Pesticide Quick FAQs
Quick FAQs are intended to be short, quick answers to frequent pesticide questions. If you don't see your question listed here, try the Common Pesticide Questions section of the website, where you will find fictional stories about people and their pesticide dilemmas. You may also want to try our Fact Sheets, or give us a call at 1-800-858-7378, toll-free from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Pacific Time (10:30 a.m. - 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time).
Frequent Pesticide Questions
- Is this product safe?
- If I use this product, will it harm my children or pet?
- How should I mix and apply this product?
- Can I use mothballs to keep snakes, birds, skunks or mice out of my house?
- What is the least-toxic method of controlling this pest?
- I think my dog ate some rat poison, what should I do?
- How long after applying a pesticide to my garden do I need to wait before eating the vegetables?
- Will this product be effective against my pest?
- Can I use this pesticide in my organic garden?
- Are natural (botanical) products safer than other products?
Still not finding answers to your questions? An additional resource might be the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs web page containing answers to frequent pesticide questions. You can also contact a NPIC pesticide specialist for assistance.
"Safe" means something different to everyone. All pesticides have some level of toxicity, just as every substance does. Even the least-toxic products can cause health problems if someone is exposed to enough of it. The risk of health problems depends not only on how toxic the ingredients are, but also on the amount of exposure to the product. One measure of product toxicity is the signal word. For help comparing different products, call NPIC and talk to one of our pesticide specialists. We'll ask you about your specific concerns, and give you ideas about how to minimize your risk.
All pesticides have some level of toxicity. The risk to your children or pet depends on the product toxicity and the amount of exposure. Refer to the "Precautionary Statements" on your product label, including the section of the label called "Hazards to Humans and Domestic Animals" for an overview of the risks. Call NPIC for more information. Be sure to read the entire label before using a product and follow the application directions exactly as written. Those directions are written to minimize the risk of problems and to define the legal uses for the product.
Typically, those directions can be found on the product label. Look for the section called "Directions for Use". If you still have questions, or need a copy of the product label, consider talking to the manufacturer of the product. They have expert knowledge of their own product line, so they can probably provide you the specific information you require. If you need help finding the phone number for the manufacturer of your product, call NPIC at the number below for assistance.
Mothballs and moth crystals contain high concentrations of insecticides designed to off-gas to repel pests. Most often, mothballs are only allowed to be used in sealed containers that allow the fumes to build up to a level that kills clothes moths while preventing the fumes from entering living spaces inhabited by humans or pets. Inhaling the mothball fumes can cause health problems. Read the product label for specific instructions on safe handling and use. Click here to learn about the proper use of moth balls.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an environmentally sensitive approach to pest control that relies on identification of the pest, understanding of what the pest needs to survive and reproduce, as well as the various methods of controlling the pest (biological, mechanical or chemical) with emphasis on using the least-toxic methods first. The fact sheets we linked from our website emphasize an IPM approach to managing pests in your local area. If you need to select a pesticide, consider the Directory of Least-Toxic Methods from the Bio-Integral Resource Center or read about how Signal Words can be used as indicators of product toxicity.
If your pet is unconscious, bleeding, having difficulty breathing, or having seizures (shaking, stumbling), consider taking your pet immediately to a veterinarian for emergency medical care. For other situations, contact a veterinarian or NPIC for assistance. We can help by assessing your unique situation and providing information to help you decide on the best course of action. After business hours, consider contacting the National Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435; there may be a fee for their services.
Some pesticides can be used on the day of harvest, while others can only be used long before harvest. The time between application and harvest is called a "harvest interval," and it's necessary to allow pesticide residues to decrease to acceptable levels. Check the label directions for the specific plant you are treating to find the harvest interval. Most often, the harvest interval is different for different plants or crops, so it's important to read the entire label carefully. Remember, the label is the law.
If you do not see a particular pest (bugs, weeds, fungi, etc.) listed on the product label, the product may not be effective against that pest. Consider products that specifically list the pest you're trying to control on the label. Pests can become resistant to some pesticides after repeated use. To find out which products work on the pests in your area, or for help identifying your pest, try talking to your local Cooperative Extension Service. If pesticides haven't worked so far, another pesticide may not be the best solution to your problem. You may want to consider using an integrated pest management (IPM) approach that includes steps such as sanitation, exclusion, prevention and other habitat changes that could be even more effective than pesticides. To learn more, read fact sheets about pests in your area or contact the Bio-Integral Resource Center for advice on controlling pests using an IPM approach.
The term "organic" has many meanings. Typically, "organic" pesticides are products that meet the USDA Organic Standard, which means they do not contain prohibited synthetic chemicals. In some cases, people refer to pesticides containing natural extracts of plants as "organic" products. However, to meet the USDA standard, even the "inert" or "other" ingredients in the product must be considered. Call NPIC, contact your organic certifier, or visit our website information on organic agriculture for more information.
Natural (botanical) products, like plant oils, are sometimes low in toxicity; however, this is not always the case. Some plant extracts are just as toxic or even more toxic than similar synthetic pesticides. Always handle pesticide products with care and follow the label directions. For help assessing the risks associated with a botanical or natural product, call an NPIC pesticide specialist.
If you have questions about any pesticide-related topic, please call NPIC at 1-800-858-7378 (7:30am-3:30pm PST), or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.