Reading Pesticide Labels

Small Farm and Gardening Safety and Health Series
Agriculture and Natural Resources
S. Dee Jepsen, Associate Professor and State Safety Leader, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Jeffery Suchy, Graduate Student and Lecturer, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Pesticides are used by small-scale farmers and gardeners to control nuisances such as weeds and insects. These products can pose risks to humans, animals and the environment, especially if not used properly. The pesticide label provides directions for safe and effective use, and is intended to provide guidelines for achieving maximum pest control benefits while minimizing health and environmental risks. The label should be read, understood and followed before purchasing and using the product. Using pesticides in any way that does not comply with the label’s directions and precautions is illegal and may render the product ineffective at controlling pests while posing risks to the user and the environment.

Safe Use

Safe and effective use of pesticides is dependent upon reading and following the label directions and precautions, and applying the correct amount of the product for the given task. It is important to know how to mix, apply, store and dispose of pesticides to prevent harmful exposure. Manufacturers are required to register pesticides with the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and are mandated to provide basic information on the label.

• The pesticide label is a guide to using pesticides safely and effectively, and includes the following information:
• The chemical formulation.
• Precautionary statements.
• Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) statements.
• The application method.
• The projected length of exposure.

When to Read the Label

• Before purchasing the pesticide:
◦ Make sure the pesticide is registered for your intended use.
◦ Make sure there are no restrictions that would prohibit its use.
• Before mixing and applying the pesticide:
◦ Understand how to mix and safely apply the pesticide.
◦ Know the first aid needed if an incident occurs.
• Before storing pesticides:
◦ Understand that pesticides can break down and contaminate storage areas.
◦ Understand that pesticides are fire hazards.
◦ Keep the pesticide closet securely locked at all times to limit access to the storage area.
◦ Store pesticides by hazard classes.
• Before disposal of unused pesticides and empty containers:
◦ Reduce carryover; purchase only what is needed for the season.
◦ Try to find a use for all the tank-mixed pesticide.
◦ Do not pour pesticides down a drain, because pesticides are hazardous waste.
◦ Triple-rinse and follow the label to dispose of empty containers.
◦ Follow state and federal regulations when using or disposing of pesticides.

What Information Does the Label Contain?

• Brand name: The name the manufacturer gives to the pesticide.
• Chemical name: The name chemists use to describe the chemical structure of the pesticide.
• Common name: Most pesticides also have an official common name. For example, horticultural oil is a common name.
◦ Common names and brand names are not the same. Not all labels list a common name.
• Formulation: Labels always list the formulation type.
◦ Some examples are emulsifiable concentrate (EC), wettable powder (WP), or soluble powder (SP).
• Ingredients: The label lists the percentage of active and inert ingredients by weight. Inert ingredients do not have pesticidal action.
Active and Inert Ingredients by Weight
• Contents: The label lists the net contents, by weight or liquid volume, contained in the package.
• Manufacturer: The label always lists the name and address of the manufacturer.
• Registration and establishment numbers: The EPA and other agencies assign these numbers.
◦ Keep track of EPA numbers in case of problems or recalls.
• Signal words: The registration process determines the toxicity of each pesticide. Standard signal words must be used on the label. The statement “keep out of reach of children” must also appear with signal words on the label of all pesticides.
◦ CAUTION: mild toxicity; least harmful risks to users.
◦ WARNING: moderate toxicity; increased risks to users.
◦ DANGER: high toxicity; very poisonous or irritating; should be used only with extreme care.
◦ Most pesticides marked DANGER are restricted-use and are not available to the general public.
Caution Statement
• Precautionary statements: These describe the hazards associated with the chemical. They also list adverse effects and state which PPE must be worn. (Proper PPE should be determined before purchasing the product.)
• Statement of practical treatment: This tells what to do in case of accidental exposure.
• Statement of use classification: The EPA classifies pesticides as either general use or restricted-use. Restricted-use pesticides can harm people, animals or the environment.
• Directions for use: The directions tell how to apply the pesticide.
◦ They include how much to use, where to use it and when to apply it.
◦ They also include the preharvest interval for all crops whenever appropriate.
Directions for Use
• Misuse statement: This tells users to apply pesticides according to label directions.
• Re-Entry Interval (REI) statement: Sometimes, a certain amount of time must pass before a person can re-enter an area treated with a pesticide. This amount of time is called the REI.
• Storage and disposal directions: Improper storage can cause some pesticides to lose their effectiveness. It can also cause an explosion or fire.
Storage and Disposal Directions
• Warranty: The label informs you of your rights as a purchaser. It also limits the manufacturer’s liability. The Safety Data Sheet (SDS) also contains information on the pesticide.


• Buhler, Wayne. How to Read the Label. Pesticide Environmental Stewardship. 2015.
• Jepsen, S.D., Michael Wonacott, Thomas Bean, Peter Ling. Tailgate Safety Training for Landscaping and Horticultural Services: Reading Pesticide Labels for Trainers and Supervisors, AEX-192.2.53. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Extension, 2006.

Reviewer: Kent McGuire, CFAES Safety and Health Coordinator, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering