Common Poisons Around The Home

There are many poisons around the home. Below are some of the most common poisons encountered every day. Be aware of household medicines and chemicals so you can use and store them properly and act quickly if someone is poisoned.

If someone has been exposed to any of these substances or any other poison around the home, contact the National Poison Centre for advice call 0800 POISON (0800 764-766), or consult another medical professional without delay.


Paracetamol is a common household drug, available in either tablets or a liquid form and is used to treat mild pain and fever in children and adults. Paracetamol is relatively safe at the recommended doses, even in young children. However, it is also one of the most common causes of poisoning, and must be used properly and stored securely. If someone takes more than the recommended dose of paracetamol, it can make them very sick,and even cause liver damage.


Used to relieve pain and coughing, codeine is often combined with other drugs such as paracetamol, aspirin, or ibuprofen. Overdose or accidental exposures can cause serious problems. Codeine can make a person very drowsy, and slow their breathing and heart rate. As little as one tablet can be enough to make a small child sick. Even if you're not sure if a child has ingested any tablets, contact your Poisons Centre. Always remember to keep all medications out of reach and sight of children.


Antibiotics are used to treat infections. There is a wide range of antibiotics available, so it is very important to contact your Poisons Centre and bring the container to the phone. Some people can have life- threatening allergic reactions to antibiotics. If you suspect someone is experiencing an allergic reaction, get medical assistance immediately.

Dishwashing Liquid

Generally of low toxicity, however may still make someone ill. They may be irritating to the mouth or throat and could cause someone to vomit soon after an exposure. Dishwashing liquids generally irritate the eyes but can cause damage in some cases. Good first aid is required. Flush eyes with clean running water for at least 15 minutes if in eyes. If swallowed, give 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of water.

Dishwasher Powder

This product is corrosive and may cause chemical burns if eaten, left on the skin or splashed into the eyes. If swallowed rinse the mouth to ensure it is clear of any powder and call the National Poisons Centre immediately. Do not give anything to drink. If any gets onto the skin or into the eyes, thoroughly flush with water. Eyes should be flushed for at least 30 minutes. These powders are potentially very dangerous and it is important to immediately call your Poisons Centre for advice.


Undiluted bleach can cause chemical burns, and is potentially dangerous if ingested or splashed into eyes. It is very important not to mix bleach, or products containing bleach, with any other household cleaners as a chemical reaction can release toxic gases. Thoroughly flush with water if any gets onto skin or into eyes. Eyes should be flushed for at least 30 minutes. If swallowed, do not give anything to drink unless instructed to do so by the Poisons Centre.


There are several varieties of poisonous mushrooms in New Zealand. It is very difficult to accurately identify mushroom species. Symptoms can be delayed for several days or weeks, and can include an upset stomach, hallucinations, even liver and kidney damage. All mushroom ingestions need to be treated as potentially serious, even if only a small amount has been ingested. Call your Poisons Centre for more information.

Alcohol (Ethanol)

Alcohol can be found in many products around the home, including some medicines, cleaning products, and perfumes. Ingestion may cause drowsiness, inebriation and slurred speech. Even small amounts of alcohol can be very harmful to children, causing hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), which can be very serious if not treated. Always keep alcoholic drinks and other products containing alcohol out of reach and sight of children.

Weed Killer

There are several different types of weed killer available, with varying degrees of toxicity. Some may only cause mild symptoms, while even small amounts of others can cause serious damage to the lungs, heart and kidneys. It is important to accurately identify the product, and if possible bring the container to the phone when you call your Poisons Centre.

Slug/Snail Bait

As with weed killers, there are several different formulations of slug and snail baits available. Some of these can be toxic in small doses, especially to small children and pets. It is extremely important to identify which product has been used when seeking help; always bring the container to the phone when you call the Poisons Centre. Remember to keep
children and animals away from areas where bait has been used.


Petrol is often stored in inappropriate containers around the home, and can easily be mistaken for another liquid. If petrol is ingested, or petrol vapours inhaled, it can make you very sick. When swallowed, it is very easy for petrol to go down the wrong way which can cause lung problems. Petrol can also damage the eyes if not treated quickly. If someone has swallowed some petrol, it is ok to give them a small amount of water to drink. Always store petrol and other fuels in clearly labelled designated containers, and keep out of reach of children

Advice on preventing poisoning with these substances around the home can be found by clicking here