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Updated Apr 06, 2023

How to protect yourself when working with pesticides

The photo shows a worker with a pesticide spray wand. The chemicals in pesticides can harm you if you are exposed to them. The worker is wearing safety glasses and chemical-resistant gloves to minimize potential exposure.

What are pesticides?

Pesticides are products designed to kill rodents, weeds, mosses, insects, plant diseases, slugs, and snails. Household disinfectants such as bleach and ammonia are considered pesticides. Flea-killer products are too.

Read pesticides labels. Follow the instructions.

  • Use information provided on pesticide labels to understand the risks of a product. Labels also tell you how to apply pesticide products correctly.
  • Follow the instructions to minimize risks.
  • Follow the instructions to maximize benefits.

Understand how you can be exposed TO PESTICIDES

You may be exposed to pesticides if you:

  • Get them on your skin.
  • Breathe them in.
  • Eat or smoke afterward without washing hands.
  • Touch or eat plants that are wet with spray (you, pets, or children).
  • Bring pesticides indoors on your shoes, clothes, or cell phone.

READ THE LABEL & Follow THE Instructions

The label has instructions to protect you and the environment.

  • Labels are different for every product and they often change over time.
  • Use a magnifying glass.
  • Pay attention to the “signal” words CAUTION, WARNING, and DANGER in statements. CAUTION is a lower risk, WARNING is higher, and DANGER is the highest risk.
  • Pay attention to the PRECAUTIONARY STATEMENTS.
  • The law requires you to read and follow pesticide directions.

How to minimize YOUR exposure to pesticides

Pesticide products are eye, skin, and lung irritants. Take action to protect yourself:

  • Wear the right protective gear. This often includes chemical safety glasses, resistant gloves, a long-sleeve shirt, pants, socks, and shoes.
  • Avoid contact with eyes, skin, or clothing.
  • Mix outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.
  • Wash hands after mixing or applying and before eating, smoking, or using your cell phone.
  • Take a shower immediately after handling pesticides.
  • Wash clothes worn while mixing or applying separately from other laundry.

USE Caution with household cleaners

Never mix bleach with ammonia. When combined, these two common household cleaners release a toxic gas. Exposure can cause eye and throat irritation. High concentrations can lead to coma or death.


The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC)  can answer questions about pest control chemicals.
 1-800-858-7378 or  

Content provided by Weston Miller and Kaci Buhl.

 Peer reviewed by OSU Department of Horticulture.

Photo of Weston Miller

Weston Miller

Project Founder and Content Writer

Weston Miller served as Community and Urban Horticulture faculty for Oregon State University Extension Service for Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties. Weston is an author for content for this website. He developed funding partnerships with Portland area agencies to initiate and build out the Solve Pest Problems website focused on this goals:

Photo of Kaci Buhl

Kaci Buhl

At the state level, I lead the Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP). The program hosts live recertification events around the state, serving over 1,000 licensed pesticide applicators each year. We also produce web-based training modules and license-preparation study manuals. Special training for unlicensed pesticide applicators is also available through a grant from the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The PSEP at OSU works closely with the Oregon Department of Agriculture's Pesticides Division.