Although antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid improve driving safety, both are poisons. Antifreeze, sometimes labeled “antifreeze/coolant,” keeps the engine from freezing in the winter and overheating in the summer. Windshield wiper fluid improves visibility in cold and stormy weather by melting ice and cleaning the windshield. Both can cause serious effects if swallowed, even in small amounts.
Antifreeze usually contains ethylene glycol. Windshield wiper fluid usually contains methanol. Both are toxic. As little as one tablespoon of ethylene glycol can cause kidney failure or death. Even smaller amounts of methanol, one teaspoon, can cause blindness or death. Be aware that other products such as brake fluids and de-icing products may also contain methanol or ethylene glycol.
Fortunately, not all “glycols” are a problem. Propylene glycol, found in some cosmetics, inks, room deodorants and food preservative, is not very toxic. If an antifreeze or windshield wiper poisoning occurs, DO NOT “wait and see” if a person or pet will have a problem. You may not notice ill effects for several hours or longer.
Possible effects of antifreeze/coolant or windshield wiper fluid poisoning:
- Vision problems
- “Snowy” vision
- Blurred or double vision
- Blindness, which may be permanent
- Nausea and vomiting
- Heart rhythm changes
- Kidney and/or liver failure
Many children, and adults, accidentally drink antifreeze or windshield wiper fluid when it is stored in drink containers. Also, animals sometimes drink antifreeze that spills or leaks out of radiators. It has a sweet taste.
Prevent antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid poisoning:
- Keep caps tightly closed.
- Store products out of sight and reach.
- Keep products in the original containers.
- Clean up radiator spills or leaks immediately.
For more information, call your poison center at 1-800-222-1222.