Check for poisons and store them safely

Do a quick home assessment to see which common items are poisonous and in your child’s reach

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When we think of poisons that might harm our children, we may envision jugs of toxic chemicals that carry a skull-and-crossbones alert on their containers.

However, the most common dangers aren’t that obvious.

The top three causes of poisoning for young children, according to the Ontario Poison Centre, are:

  • over-the-counter medications
  • household cleaners
  • cosmetics.

How can poisons be attractive to kids?

Children learn by mimicking what we do, and when they see you take a pill or tablet, they want to, too. Avoid taking your medication in front of your child and store medications in their original packaging, keeping in mind that child-resistant packaging isn’t child-proof. A locked pouch or box for storing medication is a great investment and you should also keep these in an inaccessible spot, says Pamela Fuselli, President & CEO of Parachute, Canada’s national charity dedicated to injury prevention. “That double caution of keeping potential poisons both secure, and out of reach, is the most effective way of protecting your kids.”

Your kids might not see the difference

Also, our homes aren’t designed to thwart curious young explorers. Kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms often have low-lying, unlocked cabinets and those are natural places to store cleaning products. To a young eye, these cleaning products can resemble something they can eat or drink, like fruit juice. In these days of concern about COVID-19, we may be doing extra disinfecting when we return from outside trips for exercise or food shopping. Even amidst all these disruptions in our routines, it’s important to keep all cleaners stored out of reach.

The same goes with cosmetics. We know that “apricot whip moisturizer” is supposed to be gently rubbed into our face skin, but a toddler just sees (and tastes!) something soft and sweet. We might store cosmetics in a purse, or have hand cream on our nightstand: until your child is old enough to know the difference between what’s edible, and what’s not, it’s best to keep all these products stored where only an adult can reach them.

Inadvertent ingestion can be avoided 

Parachute has produced a handy #CheckForPoisons home checklist you can download at as a room-by-room reminder of what common items can be poisonous for kids, and need that extra bit of safe storage love.

A recent U.S. study shows that approximately one million poison exposures occur annually in that country among children under the age of six years. The good news is that although a significant number of poisonings occur in this population, deaths are extremely rare, says Fuselli. In Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada reports that three children ages 14 and younger die each year in Canada, on average, from unintentional poisoning. Another 900 suffer serious injuries that require hospital treatment.

While those numbers are low, that’s still way too much suffering, especially because we can prevent it!

Children are at additional risk of poisoning not just because they like to stick everything they find into their mouths – it’s the way they explore and understand their environment. Their taste buds may not yet be, er, refined – something we’d spit out in a second they might swallow. A child’s skin is thinner compared to an adult’s, so substances can be easily absorbed when exposed on their skin. Children are also physically smaller than adults, so small doses of substances and medications can pose significant health effects.

This is especially true with items that adults might consume for pleasure, such as alcohol and cannabis, which, in edible forms, may look like sweet baking or candy treats. If you have these products in your home, remember to store them in a locked, inaccessible spot.

It can be a difficult time for families living in isolation as we follow public health directives, Fuselli says, with kids at home all day, every day. Doing a quick check-over of your home to see what potential poisons might be inadvertently within reach of your child is a positive thing you can do prevent harm and stay healthy.

This resource is made possible through a financial contribution from Health Canada; the views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Health Canada.

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