By Sheila Merrill, public health adviser at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA)

This may shock you, but every year thousands of children are admitted to hospital for poisoning from cleaning products and other items found in and around the home.

Parenting is a tough job, especially when it comes to keeping a watchful eye over the little ones, particularly toddlers, who are full of beans and eager to discover the world them!

So when it comes to keeping children safe in the home, one of the first things I urge you to consider doing is to keep your cleaning products out of the sight and reach of little hands in a locked cupboard. On average, 15 under-5s are admitted to hospital each day due to suspected poisoning and unfortunately, at RoSPA, we do hear about children, predominantly between the ages of 18 months and four-years-old, who have been taken to hospital after swallowing a cleaning product or squirting a liquitab in their eye.

Normally, the damage is not long-term, but it can be a disturbing experience for both the child and adult looking after them. Treatment can be both frightening and very unpleasant however kind the medical teams are.

Children are inquisitive and toddlers will often put things in their mouths to further explore different textures and tastes. This is why liquitab-style dishwasher and washing machine detergents appear so attractive; children can often mistake the shape and bright colours for sweets.

Our Take action today, put them away educational campaign has been set up to protect children from the risks of household cleaning products. It has been launched by RoSPA and the industry’s trade body the UK Cleaning Products Industry Association (UKCPI).

We want parents to realise that even products with a child resistant closure cannot guarantee safety – they reduce the risk by delaying access to the product. This is another reason why parents and carers are being encouraged to store cleaning products out of reach, out of sight and in a locked cupboard.

Child resistant containers will simply slow down a child’s access to the contents so it is vitally important that parents and carers take simple steps of putting household products out of reach and out of sight in order to prevent unnecessary accidents.

Philip Malpass of the UKCPI explained to me how accidents we see involving young children and cleaning products are avoidable, and whilst the severity of the injuries are generally low, it’s important for parents to follow the usage instructions on the packaging. He said cleaning products are designed to be safe to use and to provide the clean and hygienic home we often take for granted today.

To start with, 80,000 families with toddlers across Birmingham and Liverpool are being targeted in the pilot scheme, but if successful, it could be branched out to many more cities.

Parents and carers are receiving a handy magnetic notepad featuring key safety advice as a constant reminder in the family kitchen. This advice should hopefully help prevent accidental poisonings from everyday items and includes:

  • Store household cleaning products out of reach of children, preferably in a locked cupboard
  • Always store chemicals in their original containers
  • Never pierce or break laundry capsules or tablets
  • Always close the lid of any product
  • In the event of an incident, follow advice on the product pack and seek medical attention.

First Aid for Poisoning

  • Get medical help immediately
  • If you suspect poisoning do not let the child drink anything
  • Do not make the child sick – this can cause more damage
  • If you know what has been taken, keep a sample to show to the medical services.

Child resistant containers and bubble packs have helped to reduce the incident of poisoning, but it must be remembered that these are not child proof they simple delay the child from getting the product as quickly. Children as young as three years can open them in seconds. It is still important, therefore, to keep these products out of reach of children.

Take Action Today, find lots of information, including a fact sheet. More information and case studies can be found at here.


Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents
Tel: 0121 248 2045