— Written By and last updated by Patricia Burch

Pesticide is a broad term when it comes to chemicals. Pesticides are broken down into many categories. For example, herbicides are used for controlling unwanted weeds, insecticides control unwanted insect pests, and fungicides are used for managing disease.

All pesticides have labels that are attached to the container in some manner. Pesticide labels contain important information about the product. Pesticide applicators are required by law to read and follow important information found on pesticide labels when using chemical products.

What to look for on the pesticide label:

  • The Brand Name of a product is used in advertising and is usually found on the front side of the product. For example, Sevin is the brand name for carbaryl, which is the active ingredient in Sevin. One active ingredient can be sold under many different brand names.
  • Pesticides have a short common name just like plants. Carbaryl is the common name for 1-naphthyl N-methyl carbamate.
  • It is required that every pesticide label displays a list of the active ingredients in the product. It will also list the percentage of active ingredient of that product.
  • Because many pesticides are dangerous toxins, signal words and symbols must be on the label. The signal word “Caution” means the product is slightly toxic. The signal word “Warning” means it is moderately toxic. The signal word “Danger” means the pesticide is highly toxic. In addition, highly toxic pesticides must display the skull and cross bones symbol, along with the signal words “Danger” and “Poison” on the label.
  • Precautionary statements identify the potential physical and chemical hazards to humans, domestic animals, and the environment resulting from exposure to the chemical. You will also find first aid treatment for use in the event of a contamination accident.
  • Directions for use, is another important part of the label. This part contains information about how to use the pesticide in a safe and effective manner, how to apply it, what it controls, how to mix it, how much to apply, and how often applications can be made.
  • Clean up and disposal is a concern for many people. It is best to only mix what you need to apply at the current time. Never pour leftover pesticides down the drain because it has the potential to contaminate water sources and ground water. Pesticides can harm septic tanks by preventing the bacteria from working properly. Always clean out the sprayer after each use. This will prolong the life of your equipment if it is taken care of. Be sure to disperse the rinse water over a broad labeled area instead of pouring over a concentrated area. This will prevent it from becoming a pollutant.

For more information concerning the use of pesticides and/or obtaining a pesticide license, please contact your local N.C. Cooperative Extension Center.