Safe handling of toxic chemicals

Last updated: 6 January 2021

Safe storage and disposal of household chemicals is essential to avoid harm to you, your family, pets and the environment.

It’s dangerous to throw chemical products out with your regular rubbish collection as they could explode, ignite, leak or mix with other chemicals.

Similarly, pouring them down the drain will pollute our waterways, harm animals and vegetation, contaminate our water supply and make rivers and beaches unsafe for swimming.

Follow these tips to safely buy, store, and use household chemicals until you can dispose of them at a local Detox your Home event.

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Common chemicals found at home

This list of common household chemicals is not exhaustive. You may have other chemicals in your house that you should also handle carefully. If you’re unsure, check the label for warnings.

Make sure you buy, store, use and safely dispose of these common household chemicals:

  • aerosols
  • anti-freeze
  • brake fluid
  • car wax
  • cleaners – ammonia based
  • cooking oil
  • coolant
  • detergents, disinfectants and drain cleaners
  • fertiliser
  • fire extinguishers
  • floor-care products and waxes
  • fuels – petrol, diesel, kerosene, other
  • glues – water- and solvent-based
  • herbicides and weed killers
  • insect spray/pesticides
  • nail polish and remover
  • oven cleaner
  • paint stripper, thinner and turps
  • pool chemicals
  • rat poison
  • solvents
  • transmission fluid
  • wood preservatives and finishes (oils and varnish).

Buying chemicals

Being a smart consumer can help you manage the risk of harm and identify low-risk alternatives.

Make sure you understand what you are purchasing by finding out what you can from the retailer or manufacturer, and checking the warnings on the label. Read the label carefully and ask someone if you don’t understand the information.

If there’s more than one product suitable for the job, choose the least dangerous product.

Handling and storing chemicals

Never mix chemicals during use or storage, as they may react.

Handling chemicals safely

  • Handle chemicals carefully and avoid direct contact. Wear gloves and protective clothing where possible.
  • Wash your hands after handling chemicals.

Storing chemicals safely

  • Store chemicals out of reach of children and animals or, if possible, in a locked cupboard or storage unit.
  • Keep chemicals out of direct sunlight and away from sources of heat, sparks, flames or ignition.
  • Don’t store chemicals near food storage areas.
  • Check labels for correct storage advice. Some chemicals must not be stored together. For example, keep corrosive chemicals, such as battery acid, away from poisons.
  • If you can, keep liquid chemicals away from (or stored below) dry chemicals.
  • Keep oxidising agents, such as peroxide, away from all other materials.
  • Pool chemicals can be particularly dangerous when stored incorrectly. Two groups of swimming pool chemicals (oxidisers and corrosives) are highly reactive and need particular care.
    Find out more about storing pool chemicals.

Labelling and containers

  • Keep chemicals in their original containers and make sure they are tightly closed.
  • Label chemicals that are not in their original container. If you don’t know what the chemical is, label it as 'unknown chemical'. Never guess the chemical’s name.
  • Regularly check chemical containers are in good condition. If a container is damaged or leaking, place it within a larger, empty container with a tightly fitting lid and label outer container with contents.
  • Don’t store chemicals in containers resembling food or drink packaging.
  • Some household products, such as detergents and soap powders may be repackaged safely into smaller containers if the original packaging is damaged or broken. If you repackage a product containing chemicals, the new container must follow the packaging and labelling guidelines above.

Disposing of chemicals

Many household chemicals can be safely disposed of at our free Detox your Home collection days across Victoria. To make things easier, we've put together a list of what's accepted and what isn't.

Please note that some household chemical disposal services have been affected due to the current public health situation in Victoria, including the cancellation of some Detox your Home days.

Never dispose of chemicals in your rubbish bin or drain. If you're unable to immediately dispose of household chemicals, make sure you safely store them until you can.

Council transfer stations

Drop-off sites for batteries and fluorescent lights are located at some council depots and transfer stations as well as other locations.

Find your local e-waste drop-off point.

Find your local paint drop-off point.

To find out if your council takes other household chemicals at transfer stations, or to check disposal fees and open hours, contact your local council.

What to do if you suspect poisoning

Detailed advice on how to act if you suspect somebody has been poisoned is available on the Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel. Their guidelines are provided below.

Even if you cannot confirm poisoning, call 000 for an ambulance immediately if the person is:

  • collapsed
  • losing consciousness
  • in severe pain
  • vomiting profusely
  • fitting
  • struggling to breathe
  • suffering an anaphylactic reaction.

If the person is stable and breathing normally, contact the Victorian Poisons Information Centre.

Phone 13 11 26 (24 hours a day, seven days a week)

For your call, aim to have the following information ready.

  • The person's symptoms.
  • The person’s age and weight.
  • Any medications that the person is using.
  • The poison that you think is involved, and what you know about that poison (try to have the container with you).
  • How much poison was swallowed, and how long ago.