Pesticides Defined

By Chris Williams on June 22, 2011.

Q.  My friend told me that bleach is actually a pesticide. Is that true? If it is, I sure don’t want to wash my family’s clothes with it!

A. Well, yes it’s true…sort of. When most people think of a pesticide, they think of a product used to kill insects. An insecticide is only one type of pesticide. Many household products found under the kitchen sink, and many public health products are also pesticides, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the federal agency that regulates pesticides.

pesticideEPA’s definition of a pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating (moderating) any pest. So, household bleach is technically a pesticide because it kills germs which are technically “pests.” Because it is considered to be a pesticide, it must be regulated and registered by EPA and consequently there are restrictions on its sale and use. If you look closely, you will see that the label on the bleach container has an EPA Registration Number. Only registered pesticide products have an EPA Registration Number.

Even with EPA’s definition, it’s not always easy to identify a “pesticide.” Many common household products are considered pesticides, while EPA makes exceptions for other products that seem to fit the definition. For example, kitchen disinfectant products, mildew spray, and mosquito repellents are all considered to be pesticides and must be registered by EPA. Dog heartworm medicine (which kills nematodes) and cedar chips for repelling clothes moths are not registered.

The word ending, -icide, comes from the Latin meaning “to kill.” So a pesticide is a general killer of pests and an insecticide is a killer of insects. Pesticides also include products that kill or control weeds (herbicide), rodents (rodenticide), mold (fungicide), bacteria (your bleach is considered to be a bactericide), and many others.

So, while the spray that you use to kill germs on your kitchen counter and your laundry bleach are technically pesticides, don’t let that term scare you. A pesticide when used correctly is a good thing. In these cases and many others, pesticides help protect the health of your family.

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