Common Household Poisons

Some common household substances are poisonous to humans. When mixed together, some chemicals become toxic; others can be hazardous even when used as directed.

the Cleaning concept with supplies. spring cleaning
shcherbak volodymyr / Getty Images

Mixing Bleach and Ammonia

It's a very bad idea to mix bleach and ammonia. The gases that result from mixing these two chemicals are so toxic that the mixture was once used as a chemical warfare agent.

Mists, vapors and/or gases from cleaning chemicals can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms may include burning eyes, sore throat, coughing, trouble breathing and wheezing. Chemicals in some cleaning products can cause
asthma or trigger asthma attacks. Some cleaning products contain hazardous chemicals that can enter the body through skin contact or from breathing gases into the lungs. Mixing cleaning products that contain bleach and ammonia can
cause severe lung damage or death.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that displaces oxygen in the bloodstream. Carbon monoxide can leak from any gas motor; lawn mowers, cars, boats, etc. It can also occur from gas-burning appliances that are not calibrated correctly.

Really bad carbon monoxide leaks can kill quickly, but usually, there's a warning. Be very concerned if more than one person in the house has a headache and is feeling nauseated. Those are the two earliest and most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Always question it if everyone in the house has the same symptoms occurring at the same time--especially in winter. When the windows are closed and the furnace is burning, just the smallest of leaks can have devastating consequences. Seek immediate treatment.


Organophosphates are some of the most deadly poisons in the home. Most pesticides, including lice shampoos, either have organophosphates in them or have similar characteristics. Pesticide poisoning creates a reaction that quickly leads to death if untreated. Organophosphates are currently used as nerve gas by some in the military.

Use these chemicals with great care and always follow the manufacturers' recommendations. Never put pesticides into a container without a label and especially don't put pesticides into a container with some other label already on it. Pay very close attention to the labels on the containers you have. There have been instances of patients mistaking prescription lice shampoo for prescription cough syrup because the prescription bottles were the same, even though the label was different had they taken the time to read it. In one case, a patient took a big swig of lice shampoo and was have seizures 15 minutes later.

Food Safety

Food poisoning is not really poisoning per se, but a foodborne bacterial illness. Most food poisoning is not life-threatening, but vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration over time.

Food safety is the key here. Don't eat things that have been left out. Cook meats thoroughly and always decontaminate surfaces and utensils between preparing raw meats and preparing other foods. As long as you take care of your food, you should be fine. If you do get a foodborne illness, you'll just have to ride it out. Most anti-nausea or anti-diarrhea medications won't help.

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.