How To Decipher Pesticide Labels
For your family’s safety, really read the labels this time

Jodie Tate
Natural Resources Management Educator
University of Illinois

I admit, I’m guilty. I have typed many news releases with the sentence “Always read and follow label directions.”

That’s great, but that statement is a bit like saying, “Always fasten your seatbelt.” You’ve heard it so often, that the meaning has almost gotten lost.

The same is true with labels on pesticide containers. So, in honor of the coming lawn season, I did a bit of research on reading labels; and learned quite a bit in the process.

For instance, all pesticide labels contain the statements, “It is a violation of federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling” and, “Keep out of reach of children.”

In addition, a signal word is used on the label indicating how dangerous the product is to humans. DANGER is the highest, it means highly toxic. WARNING is defined as moderately toxic. CAUTION is the lowest, or slightly toxic.

Under the Precautionary Statements section, you will find information on how to protect the individual applying the product and any others that may be exposed, including pets. Read this section carefully.

Make note of the Statement of Practical Treatment, as it contains information on what to do in case of an accidental poisoning. All DANGER labels will contain a note to physicians outlining treatment and listing an antidote, if one is available. Always take the label with you to the hospital if an accidental poisoning should occur, even for products labeled WARNING or CAUTION.

Another item listed under the Precautionary Statements is the Environmental Hazards Statement. It warns of potential dangers to the environment. Some may choose to skip this section, but the first time you kill the goldfish in your water garden or cripple your crop of tomatoes, you will understand why I highly recommend reading this information. Also, setback guidelines (how far away from a specific site you must be before applying the product) will be outlined here.

The Directions for Use heading is where you will find the misuse statement (“It is a violation of federal law…..inconsistent with its labeling”). In simple terms, it makes you responsible for the use of the product. On a bigger scale, the courts generally recognize the label as a binding contract, requiring you to use the product exactly as directed.

Why read the Directions For Use section? It tells you what pests are controlled by the product, mixing or dilution rates, application rates, equipment you will need for application, how often to apply, etc.

Pay special attention to the Re-entry or Restricted Entry Statement. It explains how long to wait after application before entering a treated area. It typically provides the same information for pets, if necessary, too. If a statement is not provided, the legal interval is assumed to be when sprays are dry (liquid application) or dust is settled.

Another section to read carefully is Storage and Disposal. Proper storage of the product is important if you plan on using the product again. Disposal of leftover product is best accomplished at a household hazardous waste collection site. Contact your local municipality to see if your community hosts such an event. If they do not, contact your area Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) office to locate the nearest collection site.

Container disposal varies greatly. Some containers can be “triple rinsed,” others will specify they “can be offered for recycling,” while others may have you contact your local EPA for guidance.

A lot of other information can be found on the label, too, such as the common name of the product, the chemical name of the product, ingredients, the net contents of the container and the name and address of the manufacturer.

If you have a container with the label partially missing, worn off, etc. search for it at This site contains labels for all agriculture, turf and ornamental products.

I know it is time-consuming, but it really is worth the extra five minutes to read the label on a product. In fact, doing it before you purchase the product might save you time, money and another trip to the store.

For more information

Jodie Tate is the Natural Resources Management Educator
for the University of Illinois Extension Springfield Center

You can contact Jodie Tate at: 217‑782-6515 or