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Copyright 2005, Board of Trustees, University
Safety with Pesticides
in the Home Garden
Harvey L. Cromroy
'6 3 dr
SAFETY WITH PESTICIDES IN THE HOME GARDEN
William J. Becker and Harvey L. Cromroy
The safe use of pesticides should be a concern of every home gar-
dener. Safety involves a combination of knowledge, common
sense, and the ability to follow directions. Any misuse of pesticides
could result in poisoning of the gardener, family members, neigh-
bors, pets, or consumers of the produce.
Is a Pesticide Really Needed?
There are many practices which a home gardener can follow to
reduce the need for pesticides. Here are some of them:
> Locate the garden on well-drained soil, away from shade,
where there is good air movement.
0 Keep garden and surrounding area free of weeds and old
plant material that might harbor insects and disease.
0 Develop a 3-4 year rotation for the garden so that the same
area does not have the same plants year after year.
I When available, purchase plant or vegetable varieties
which are resistant to disease, nematodes, and insects.
0 Use mechanical means of pest control; that is, cultivate to
control weeds, pick off insects, and destroy diseased plants.
0 Use biological controls when available, for example, Bacillus
thuringienis for moth and butterfly larvae.
William J. Becker is Associate Professor-Extension Safety Specialist,
Agricultural Engineering Department, and Harvey L. Cromroy is Pro-
fessor, Entomology and Nematology Department, IFAS, University of
Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611.
What Pesticide to Use
Before applying any pesticide, several questions should be an-
swered: What pests or pest problems exist in the garden? Is the
problem a disease, insect, nematode, or weed? Is the problem
serious enough to warrant pesticide treatment? Can the prob-
lem be corrected with a pesticide? What is the safest pesticide
to use? When and how should it be applied?
Many home gardeners do not know the answers to these
questions; therefore, they use too many pesticides or the wrong
pesticides applied at the wrong time, in the wrong way, and in
incorrect amounts. This hit-or-miss method of using pesticides
can do more harm than good. It can endanger the environment
by killing beneficial insects, poison wildlife, and contaminate
the soil, water, and air. The hit-or-miss method can also result in
the poisoning of people.
A home gardener can obtain the answers to the questions
that should be asked by contacting the county's Cooperative
Extension Service or a reputable garden center. A sample of
the suspected pest, a sample of the damage done by the pest, or
an accurate description of the damage caused will be necessary
to obtain an accurate identification. Only then can the appro-
priate treatment be recommended.
Purchasing a Pesticide
When a decision is made that pesticides should be used, price
should not be a major consideration. More important considera-
tions are safety, ease of application, and the effectiveness of the
Pesticide labels have signal words to inform the user of their
"toxicity" or "poisonousness."
o DANGER POISON (The words are in red and usually
accompanied by a skull and crossbones symbol.) These
are the most toxic pesticides. Handle with extreme care.
WARNING These are moderately toxic materials, but
they should still be handled with care and respect.
0 CAUTION These are slightly toxic materials that are still
poisonous and should be handled accordingly.
Whenever two or more recommended pesticides are avail-
able to control a pest problem, the least toxic material should
be used. Pesticides labeled CAUTION are much safer to use
than those labeled WARNING or DANGER POISON.
A second consideration should be the ease with which the
pesticide can be applied safely. Pesticides can be purchased in
the following forms:
Gas, Vapor or Mist In this form, pesticides are marketed
in aerosol cans. This makes them easy to use, but expensive.
0 Granules Pesticides in this form are normally processed
into particles that run from the size of fine sand to the size
of rice kernels. This form is normally incorporated into the
soil to control soil insects, nematodes, diseases, and germi-
> Wettable or Soluble Powders These forms of pesticides
are mixed with water and then applied.
Emulsifiable Concentrates (Liquids) These pesticides are
dissolved or suspended in oil bases, water, or other liquids.
Dust This powdery form of pesticide is applied with a dust
applicator or shaken on the plant from a container that
looks like a large saltshaker.
Most pesticides can be purchased in more than one form. Nor-
mally, wettable powders or liquids are recommended for home
gardeners. Most pesticides are available in these forms, and a
small sprayer can then be used for application. Wettable pow-
ders or liquids are as safe as pesticides in other forms and are
normally the most economical.
The final and the least significant factor to consider is the
cost of the material. Effectiveness, safety, and ease of applica-
tion are far more important considerations.
Pesticides frequently are available in different concentra-
tions. A formulation with 10 percent active ingredient has twice
the concentration as one containing 5 percent active ingre-
dient. So it should be worth twice as much. To determine value,
a gardener must look at both concentration and quantity of ac-
tive ingredient to get the best buy.
A frequent error that home gardeners make is to purchase
too much product. Do not purchase more than you will use in
one season. Some pesticide products deteriorate with time.
Moreover, excess products create safety problems in storage
Before purchasing any pesticide, know what you need. Read
the labels. Will the product do what you want it to do? Is it the
safest product to apply? These should be your major con-
When a pesticide has been purchased, handle it with care to
prevent accidental spills. Never transport a pesticide with food
products or in the passenger area of your car.
Storage of Pesticides
Pesticides should be stored in a dry, well-ventilated location
and securely locked away to prevent children, unauthorized
adults, pets, and livestock from accidentally coming in contact
with the materials. Only adults experienced in using pesticides
should have access to this area. A secure wood or metal cabinet
or closet will serve the purpose. Other toxic household
chemicals, sprayers, dusters, fertilizer, and other garden equip-
ment could also be stored in this area. But do not store personal
protective equipment or food products in this area. They could
Always store pesticides in their original containers never in
unmarked containers or containers which have held food or
drink. When shelving pesticides, always shelve dry products
above liquid products. Clean up any spills immediately. Ver-
miculite, oil absorbents, even "kitty litter" are good materials to
soak up liquid spills. Bury these materials in a 6-to-8-inch deep
trench away from plants. Dig a trench long enough so that the
material is not all in a concentrated area.
Finally, follow all directions on the pesticide label for storage
and handling of spills.
Personal Protective Equipment
Always read the label to determine the personal protective
equipment required when working with a particular pesticide.
Then wear it! If the label has no information on protective
equipment, common sense must be your guide. You will want to
keep the materials off your skin and out of your eyes, nose, and
Items like waterproof gloves, hats, and footwear may be re-
quired. Do not use leather products, since they tend to absorb
and retain pesticides. Check your hatband: it should be made of
cloth or plastic. Other protective equipment might include gog-
gles or a face shield and a respirator approved by NIOSH,
along with the proper clean filter pads or cartridges. NIOSH
(National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety) is a
governmental agency which tests and approves protective
Cloth cap or hat
Rubber or plastic gloves or gauntlets
Rubber or plastic apron
equipment. Look for safety equipment approved by NIOSH and
read the labels to make sure the equipment is specifically ap-
proved for the intended use. Your clothing should include long-
sleeved shirts and trousers. Disposable clothing for application
of pesticides is also available. Check with your garden center or
safety supply store for these products. Sleeves should be worn
over gloves, trousers over footwear.
After each pesticide application, use warm, soapy water and
wash the goggles, face shield, respirator (but not the filter pads
or cartridges), and other waterproof equipment. Then rinse in
clear water. Air-dry these items and store them away from
All washable clothing should be washed immediately in hot
water, using a strong detergent. Thoroughly rinse the clean
clothing and air-dry. Do not wash other clothing with the cloth-
ing worn while applying pesticides.
One more important practice: Immediately after removing
and cleaning personal protective equipment and placing the
clothing in a washer, take a hot shower. Use plenty of soap and
wash your hair. Don't wait until after you have finished your
other garden or lawn work!
Mixing and Applying Pesticides
Remember, always read the pesticide label and understand it.
The pesticide used should be the safest product for the pest
problem, and the proper personal protective equipment should
be worn. Now inspect your sprayer, duster, or spreader. See
that it is functioning properly. There should be no loose or leak-
ing hoses and connections. The cover gasket on a sprayer must
For home garden spraying, a 1-3 gallon, hand-carried sprayer
is recommended. Partially fill the sprayer with water and test it
to make sure that the nozzle is not clogged. Make sure that
there are no leaks and that the tank holds pressure.
Backpack sprayers are not recommended. They have been
known to leak without the operator's knowledge, resulting in
poisoning of the operator. Hose-end sprayers, while economical
and easy to use, are difficult to calibrate, and excessive applica-
tion of pesticides is common with them.
Mixing is the most dangerous pesticide activity. It is then that
you are working with the concentrated material. Never mix or
apply pesticides without another adult in the area, in case of an
accident. Know the symptoms of poisoning, first aid recom-
mendations, and how to get appropriate medical assistance.
Have soap, towels, water hose, and other necessary supplies
available in case of a spill or other accident. Never eat, drink, or
smoke while handling pesticides. Always mix the pesticide ex-
actly as recommended on the label. Mix the pesticide and fill
the applicator in a well-ventilated, adequately lighted area. Do
this on a concrete floor to facilitate easy cleanup of any spills.
Never mix more pesticide than you will need. There is no good
way to dispose of excess pesticide materials.
When applying a pesticide, never apply more than the recom-
mended amount. Any application of a pesticide in a manner not
consistent with its labeling is a violation of the law. In addition,
improper application can result in damage to plants.
Be sure that your respirator is working properly. If you can
smell or taste any pesticide, check the respirator and correct
the problem. The fit may be wrong, the filter may be saturated,
or it may be the wrong type.
Keep humans and pets away. Do not apply pesticides when
air currents will carry the pesticide into other areas. Pesticides
should be applied when the air is still. Dusts should be applied
in the early morning when foliage is damp.
Maintain accurate records of all pesticides used: name,
amount, date applied, and the plant and pest treated.
Read the label. It may recommend that children and pets be
kept away from treated areas. Only a fenced garden or yard
can keep unwanted children and pets from entering. Follow the
restrictions on the use of food products which have been treated.
Heed all instructions.
Cleanup and Disposal of Pesticides
and Pesticide Containers
When a spray job is complete and there is some pesticide mix
left in the spray tank, you should use it up. Spray it out on other
crops where its use is safe, or dilute the mix and go back and
spray the ground under and around the crop. (Putting more
pesticide than recommended on the plant can cause plant dam-
age.) However, a better approach is never to mix more material
than needed. There is no good way to dispose of excess spray
materials. Dusts and granules can be saved for the next appli-
cation, but not a liquid material.
Never pour pesticide spray material down a drain. The
pesticide could stop the bacterial action in a septic tank and
create additional problems, or it could contaminate a munici-
pal sewage system.
Thoroughly clean the pesticide applicator. A dust applicator
or granular spreader can corrode rapidly if pesticide residue re-
mains in it. Sprayers should be rinsed three times, and a por-
tion of the rinse material should be sprayed through the nozzle.
A small amount of detergent in the first rinse will help remove
any residue. This is particularly important if you have been ap-
plying an oil-based pesticide or herbicide. You would not want
any herbicide residue to remain in the sprayer, since the next
use of the sprayer may be an application of an insecticide on a
plant which is susceptible to minute amounts of the herbicide.
For this reason, many home gardeners have two sprayers, one
for herbicides and the second for insecticides.
Once the sprayer is clean, disassemble the nozzle, remove the
tank cover, make certain the hose and spray mechanism is
drained, and allow the sprayer to air-dry. When it is dry, re-
assemble the sprayer and store it in a clean, dry location.
Proper disposal of empty pesticide containers is equally im-
portant. Paper or cardboard containers should be shaken and
inspected to remove all pesticide materials. If the container has
a plastic liner, rinse the container three times.
Empty liquid containers should also be triple-rinsed. Allow
the container to drain for 30 seconds. Fill the container one-
fourth to one-third full of rinse, secure the cover, then shake
and pour out the rinse material, again allowing the container to
drain for 30 seconds. Repeat two more times. All rinse material
should be poured into the spray tank and then used up, as if it
Properly emptied paper, cardboard, metal, plastic, and glass
containers should be punctured and crushed, as appropriate.
Plastic containers should be punctured and crushed, if possible.
Glass containers should be heavily wrapped in paper, tied, and
then broken inside the paper wrapping. Puncturing, crushing,
and breaking will prevent others from using these containers
for other purposes. Containers can then be safely disposed of in
Pesticide Accidents and First Aid
Know the symptoms of pesticide poisoning. The first symptoms
to appear include:
Fatigue Excessive sweating or salivating
Headache Nausea, vomiting
Dizziness Stomach cramps
Blurred vision Diarrhea
Don't wait for the more severe symptoms of pesticide poison-
ing to occur. These symptoms include:
Difficulty in walking Muscle twitching
Weakness Secretions from mouth or nose
Chest pains Difficulty in breathing
Dilated pupils Unconsciousness, coma, death
If you do have a pesticide accident, basic first-aid practices
should be followed:
0 Pesticide on the clothes and skin. Remove clothes at once.
Rinse the skin immediately with clean, cool water. Wash
the skin with large amounts of soap and water.
> Pesticide in the eyes. Flush the eyes immediately with clean
cool water-continue for at least 15 minutes. A garden hose
with low water pressure works fine.
> Pesticide has been swallowed. Read the label to determine if
vomiting should be induced. Never attempt to induce
vomiting in an unconscious or convulsing victim.
SPesticide inhaled. Get victim into fresh air immediately.
Open doors and windows. Loosen victim's clothing. If the
victim is not breathing, begin artificial respiration at once.
In all cases of pesticide poisoning obtain medical advice and
treatment as rapidly as possible. The pesticide label should be
given to the medical team or physician. Do not transport the
pesticide container inside the passenger compartment of a
vehicle. Never permit a victim of pesticide poisoning to drive,
since dizziness or drowsiness can occur with little or no warning.
The Keys to Pesticide Safety
BEFORE USING PESTICIDE STOP READ THE LABEL!
USE PESTICIDES ONLY AS A LAST RESORT!
- PURCHASE THE SAFEST PESTICIDE FOR THE PROBLEM!
PURCHASE OR MIX ONLY NEEDED AMOUNT OF PESTICIDE!
STORE PESTICIDES SECURELY!
WEAR PROPER PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT!
PREVENT DRIFT/CONTAMINATION DURING APPLICATION!
CLEAN UP AND WASH UP IMMEDIATELY!
DISPOSE OF PESTICIDE CONTAINERS PROPERLY!
SGET MEDICAL HELP IMMEDIATELY FOR ALL EXPOSURES!
5= .' -1- '
This public document was promulgated at a cost of $2,299.05, or
17 cents per copy to provide homeowners with information on safe
use of pesticides. 2-13.7M-86.
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, INSTITUTE
OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES, K.R. Tefertiller, director, in coopera-
tion with the United States Department of Agriculture, publishes this information
to further the purpose of the May 8 and June 30, 1914 Acts of Congress; and is
authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only """'" l
to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex or national origin. Single
copies of Extension publications (excluding 4-H and Youth publications) are available free to Florida
residents from County Extension Offices. Information on bulk rates or copies for out-of-state purchasers
is available from C.M. Hinton, Publications Distribution Center, IFAS Building 664, University of Florida,
Gainesville, Florida 32611. Before publicizing this publication, editors should contact this address to
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