By Chris Williams on December 19, 2017.

A short article in Garden Gate eNotes reminded me that maybe it’s time to remind you about the importance of looking closely at the label when purchasing a pesticide for home or garden use.

Say you’re looking for a weed killer to treat that wild area behind the garden shed. You want something environmentally-friendly and something as safe as possible since you have children and a dog that play outside. In your local hardware store you find what looks like just the thing, a product (hypothetical in this case) called “Weeds-Gone.” The label has bright colors and a picture of a nice green, weed-free lawn. Further, the label says “Safe for People and Pets, “ and “For Organic Gardeners.” Perfect! You buy the quart container, pleased with your purchase.

Now as you’re getting ready to use the weed killer, you happen to see on the front of the label near the bottom the words “DANGER” and “Keep Out of the Reach of Children.” Wait a minute, how can one pesticide label contain so many contradictions? Is it safe for me to use, or not?


That word DANGER is one of the signal words required on the front of all EPA-registered pesticide products. There are three signal word designations, each indicating the degree of hazard or toxicity encountered when using the product. CAUTION is the lowest hazard level, WARNING indicates a product of moderate risk, and DANGER is the highest toxicity level. A pesticide labeled DANGER means that exposure to even small amounts can burn skin or eyes or can make a person sick.

What you failed to notice is that the quart-sized container you purchased is a concentrate. To make the sprayable product that you will apply to your lawn, you must dilute the concentration significantly according to the label’s directions. The same Weeds-Gone purchased in a ready-to-use spray bottle has only a CAUTION label because it has already been diluted for you. But the Weeds-Gone concentrate clearly contains more actual pesticide than the pre-mixed product, is much more toxic, and so is required to have a DANGER signal word on its label.


Also, you assumed that because the pesticide product said “organic,” it must be safe. Organic pesticides come from natural materials but some natural materials, arsenic or strychnine for example, can be very toxic indeed. Organic or not, it’s still a pesticide and may require precautions. Read the label. See Are Organic Pesticides a Safer Choice?

Further, if you looked more closely at the small print on the front of the label, you would have seen that underneath “Safe for People and Pets, “ it says in smaller print, “when used as directed.” In other words, when the concentrate is diluted for use according to the label, you then have a much less toxic product. If you had failed to read the label and had applied the concentrate rather than a much diluted mix, you would have been in violation of federal law and would have been exposing yourself and others to possible harm.

For more on choosing and using an over-the-counter pesticide product, see these Colonial blogs. And remember, our experts are here to handle your pest problems efficiently and safely—guaranteed!

Tips on Choosing the Right Pesticide for the Job
Why Should I Have to Read the Insecticide’s Label?



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