Grades 5 – 12: Household Hazard…or Safe?

hazard graphic

For a print-friendly version, open attachments at bottom of page.  Print on both sides of paper whenever possible.

Recommended grade level: 5 – 12

Presentation time: 50 minute class period

Additional time for pre- and post-activities


Many of the products we have in our homes contain dangerous chemicals that may cause serious harm to humans, animals and the environment. It is essential that these products are dealt with carefully and disposed of safely. Air freshner, drain cleaner, motor oil, flea collars, even beauty products need to be used and disposed of safely. There are natural alternatives to some of these chemical products; most of the necessary ingredients are common items you probably have at home and they pose no danger to humans or to the environment. This lesson informs consumers about the safety labeling, proper disposal methods and possible alternatives to hazardous products found in a typical home.


  • HHW overheads (optional)
  • Student worksheet copies for each pair of students
  • Typical HHW products with legible labels (one product per pair of students)
  • Examples of ordinary household cleaners and safer possible alternatives (baking soda for cleanser, vinegar or lemon solution for window cleaner)
  • One scouring sponge, paper or rag for each cleaning product
  • HH or Safe Jeopardy game
  • HH or Safe pre- and post-activity sheets (optional)



  • Begin by asking if anyone shops for the family or ever had to purchase a chemical item for the home. What was done with this product when it was no longer used? Was it a hazardous material? How could you tell?
  • Write the number for poison control on the chalkboard. Mention that the most common injury from cleaning products is improper use. Reading labels is important. Manufacturers are required by law to inform consumers of any potential risks. Federal guidelines have standardized the language for labeling of hazardous products. Labeling has two purposes: 1) to protect health of the consumer using the product, overseen by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and 2) to prevent contamination of the environment after disposal, overseen by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Define terms used for hazardous labeling, toxic, corrosive, ignitable and reactive. Identify which chemicals fall in each of the four categories. Where might household chemical products be stored? (Household maintenance, personal care, pet care, pesticides/fertilizers, automotive/garage, hobbies/other.) If the class completed the pre-activity, where are products in each of these categories stored? Write down a few examples on the board.
  • Use overhead to identify the four properties of HH materials. The contents of these containers with hazardous labeling should NOT be disposed of with municipal solid waste. The three signal words for HH products (in order of most harmful to least) are poison/danger, warning and caution. Many household cleaners contain pesticides and are meant to be toxic—bleach, mildew remover and antibacterial cleaners are a few examples. Labels must also list what the principal hazard is when using the product and recommend a storage and disposal method for the product and/or container.
  • Pass out one HH product per two/three students along with worksheet. Give class 5 minutes to complete this.
  • Ask students to brainstorm safety precautions for HH materials in their homes. Are the storage considerations different depending on who lives in the home? What about people visiting the home?
  • Choose groups to share their product. Emphasize alternatives to disposal and proper disposal. Household Hazardous Waste collection drives are sponsored by various government agencies: Department of Health, Solid Waste Management Districts, Metropolitan Sewer District, and local municipalities are some examples. There are strict guidelines in the transportation, storage and disposal of these products.
  • Choose six students to participate in a cleaning demonstration. Pair up students and give each a sponge. Assign one pair per cleaner (one pair uses baking soda, the other kitchen cleanser on same dirty surface which must be uniform/measurable). Repeat with the window cleaner and water/vinegar mixture, etc. Give students a few minutes to clean their surface, then have the rest of the class compare surfaces. Ask students who used cleaners what they thought of the products, i.e., how it smelled, how it felt on their skin, if they would use this product at home.  Goal: natural cleaners work as well and are more comfortable to use than harsh chemicals.  Compare the costs of two products; natural cleaners are less expensive.
  • Game show review. Draw a jeopardy score board on the chalkboard. Divide class up into two teams. Use various HHW questions for teams to answer, and if necessary, decide upon a tie breaker question.

Discussion Questions

  • Looking at their personal home inventories, what recommendations might students make in order to promote a safer environment?


Cool Website:


“Household Hazardous Waste Reduction Pollution Prevention Education Toolbox” ©1997 EPA.

“Guide to Hazardous Products Around the Home” ©1989 Household Hazardous Waste Project

“What’s Your Haz?” ©1999 University of Missouri. Published by University Extension, University of Missouri-Columbia.

“Resource Your Waste: A Teachers Guide” ©2000 Missouri Department of Natural Resources