Understanding Signal Words on Pesticide Labels

Caution. Warning. Danger. When you see one of these words on the label of a pesticide product do you know what it means?

These words are called “signal words” and they are meant to alert consumers to the level of risk they are taking if they choose to use that product in the home.

The risk, according to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) is determined by toxicity, or how poisonous it is, and exposure, or how much of it is absorbed either through the skin or through inhalation or ingestion. NPIC uses the example of how taking one aspirin can help minimize pain, but taking too much aspirin is harmful. “As the amount of exposure (the dose) increases, so does the risk.”

Of course, there is always a risk to health when using a pesticide in the home, but some pesticides are riskier to health than others. Certainly the health of your family must be important to you, so know what these signal words mean.

Each word indicates the level of toxicity in that product:

  • Caution = Low
  • Warning = Medium
  • Danger = High

So, if a pesticide is labeled “Caution,” that means that the product is “slightly toxic if eaten, absorbed through the skin, inhaled, or it causes slight eye or skin irritation.”

If a pesticide is labeled “Danger” that means it is “highly toxic by at least one route of exposure.” So, regardless what that exposure is, it is very poisonous and can cause irreversible damage.

Regardless of the level of pesticide you choose, you are still taking a risk. Consider minimizing that risk to home and environment by not using a pesticide. There are far safer, effective and more eco-friendly options for pest control, and they don’t require “signal words” at all.


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