child may be exposed to larger quantities of potentially harmful substances if the contents can be poured, rather than sprayed. Always use products in child-resistant packaging.

Give your children vitamins without iron

Unless specifically recommended by your pediatrician, choose a multivitamin without iron for your child. Children's multivitamins account for a large number of childhood poisonings because the vitamins are designed to attract children, are usually chewable and taste like candy. Vitamins with iron can cause a serious reaction in children. By avoiding children's vitamins with iron, you can reduce the chance of a serious poisoning exposure.

Use an nonalcoholic mouthwash

Unless your dentist recommends otherwise, switch to a non-alcoholic mouthwash. Mouthwash attracts children because of its bright color and sweet minty taste. When swallowed by your child, alcohol can produce serious toxic effects that require medical treatment.

Choose mothballs/flakes that contrain paradichlorobenzene

Mothballs/flakes contain either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene. Naphthalene is three times as poisonous as paradichlorobenzene and may cause dangerous blood problems in children. If you need to use mothballs in your home, double-check the ingredients and avoid those containing naphthalene.

Use pure cornstarch baby powder

Use pure cornstarch baby powder rather than powder containing talc. When dust particles of talc enter the lungs, either through inhalation or swallowing, serious chemical pneumonia may result. Lower the potential for a harmful exposure by using a pure cornstarch baby powder.

Use a nonacetone nail polish remover

Choose a nonacetone nail polish remover. The active ingredient in non-acetone nail polish remover is ethyl acetate, which is much less toxic to children than acetone.

Use clear rubbing alcohol

There are several types of rubbing alcohol preparations. Some are clear and contain isopropyl alcohol. Some are green and contain oil of winter green and isopropyl alcohol. The addition of the oil of wintergreen not only gives the alcohol its green color, but masks the smell with an attractive wintergreen aroma — much like candy. Both preparations are dangerous, but clear rubbing alcohol is the safer alternative. The green preparation is much more attractive to children and much more toxic if swallowed.

Choose insecticides that contain pyrethrins

All insecticides contain potentially poisonous substances. However, the safest choice is a product containing pyrethrins. The side effects from exposure to pyrethrins may be less dangerous than exposure to other commonly used insecticide ingredients.

Remember, even the "safer" alternatives are not completely harmless, and any exposure to these products should be taken seriously. Call The Poison Control Center to find out what, if any, action to take if your child is exposed to these products.

Safer alternatives to some hazardous product ingredients

Common potentially hazardous products Safer alternatives
With iron Without iron
Alcohol Alcohol-free
Naphthalene Paradichlorobenzene
Talc Cornstarch
Oil of wintergreen Isopropyl
Acetone Without acetone
Organophosphates Pyrethrins

Noncommercial cleaning alternatives

Here are some easy recipes for safer cleaning at home without the hazardous chemicals found in many off-the-shelf products. In most situations, the alternatives are less expensive and just as effective as the commercial product. Also, in the event of an accident, the alternatives are far less poisonous and are easily identifiable, making exposures easier to treat. 

Oven cleaner

Baking soda

Very fine steel wool
Sprinkle water, then a layer of baking soda on the oven. Rub gently with a steel wool pad. Wipe off dirt with a dry towel or sponge. Rinse well and wipe dry.

All-purpose cleaner

4 tablespoons baking soda
1 quart warm water
Dissolve baking soda in water. (You can also use baking soda on a damp sponge.) Baking soda will clean and deodorize all kitchen and bathroom surfaces.

Glass and window cleaner

3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup white vinegar
1 gallon warm water
Mix, apply to surface, wipe dry.

Drain cleaner

1 cup baking soda
1 cup white vinegar
Pour baking soda down drain. Add vinegar and cover the drain. Wait for a few minutes then flush with one kettle of boiling water.

Toilet bowl cleaner

Baking soda
Vinegar
Sprinkle baking soda into the bowl, add vinegar and scour with a toilet brush.

Tub and tile cleaner

Vinegar
Baking soda
Apply vinegar full strength to a sponge to clean tub and tiles. Baking soda can be used as a scouring powder.

Furniture polish

3 parts olive oil
1 part white vinegar
Apply with a clean, soft cloth.

Floor cleaner

1 cup white vinegar
1 gallon warm water
Apply to no-wax linoleum only.

Carpet cleaner

1 box baking soda
Sprinkle baking soda liberally over entire carpet. Wait at least 15 minutes, then vacuum.

Pest/ant control

1 cup flour
2 cups borax
Mix and sprinkle contents around house foundation.

Air freshener

Vinegar
Distribute partially filled saucers of vinegar around the room. To eliminate unpleasant cooking odors, boil 1 tablespoon white vinegar in 1 cup water.

Lime and mineral deposit remover

Vinegar
Paper towels
Hard lime deposits around faucets can be softened for easy removal by covering the deposits with vinegar-soaked paper towels. Leave the paper towels on for about one hour before cleaning. Leaves chrome clean and shiny.

 

Reviewed by: Poison Control Center
Date: October 2013

  • Print
  • Share

Contact Us

Call our 24-hour toll-free emergency hotline

1-800-222-1222

Hearing impaired

215-590-8789