Common Household Poisons & What They Do to Kids -

Common Household Poisons & What They Do to Kids

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child sitting on floor surrounded by bottles of cleaning products

Kids are naturally curious little creatures. Their adventurous spirits are what most parents find entirely exhausting- and also really scary. How many times have you seen your kid almost doing something that could have seriously injured them? Or does that only happen in my house? Recently I caught my toddler with a bottle of toilet bowl cleaner. I have no idea how she got it- probably some combination of super baby strength and relentless determination- but I do know that it could have been a horrifying situation. Many products we use every day are common household poisons for children.

Petrifying, right? Things that you purchase to help keep your house clean and safe are some of the most common household poisons. It feels like a loose-loose situation in many ways. The goal of this post isn’t to scare you- using fear is never my intent, but I do want to make you aware of the common household poisons for kids and what they do when ingested.

Common Household Poisons


Every home has a medicine cabinet. And most of the time, medications are safe for the intended use when following the instructions on the label; where it gets dangerous for kids is when they take the wrong medicine or swallow too much.

What’s Dangerous:

  • Ingesting a medicine meant for an adult
  • Taking too large of a dose of a child medication (like getting a double dose of Tylenol or Benadryl)

Iron Pills

Iron is essential for our health because it helps our blood be able to carry oxygen. Iron is so critical that many foods are fortified with it. Most new moms are even sent home with iron supplements after giving birth. So why is iron so dangerous for kids?

What’s Dangerous:

  • The pills look like candy. Iron pills are usually red and often the same size as a Skittle or M&M, so kids are more likely to try and eat them.
  • Iron poisoning isn’t as common TODAY as it was several years ago, but children can start throwing up blood or having bloody diarrhea in less than an hour after ingesting an adult iron supplement.

Topical Anesthetics

Teething gels, hemorrhoid creams, anti-itch creams, and sunburn relief lotions may all have some topical anesthetic. What’s an anesthetic? It’s an ingredient that is often used to help relieve pain by numbing the pain sensation.

What’s Dangerous:

  • When ingested, many anesthetics prevent the bloodstream from carrying oxygen throughout the body. The fancy word for this is methemoglobinemia.
  • Topical anesthetics can also cause seizures when eaten.
  • Teething gels are a topical anesthetic and can be dangerous for babies because they mix with saliva and get ingested FAST.
  • Teething gels can also cause numbing of other structures within the mouth and cause issues- like choking– when the baby tries to eat. Have you ever tried to eat after a dental procedure when you were still a little numb? It’s like that but in a baby.

Button Batteries

Button batteries are so irritating. It’s no wonder they’re considered a common household poison for children! For one, because I never have them when I need to replace the battery in the AppleTV remote. And two, because they’re incredibly dangerous.

What’s Dangerous:

  • They look like shiny candy, and kids love shiny things and candy.
  • When swallowed by children the batteries often lodge in the esophagus causing burns within just 2 hours. A hole in the throat may develop, and the wound can extend into the trachea or aorta. Yikes!

What to Do:

If your child swallows a button battery, call 911 or head to the emergency room immediately. Do not hesitate. Time is critical. An ambulance ride may be preferred because the child could start to choke or aspirate on the battery at any time, and you’re not going to be able to deal with a choking child quickly while driving.

Cleaning Products

When you clean your house, you’re creating a healthy environment for your family. Thinking about the dangers that hide in most cleaning products rarely crosses your mind. Acid, alkali, bleach, polish, detergent? Yeah, they’re all common household poisons.

What’s Dangerous:

  • When certain cleaners contact, the skin can cause chemical burns.
  • When cleaners are swallowed, coughing and vomiting can follow.

Drain Cleaners and Toilet Bowl Cleaners

Do you ever wonder why they make toilet bowl cleaners smell so refreshing? We know it’s to help your toilet smell better. But. It also entices kids to want to sniff or drink them.

What’s Dangerous:

  • Caustic products (drain and toilet cleaners) cause burns on contact with skin, eyes, and the gastrointestinal tract.
  • The damage from these products is INSTANT. Injury cannot be reversed, only treated.

What to Do:

If your child swallows a caustic cleaner, call 911 or head to the emergency room immediately. Do not hesitate. Time is critical. An ambulance ride may be preferred because the child could start to choke or aspirate on vomit at any time, and you’re not going to be able to deal with a choking child quickly while driving. While waiting for 911, call poison control.


What’s a hydrocarbon? It’s a broad category that includes: gasoline, kerosene, lamp oil, motor oil, lighter fluid, furniture polish, and paint thinner. Hydrocarbons are among the leading causes of poisoning death in children; which is scary, right? We don’t usually think about the gas cans lurking in the garage as a common household poison.

What’s Dangerous:

  • These slippery liquids can quickly go down the wrong way, and get into the lungs when someone swallows them. If hydrocarbons get into someone’s lungs, they make it hard to breathe.
  • Hydrocarbons can irritate the lungs and can also cause lung inflammation (like pneumonia).

Windshield Washer Fluid and Anti-Freeze

We couldn’t drive anywhere without it, but even small amounts are dangerous if your children or pets swallow windshield washer fluid or antifreeze.

What’s Dangerous:

  • Windshield washer solution can cause blindness and death if swallowed.
  • For several hours after swallowing antifreeze, everything seems fine- but that’s just because the body is breaking the substance down into many different chemicals. Antifreeze can cause kidney failure and death if swallowed.

What to Do:

Call for help BEFORE symptoms start. Call poison control.

Common Household Poison Ingestion: What to Do

If your child gets into a substance that he or she shouldn’t, call poison control immediately and make sure you know precisely what they ingested. Poison control will walk you through everything they need to know and will give you the next best step you can take to help your child.

  • Call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222
  • Or use their web tool: webPoisonControl
  • They even have a texting option: Text POISON to 484848

There’s a whole toolkit of resources designed to help keep your kids safe! Get access by signing up below!


I recommend saving Poison Control as a contact in your phone. Just in case you ever need the number or web extension quickly.

graphic of poison control's contact information

Other Options

If reading this post has freaked you out (sorry, that was NOT the intent), and you’re interested in finding some safer alternatives to harsh chemicals, this post from Becca at Embracing the Simplified will answer all of your questions! The article is jam-packed with product recommendations and tips for reducing the number of chemicals in your home.

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