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.

By Annie B. Bond

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Voula Hatz
Voula Hatz3 years ago

Thank you

Voula Hatz
Voula Hatz3 years ago

Thank you for the info.

Voula Hatz
Voula Hatz3 years ago

Thank you for the info.

richa blue akasha
Rich Blue3 years ago

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

Shelly Peterson
Shelly Peterson3 years ago

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

Chrissie Mitchell

Thanks for the information.

Wen Ping
Lea Thng3 years ago

Thanks for this article =)

Carole H.
Carole Hagen3 years ago


Sue H.
Sue H.4 years ago

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

K s Goh
KS Goh4 years ago

Thanks for the article.