Chemicals in the Home: Tips for Safe Storage and Use

From household cleaning sprays and detergents to fluids for the car, the list of chemicals we regularly use around the home, garden and garage grows longer and longer. And while most of these products aren’t overly dangerous when used properly, poor and unsafe storage can change all that in an instant.

Often supplied in colourful packaging, domestic chemicals can be appealing to young children. That’s why it’s absolutely critical that you store bleaches, sprays, fluids, and capsules securely away from curious eyes and inquisitive hands.

At Prestone, we recognise the importance of safe chemical storage, and have previously written a guide on storing our coolant/antifreeze products safely at home. So, to take this a step further, we’ve come up with an essential guide to storing all the chemicals in your home and garden safely, as well as tips on how to identify the most potentially hazardous products in your store cupboard that need special attention.

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Recognising Hazardous Chemicals: The Symbols to Look For

All chemical-based products, whether for the home, garden, or car, have a hazard level. This shows how hazardous a product is, as well as the likely side effects of improper use. In the UK there are nine labels used to determine a product’s hazardousness and toxicity, and you may see more than one hazard symbol on a single chemical product.

Take a look at the different hazard symbols and what they mean below.

In order to assign a hazard level to a particular chemical, regulators typically consider four key categories, assessing whether a product is corrosive, flammable, reactive or toxic. As we said, some products can fall into two or more categories, so always check the label carefully.

There are several reasons why it’s important to understand these hazard levels and what they represent. Not only will this help you decide how best to store each product, but it will also be a huge help when it comes to using the chemicals, particularly if you need to use two or more at the same time.

Tips for Storing Chemicals in the Home

When it comes to storing chemicals at home, lots of us are guilty of not doing so all that responsibly. Whether it’s laundry detergent stored in a cupboard under the sink, or a bottle of bleach stood by the toilet, it’s easy to get complacent about storing chemical products, forgetting the dangers they can bring.

The only way to ensure that hazardous chemicals are kept well away from children and pets is to take measures to store them properly. Below we list some of the practical steps you can take to make sure your household and car-related chemicals are stored safely and well out of harm’s way.

shopping for car products

Check the Safety Information Before You Buy 

Even before you’ve left the shop, you should make an effort to read a chemical’s safety information. This will not only tell you how to use it, but perhaps more importantly how it should be stored to prevent accidents in the home. That way you know exactly where to put and how to treat the product when you get home. Also, where possible choose products which have safety elements built in – for example our coolant/antifreeze contains Bitrex (an extremely bitter substance) to prevent animals and children drinking it.

Reconsider Your Chemical Storage Spaces 

The cupboard under the sink is one of the most common places to store household chemicals, but let’s be honest it’s by no means the safest. In fact, being close to the ground puts it right in the danger zone for attracting curious kids. Instead consider storing hazardous chemicals in a raised cupboard out of reach of children. Failing that install a simple cupboard lock on any storage doors to make it impossible for youngsters to run into danger.

Store Chemicals Out of Direct Sunlight

Whether for the car, garden or house, chemical products don’t like being exposed to sunlight. Not only can UV exposure damage the container and potentially cause leaks, it can also affect the efficacy of the product itself – potentially rendering it useless the next time you reach for it. A cool cupboard out of direct light is the best and safest place to store chemicals in the home.

Regularly Check for Leaks

If you have some chemicals you use once in a blue moon, it’s worth periodically checking them for leaks. Over time it’s not uncommon for chemicals to wear through their containers, causing leaks and potential hazards in the process. If you do notice a leak, get the rubber gloves out and use paper towels to clean the area. You should then dispose of the packaging responsibly – more on this later.

mechanic cleaning car partsHow to Safely Use Dangerous Chemicals

Just as with storing chemicals, many of us are guilty of complacency when it comes to using things like bleach, oven cleaner and coolant/antifreeze. Whether through wanting to save time or not really understanding the dangers, plenty of us regularly use chemicals without any thought for the dangers that improper use could cause.

To prevent accidents and safeguard your own health and wellbeing, it’s important to set some ground rules when working with chemicals. Here are some things to bear in mind the next time you want to top up your car’s coolant/antifreeze reservoir or tackle that dirty bathroom.

  • Always wear the right PPE when using chemicals, even if it’s just a pair of rubber gloves. A mask, goggles and gloves are essential for working with dangerous chemicals, protecting you from corrosive, toxic and reactive substances.
  • Make sure the space you’re working in is always kept well ventilated. Even with mild cleaning products, a lack of airflow can cause respiratory problems and could even impact your long-term health.
  • Never mix hazardous chemicals, unless the safety labels tell you it’s OK to do so. Reactive substances can cause all sorts of highly dangerous problems in the home when mixed, not least releasing poisonous fumes into the air.
  • Clean up any spills and drips as soon as they occur, whether you’re in the house or working on your car in the garage. That way you’ll reduce any risk of contamination or pets ingesting chemical residue that could prove fatal.
  • Wash your hands and any other parts of your body straight away if you come in contact with a hazardous substance, particularly one labelled corrosive.

chemicals in metal drum

How to Dispose of Household Chemicals Safely

If you need to dispose of outdated or used chemicals (such as old coolant/antifreeze removed from your radiator, for example), you need to do so responsibly. Pouring hazardous fluids down the drain is a big no-no, as many domestic cleaners and fluids pose a danger to the environment – not to mention your pipework.

Instead, you’ll need to do some research and find your nearest chemical recycling centre, where you can take leftover products and have them disposed of safely.

The first place to check is with your local recycling centre, which may offer a chemical recycling service. Failing that, there might be an independent business in your area that offers chemical recycling, though they may charge a fee.

For used car fluids that are ready for disposal, your best bet is to get in touch with your local garage to see if they can take the waste off your hands. Most garages will be happy to help since they already have a process in place for the safe disposal of used motoring fluids.

So, there you have it, our comprehensive guide to storing chemicals safely in and around the home. For more how-to guides and features, click here for the full Prestone blog. Or, if you want to learn about our high-performance car maintenance fluids and products, visit the homepage.

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