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Pesticides, People & Poison Prevention

Quick Facts

  • Pesticides include insect killers, repellent, herbicides, and more.
  • Read the directions before using the product.
  • Always use in a well-ventilated area.
  • Wash hands with soap and water after handling pesticides.



According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a pesticide is “any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest.” Most often, we think of bug bombs, insect killer, and yard sprays. However, believe it or not, insect repellent and chemicals used to control weeds are also considered pesticides. There are many ingredients for pesticides depending on the formulation and use.


Insect killers, or insecticides, for the home setting can be a “mixed bag” with many ingredients. 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 people can be allergic to pyrethroid products, leading to sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, and even wheezing or shortness of breath after exposure to sprays.

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 may occur with exposures to these concentrated products. Luckily, there is an effective antidote in the emergency room.

The best overall advice is to select and use the right product for your 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.”


The best preventative measure for mosquitos and ticks is the consistent use of an insect repellent while outdoors. DEET is the most common ingredient found in repellents. Another repellent that may be used is an essential oil called Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus which has proven to provide similar or even better protection than DEET for tick bites. There is also an insecticide called permethrin (which is a type of pyrethroid) that kills insects on contact. Permethrin based products should never be applied directly to the skin, they are intended to be applied to clothing. Read and follow the instructions carefully. Clothing needs to be sprayed 2-4 hours prior to use to allow for drying. Once dried, the insecticide binds to the fabric and it is intended to last through several washings. See our infographic for more information about the safe use of insect repellents.


Herbicides for home use are generally harmless to people. Glyphosate is the most common ingredient found in most residential herbicides. Luckily, glyphosate only works on chlorophyll (the green part of the plant) and humans do not have chlorophyll. So, they do not cause the same effects on humans that they cause to plants. Contact with these herbicides might cause a light rash, allergic reaction, or eye irritation.

IMPORTANT! There are some herbicides approved by the EPA for agriculture use ONLY! This means they should NOT be used around the home. Some of these substances can contain dangerous chemicals that must only be handled by certified applicators for an approved purpose.


  • Make sure kids and pets are out of the area before mixing and applying pesticides.
  • Wear clothing that will protect you from exposure. Consider wearing a long sleeve shirt, long pants, and closed-toe shoes.
  • NEVER put pesticides in containers used for drinking like water bottles or cups. Keep them in the original container.
  • Use pesticides outdoors or in well-ventilated areas.
  • Mix only what you need that day to avoid storing or disposing of excess pesticide.
  • Be prepared for a pesticide spill. Have paper towels, sawdust or kitty litter, garbage bags, and non-absorbent gloves on hand to contain the spill.
  • Remove personal items, such as toys, clothing, purses, or tools from the spray area to avoid contamination.
  • When applying pesticides outside, avoid windy conditions and close the doors and windows to your home.
  • After using pesticides, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Have the Poison Help line, 1-800-222-1222, saved in your phone in case you have additional questions.

For any questions or concerns about pesticides, call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222. Specially trained nurses and pharmacists are available 24/7/365 to answer your questions. The service is free and confidential.

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