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Check Your Garage For These Common Hazards

Garage Toxins


Does anyone actually use their garage for  their cars? There *may* be room for a car among the bicycles, ladders, holiday decorations, hoses, tools and equipment, leftover home improvement supplies, birdseed, paint cans, toys, car maintenance and lawn care products.

No one is pointing a finger, but some of the chemical products that are commonly found in a garage are potentially toxic if curious children, pets, or teens and adults struggling with depression find them before you do.  It only takes a small amount of the wrong product to cause an issue.  Take a little time to learn about the top garage hazards this summer, the national garage-cleaning season.

windhsield-washerAUTO SUPPLIES

Antifreeze, windshield washer fluid, carburetor cleaner, fuel additives, and similar products for cars have a wide range of formulations. Some ingredients, such as ethylene glycol or methanol, can be toxic even if only a mouthful is swallowed.  The victim could become very sleepy and perhaps slip into a coma.  If special treatment isn’t started in time, there could be permanent injury to kidneys or eyes. People have died from drinking a glassful.

Some types of auto products have volatile ingredients that can flash into a fire. If the container is left open, the vapor permeates the air and can be ignited by a distant spark or flame, all the way back to the open bottle.  Driveway fireworks?  Outdoor barbeque grill?  Somebody smoking?  Want a flash fire? Then cap tightly and put the products away and out of reach.


Lucky you to have a backyard pool to cool off in Missouri’s hot summers. We bet you didn’t know you had to become a pool chemist to maintain the crystal clear water.  Since you don’t want it to become a festering swamp, you store all of those pool chemicals in big buckets in the garage for shock and maintenance to keep the germs at bay. You also have chemicals and kits for water testing and adjusting.   Some of the possible ingredients for pool maintenance include calcium hypochlorite (similar to laundrychlorine bleach in dry form), “trichlor” (short for trichloro isocyanurate, a slow-release chlorine compound) and potassium mono-persulfate (an oxidizing agent).

All of these chemicals go after bacteria and other organic material, which means they can go after you, too. They can cause eye and throat irritation and coughing, even when used as directed, and sometimes just by opening the container.  If the exposure to them is heavier, chemical burns can result.  Add the muriatic acid to the pool at the wrong time, and you may release a gas that can reach eyes and lungs in seconds.  Mix a little bit of water and incompatible pool chemicals together, such as a dry bleach and trichlor, and you could cause a small explosion *plus* a gas release. These are dangerous chemicals, need to be handled only by the adults in the house, and kept far away from everyone else.


The problem with lamp oil, tiki torch fuel, lighter fluid, and gasoline is their remarkable ability to “go down the wrong way” if someone tries to swallow some.  The classic scenarios of this problem are adults siphoning gasoline and children drinking from a container of brightly-colored lamp oil.  The liquid enters the lungs instead of the stomach, and seems to spread everywhere in them at once.  The delicate lung tissue reacts to the chemical and develops instant chemical pneumonia.  Signs that entry into the lungs has occurred are persistent coughing, gagging or choking within 30 minutes of the attempted swallow.

If the swallowed slippery liquid was aspirated into the lungs and pneumonia develops,  breathing becomes rapid and difficult, and a fever might develop. It is as dangerous, maybe more dangerous, than the kind of pneumonia caused by germs.

Siphoning *anything* by drawing up on a tube is a giant “No-No” because most of the time a surprise mouthful of something unpleasant is the end result.  Siphoning *gasoline* by mouth is a giant “No-Never-No-Never” because a surprise lung-full of chemical pneumonia is the prize that awaits.


The products sold to homeowners, such as fertilizers and herbicides, are generally harmless to people. Contact with them might cause a light rash, allergic reaction, or eye irritation.

Insect killers for the home setting are more of a “mixed bag.” The most common type are called “pyrethroids” and they were first discovered in the chrysanthemum flower.   If these get on the skin, strange sensations like a blend of numbness and tingling can occur.  This can be treated with gentle washing, and then squeezing the liquid inside of a Vitamin E capsule onto the skin and rubbing it in.

Some other types of insecticides are more toxic to pets and people.  These products have been sold for a long time, so their names, such as malathion and carbaryl, may be vaguely familiar. They have a characteristic, unmistakable “poisonous” smell.  These older insecticides can make a person or a pet quite sick, whether they eat or drink it, or get it on their skin and clothes (or fur) and don’t wash it off right away.  Drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, difficulty breathing and muscle weakness can appear out of nowhere.  Luckily, there is an effective antidote in the emergency room.

The best overall advice is to select and use the right product for jobselect and use the right product for jobselect and use the right product for job select and use the right product for job. Also choose a product with the word “Caution” on the label, which indicates it is a less toxic alternative to those labeled “Warning” or “Danger.”


Most modern interior house paints are water-based, and are not considered toxic.  Only old paint purchased before the 1970s might contain lead, a toxic metal.   Paint thinners used with oil-based exterior paints are essentially solvents such as naphtha, mineral spirt, acetone, or turpentine.  Sometimes, a varnish or a stain for a deck, fence or siding will have a similar solvent. These solvents are flammable, and could cause throat irritation and dizziness as they escape into the air.  These products may also pose a similar risk of aspiration and pneumonia if swallowed, as explained under “Liquid Oils, Solvents and Fuels” above.


Don’t forget that the exhaust from cars, gasoline-powered engines, generators, or the use of a charcoal grill in a poorly-ventilated garage can lead to accumulation of the silent killer, carbon monoxide.  Headache, dizziness, and drowsiness are warning symptoms before collapse and coma. Carbon monoxide kills more people in the US every year than any other poisoning.

Nothing ruins a summer like a trip to the emergency room.  Keep your summer free of toxic worries by paying attention to what is lying around in your garage. Children are curious by nature, and they can move fast as lightening when your back is turned.


  • Keep children and pets out of the garage out of the garage out of the garage out of the garage when mixing chemicals or using automobile products.
  • Never walk walk away from any product that is out, open, and in use.
  • Use recommended protective equipment such as gloves or masks when handling hazardous products.
  • Maintain good ventilation when working with solvents and other fumes in a garage or any closed room. Open the doors and windows. Run a fan pushing the air away from you out the door, allowing fresh air to come towards you.
  • Make sure that containers are  tightly capped or sealed before you put them away.
  • Store products in the original container, up and out of reach, in a locked cabinet or location if possible.
  • Clean your garage of products that are no longer in use, and dispose of them properly. Don’t hoard chemicals. Buy enough to do the job, and dispose of the remainder.
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