Pretty Poisons: How to Protect Your Little Ones

Every day, ordinary household items cause accidental poisoning in children under the age of six. Items such as toothpaste and lotions can look appealing to children but are toxic when ingested. Such substances are known as “pretty poisons.”

Common pretty poisons 

According to Cindy Vance, RN, a childbirth educator with Kettering Health, pretty poisons are simply everyday household items that attract children by reminding them of their own snacks and drinks. These can include

  • *Laundry detergent pods
  • *Dishwasher pods
  • *Lotions and creams
  • *Glass cleaner
  • *Hand sanitizer

Too much of a good thing

Toothpaste and children’s multivitamins are also considered pretty poisons because excessive amounts ingested can be toxic to children.

“Look how attractive they are—they can be very appealing,” Cindy says. “We don’t think about toothpaste as poisonous, but fluoride in high doses is toxic, so toothpaste is something that actually should be put away.

“Even multivitamins—they’re cute shapes, they’re gummies, and they’re flavored,” Cindy continues. “Some of them even have sugar sprinkled on them. They taste good, so your child wants more. If the vitamins aren’t put away, a lot of kids will want to take more than the recommended dose.”

Kitchen temptations

Children also risk poisoning if they swallow large amounts of certain everyday cooking ingredients. For example, the amount of nutmeg in your favorite pumpkin pie recipe is perfectly safe, but the National Capital Poison Center (more commonly known as Poison Control) cautions that consuming excessive amounts of nutmeg can cause hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, agitation, prolonged drowsiness, and coma.

Vanilla extract and other alcohol-based flavoring extracts, which come in bottles small enough to fit in children’s hands, contain ethanol—the same kind of alcohol as beer, wine, and hard liquor. Poison Control says that the small amount of vanilla or other extracts used in recipes isn’t dangerous, “but a child who swallowed the contents of a bottle might be at risk of alcohol poisoning.”

Ethanol is also found in mouthwash, perfume, cologne, aftershave, and hand sanitizer.

Children are often tempted by hand sanitizers, many of which come in brightly colored bottles, sparkle with glitter, and smell like food or candy. The American Association of Poison Control Centers cautions that while children who lick a tiny amount of hand sanitizer off their hands are unlikely to become sick, a child ingesting any more than a taste could be at risk for alcohol poisoning.

Preventing exposure

These items and other pretty poisons should be put away out of the reach of children for their own safety.

“Little kids are attracted to anything colorful and interesting,” Cindy says. “A child is extremely curious, and they will definitely get their hands on it.”

She recommends parents keep the items up high, even if it is an inconvenience. When possible, items should be locked up out of view, so the child cannot see them.

How to Treat Accidental Poisoning

If you suspect your child has ingested a poisonous substance, call Poison Control immediately at 1-800-222-1222. This national, toll-free poison help line will connect you to your local poison center. Cindy recommends posting the poison control number in an accessible place. To save the number in your mobile phone, text POISON to 797979.

If the substance is an object, try to get your child to spit it out, and check their hands and mouth for any remnants. Keep whatever they ingested to take with you to the emergency center.

If your child is having an extreme reaction, such as seizures, call 911.

In an emergency, it’s important to know where the nearest emergency center is. Kettering Health has 13 emergency centers throughout southwest Ohio. Visit to find the one closest to you.


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