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How to Read a Label’s Signal Words

How to Read a Label’s Signal Words

In most ways there are few government safeguards in place for us regarding the safety of commercial cleaning products, but “signal words” and “warning words” on product labels are one notable exception.

They are placed there by order of the federal government and are primarily for helping you protect your family’s health.

Learn how to recognize the warning signs that you’re holding a toxic product in your hands.

One of the best ways to protect yourself from toxic products is to read labels and pay particular attention to “signal words.” They are placed on products by order of the federal government, with the primary purpose of protecting you, but sometimes to tell you about the products’ potential impact on the environment.

POISON/DANGER means something very toxic; only a few drops could kill you.
WARNING means moderately toxic; as little as a teaspoonful can kill.
CAUTION denotes a product that is less toxic; two tablespoons to a cup could kill you.

There are a few others, called “warning words,” such as STRONG SENSITIZER, TOXIC, CARCINOGEN, FLAMMABLE and CORROSIVE.

The Environmental Health Foundation, in its book Toxic Turnaround, compiled a list of the top four chemical groups we should reject and eliminate.

These four are pesticides, toxic gases (such as chlorine and ammonia), heavy metals (such as lead and mercury), and volatile organic compounds (such as formaldehyde and solvents). The guideline are an excellent starting point. If we eliminate these chemicals, we will go a long way toward solving our environmental and health problems. I add plastics as a fifth category because of the increasing evidence that many plastic component are endocrine disrupters, synthetic chemicals that our bodies receive as if they were natural hormones.

Read more: Home, Health & Safety

By Annie B. Bond

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Annie B. Bond

Annie is a renowned expert in non-toxic and green living. She was named one of the top 20 environmental leaders by Body and Soul Magazine and "the foremost expert on green living." - Body & Soul Magazine, 2009. Learn Annie's latest eco-friendly news on, a website dedicated to healthy and green living.

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11:35PM PDT on Mar 21, 2012

Thank you

11:34PM PDT on Mar 21, 2012

Thank you for the info.

11:33PM PDT on Mar 21, 2012

Thank you for the info.

5:44AM PDT on Mar 21, 2012

very helpful info, thank you! hopefully as more and more people will learn to read labels and ingredients. With everyone in perhaps someday soon we could weeds these toxic things out of existence

12:42AM PDT on Mar 19, 2012

Excellent article!!..especially the quantity that the words equal..and the toxic gases!
Thankyou for posting!

9:40AM PDT on Mar 18, 2012

Thanks for the information.

5:41PM PDT on Mar 17, 2012

Thanks for this article =)

2:01PM PST on Feb 26, 2012


11:55PM PST on Mar 4, 2011

I sort of miss the old skull and
crossbones was direct and
to the point.

4:01AM PST on Mar 4, 2011

Thanks for the article.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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