A hazardous materials home tour
Right now, in your home, there are probably dozens of hazardous materials that could be very dangerous if you have a fire or that could start a fire if they are stored or used improperly. Protect yourself and your family by becoming familiar with hazardous materials in your home. And when using hazardous materials, be sure you have at least two unobstructed exits from the area where you are working.
Begin the tour in the bedroom - the last place you'd expect to find hazardous materials. Do you have any aerosol cans of hair spray, deodorant, or other personal care products? Aerosols are highly flammable not because of the products themselves but because of the flammable propellant gas. Never use them near a heat source or open flame. Aerosol cans can explode if exposed to high temperature. Never dispose of them in trash that will be burned (this includes apartment building incinerator systems). Nail polish is also flammable, as are many other fluids that give off strong vapors. Nail polish and remover, as well as cotton balls or tissues used to apply them, burn easily if exposed to flame. The vapors given off by mothballs can also be ignited. Mothball containers should be sealed tight.
In the bathroom, some disinfectants such as toilet bowl cleaners are caustic. Drain-cleaning fluids and powders are extremely caustic and can cause severe chemical burns. Follow the instructions for use printed on the labels of these products.
In the kitchen, cleaning products should be stored and used with care. Some floor and furniture polishes, spot removers, and oven cleaners are combustible liquids that can be ignited.
If you are unsure if a product is flammable, read the label. Labels are required to state if the product is a fire hazard.
Containers of butane (for refilling lighters) and all aerosol cans should be stored in a cool place. When filling a butane lighter, be sure there is no flame or heat source nearby that could ignite leaking gas. Natural gas and propane piped into your home are extremely flammable and should be used with care. If you suspect a leak, call the gas company, propane supplier, or fire department immediately.
Propane cylinders for cooking or heating should always be installed or stored outdoors. Plug cylinder outlets when tanks are not connected for use to protect them from physical damage.
In the basement
Your workshop, basement, or hobby area is likely to contain many flammables our combustible liquids, such as turpentine, mineral spirits and other solvents; oil-based paint, stains, and varnishes; camping stove fuels and charcoal lighter fluid.
Your basement is also likely to house your furnace, boiler, and hot-water heater - all sources of heat and flame that could ignite vapors from those flammable liquids.
It is best to store all flammable liquids outside your home, in the garage or shed. Always store flammable liquids in tightly closed original containers or in approved and labeled safety containers. Never store flammable liquids in glass jars, which can break easily. Rags soaked in oils or paint thinners will burn if exposed to flame. Store them in a sealed metal container or dispose of them after allowing them to dry (or "harden") outdoors.
Use gasoline as a motor fuel only. Treat it with extreme caution, since even a tiny spark can ignite gasoline vapors. Store gasoline outside the home - preferably in a stand-alone, locked shed or in the garage - and only in containers designed and approved for that purpose. Refuel gasoline-powered machinery in the open, away from building or foliage. Be sure the engine is off and is cool before refueling. Hot surfaces can ignite gasoline vapors.
Never use gasoline as a substitute for charcoal lighter or as a cleaning solution. The results can be fatal. And never smoke near gasoline.
Hazardous materials outdoors
The charcoal lighter and propane commonly used for outdoor cooking are familiar hazardous materials. When starting a charcoal fire, apply starter fluid only to cold charcoal briquettes. Allow the fluid to soak in for 10 minutes before lighting. Never add starter fluid to warm or flaming charcoal.
If you use an outdoor propane grill, follow the manufacturer's instructions, and always keep a close eye on grills.
Other flammable or otherwise hazardous household materials include some weed killers, pesticides, garden fungicides and fertilizers, and pool chemicals. Read and follow product instructions carefully.
Portable fire extinguishers
Portable fire extinguishers can be effective in fighting small, contained fires. Extinguishers are labeled A, B, or C according to the type of fire they can be used to fight. When using household hazardous materials, have an extinguisher nearby that has been tested and labeled by an independent testing laboratory for use in fighting Class B (flammable liquid) fires. Do not use an extinguisher labeled for Class A (paper and ordinary combustible) fires. These extinguishers use water to fight the fire and could make a hazardous materials fire worse. Hazardous material fires should be fought only with extinguishers using a dry chemical extinguishing agent. These extinguishers will be labeled for use on Class B:C fires or on Class A:B:C (Class C fires involve energized electrical equipment).
Never fight a fire unless you are certain you have the proper extinguisher and know how to use it. Before using a portable extinguisher be sure the fire department has been called or is being called and that everyone else has left the fire area. Also be sure you have your back to a safe, unobstructed exit, and if the fire begins to spread, leave the area immediately and wait for the fire department.