Skip To Content
Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP)
Part of the Pesticide Management Education Program
The Label

The Label

The pesticide label is extremely important to every user. The information and instructions on it come from years of costly tests and studies. The label tells you how to correctly use the pesticide. The label, when properly followed, provides protection for applicators, consumers and the environment. Completely read all labels for every pesticide you use. Don't rely on your memory.

Goals of This Chapter

  • Learn what kinds of information are on a label and why they are important.
  • Learn when and why you should read the label.
  • Be able to apply the label information to the use of any pesticide.

Identification of Chemical Hazards

First, the label identifies the chemicals in the container. The contents are listed in a standard form so that you know exactly what you are applying. Mistaken uses of chemicals can cause crop injury, poor control, or illegal residues. The crop may be unfit for market making you, the applicator, legally responsible for any losses.

Signal words are used on most labels to state the toxicity of the pesticide to humans. The label also lists the protective equipment needed for proper handling and use of the chemical. This may include masks, gloves, respirators, etc. The applicator who often works with these chemicals must be especially careful. Don't take chances with your health follow the simple safety requirements on the label.

Registered Uses

The label lists the uses for the pesticide that are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If the intended use is not on the label, the product should not be used! You are legally responsible for any accident or crop loss which results from using materials which are not approved. Certain formulations of a particular pesticide may be intended for a specific use only, for example, on livestock. The label in this formulation may list only the uses for livestock, even though the pesticide is also registered for other uses. Generally, however, any non-labeled use is a misuse and the applicator may end up in court.

Would you like to try a study question?

Would you like to try a study question?

Recommended Doses

Recommended doses and directions for applying approved uses also appear on every label. These suggestions can be helpful to you because they state the maximum dosage permitted by law. However, local conditions may not require maximum doses to achieve good control of the pest. You should use no more pesticide than is needed.


The label will usually state which other chemicals can be mixed with the pesticide. Often, either pesticides or fertilizers can be combined with the pesticide for one application. Sometimes the chemicals cannot be mixed without destroying their effectiveness. Check on compatibility before you mix.


The label will also tell if the pesticide is phytotoxic and likely to injure plants. Some plants are more sensitive than others to pesticides. The injury to plants can range from slight burning to complete loss of leaves to death of the plant. Choose a pesticide which is not phytotoxic to the target plant.

The Label and the Law

The label is the law. Pesticide users are forbidden to use a pesticide in a way contrary to its labeling. Any use not indicated on the label is prohibited. It is also illegal for consultants or sales persons to recommend a pesticide be used contrary to its label. The information found on the label has passed strict government requirements. The label itself, not just the pesticide product, must be registered by the EPA before it is used. EPA reviews and approves each statement which is on the label. The EPA Label Improvement Program updates pesticide labels in areas that contribute to health and environmental safety. According to the program, pesticide manufacturers revise product labels so both the applicator and the regulatory agency can delineate legal uses for pesticides released after April 30, l988. As part of health and safety, the toxicity warnings on labels come from tests required by the government. The pesticide and the label are registered by EPA only when the applicators, consumers, and fish and wildlife will be protected. If the label statements are carefully followed, no illegal residues will be found on any crop. Applicators, dealers, consultants and salesmen making recommendations other than those recommended on pesticide labels are liable under the law. Getting a single pesticide ready for registration can take seven to nine years and usually costs the chemical company $20-40 million dollars. Surely if it costs that much, the label is worth reading!

Would you like to try a study question?

Would you like to try a study question?

Would you like to try a study question?

Each pesticide you buy has a label which gives you instructions on how to use the product. Labels vary greatly depending on what the product is used for, when it was issued or reviewed, size of the package, and company format.


Labeling is all the information that you receive from the manufacturer about the product. It includes the label on the product container plus any supplemental information including brochures, leaflets, and information handed out by your dealer or a recognized authority. It is the responsibility of the applicator to comply with all of this information.


The label is the information printed on or attached to the container of a pesticide.

  • To the manufacturer, the label is a "license to sell."
  • To the state or federal government, the label is a way to control the distribution, storage, sale, use, and disposal of the product.
  • To the buyer or user, the label is a source of facts on how to use the product correctly and legally.
  • To physicians, the label is a source of identification and information or proper treatment for poisoning cases.

All labels will tell you how to use the product correctly!

Parts of the Label

Brand, Trade, or Product Names. Each manufacturer has a brand name for their product. Different manufacturers may use different brand names for the same pesticide active ingredient. The brand name shows up plainly on the front panel of the label. Applicators should avoid choosing a pesticide product by brand name alone. Many companies use the same basic name with only minor variations to designate entirely different pesticide chemicals.

For example:

Tersan LSR = zinc and maneb
Tersan SP = chloroneb
Tersan 1991 = benomyl
Tersan = thiram

Classification. Every use of every pesticide will be classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as either "general" or "restricted." Every pesticide product which has been restricted must carry this statement in a prominent place at the top of the front panel of the pesticide label:

"RESTRICTED USE PESTICIDE. For retail sale and use only by certified applicators or persons under their direct supervision and only for those uses covered by the certified applicator's certification."

Your state lead agency has the authority to deem a product as restricted use. When a product has been restricted by a state, the "restricted use" statement will not appear on the label. Contact your state lead agency for the list of state restricted use products. When a pesticide is classified for general use, the words "General Classification" will appear immediately below the heading "Directions for Use."

NOTE: At the time of this printing, EPA has not completed the classification of the many pesticide products on the market. Therefore, the absence of a RESTRICTED USE statement does not necessarily indicate that the product has a low hazard level. Use the signal word and the precautionary statements to judge the toxicity hazard of all pesticide products.

Ingredient Statement. Each pesticide label must list what is in the product. The list is written so that you can see quickly what the active ingredients are and the amount (in percentage) of each ingredient listed. The ingredient statement must list the official chemical names and/or common names for the active ingredients. Inert ingredients need not be named, but the label must show what percent of the total contents they comprise.

Chemical Name. The chemical name is a complex name which identifies the chemical components and structure of the pesticide. This name is almost always listed in the ingredient statement on the label. For example, the chemical name of Sevin 50% WP is 1-naphthyl methyl carbamate.

Common Name. Because pesticides have complex chemical names, many are given a shorter "common" name. Only common names which are officially accepted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may be used in the ingredient statement on the label. The official common name may be followed by the chemical name in the list of active ingredients. A label with the trade name Sevin 50% WP would read:

  Active ingredient:
  carbaryl (1-naphthyl methyl carbamate) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50%
  Inert ingredients. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . .. . . . . . . 50%

Would you like to try a study question?

Type of Pesticide. The type of pesticide usually is listed on the front panel of the pesticide label. This short statement usually indicates the kind of pests that the product will control.


  • Insecticide for control of certain insects on fruits, nuts, and ornamentals.
  • Soil fungicide.
  • Herbicide for the control of trees, brush, and weeds.
  • Algicide.

Net Contents. The front panel of the pesticide label will tell you how much is in the container.

Name and Address of Manufacturer. The law requires the maker or distributor of a product to put the name and address of the company on the label.

Registration and Establishment Numbers. These numbers are needed by the pesticide applicator in case of accidental poisoning, claims of misuse, faulty product, or liability claims.

Registration Numbers. An EPA registration number appears on all pesticide labels, unless an older label has a USDA number. This indicates the pesticide label has been registered by the federal government. Most products will contain only two sets of numbers, for example, EPA Reg. No. 3120-280; the first set of digits, 3120, is the manufacturer's identification number and the second set, 280, is the product identification number. Sometimes additional letters and numbers are part of the EPA Registration Number, for example 3120-280-AA-0850. The letters AA are alpha (alphabetical) letters required by a particular state and will appear on a few labels. The 0850 is the distributor's identification number and will appear on some labels.

In some cases, special local needs (SLN) pesticide products may be approved by a state. These registrations are designated, for example, as EPA, SLN No. KS-770009. In this case, SLN indicates "special local need" and KS indicates that the product is registered for use in Kansas. SLN numbers may not appear on the package label, but are part of the supplementary label.

Establishment Numbers. The establishment number (for example, EPA Est. No. 5840-AZ-1) appears on either the pesticide label or the container. In case something goes wrong, it identifies the facility that produced the product.

Signal Words and Symbols. Almost every label contains a signal word that will give you a clue to how dangerous the product is to humans. Knowing the product's hazard helps you to choose the proper precautionary measures for yourself, your workers, and other people (or animals) who may be exposed.

The signal word must appear in large letters on the front panel of the pesticide label. It usually is next to the statement, "Keep Out of Reach of Children" which must appear on every pesticide label.

Would you like to try a study question?

DANGER Any product which is highly toxic orally, dermally, through inhalation, or causes severe eye or skin burning, will be labeled DANGER. All pesticides which are highly toxic orally, dermally, or through inhalation will also carry the word POISON printed in red and the skull and crossbones symbol. As little as a taste to as much as a teaspoonful taken by mouth could kill an average sized adult.

Would you like to try a study question?

If a pesticide receives a highly toxic rating because of the possibility for corrosive damage to the skin or eyes, the signal word DANGER will be on the label without the word POISON.

WARNING Any product which is moderately toxic orally, dermally, or through inhalation or causes moderate eye and skin irritation, will be labeled WARNING. A teaspoonful to a tablespoonful orally could kill the average sized adult.

CAUTION Any product which is slightly toxic to relatively non-toxic orally, dermally, or through inhalation or causes slight eye and skin irritation, will be labeled CAUTION. An ounce to more than a pint taken orally could kill the average adult.

Would you like to try a study question?

Would you like to try a study question?

Precautionary Statements. All pesticide labels contain additional statements to help you decide the proper precautions to take to protect yourself, your helpers, and other persons (or domestic animals) which may be exposed. Part or all of the pesticide label may be written in other languages; the same label requirements apply regardless of the language.

Route of Entry Statements. The statements which immediately follow the signal word, either on the front or side of the pesticide label, indicate which route(s) of entry (mouth, skin, lungs) you must particularly protect. Many pesticide products are hazardous by more than one route of entry so study these statements carefully. A "Danger" signal word followed by "may be fatal if swallowed or inhaled" gives you a far different warning than, "Danger: Corrosive causes eye damage and severe skin burns."

Typical DANGER label statements include:

  • Fatal if swallowed.
  • Poisonous if inhaled.
  • Extremely hazardous by skin contact rapidly absorbed through skin.
  • Corrosive causes eye damage and severe skin burns.

These statements are not uniform on all labels and many variations may be found. More than one, or in some cases all four precautions may be stated on the same label.

Typical WARNING label statements include:

  • Harmful or fatal if swallowed.
  • Harmful or fatal if absorbed through the skin.
  • Causes skin and eye irritation.Statements on a WARNING label may be exactly like those found on a DANGER label or a CAUTION label. There may be a combination of the two, for example "harmful or fatal."

Typical CAUTION label statements include:

  • Harmful if swallowed.
  • May be harmful if absorbed through the skin.
  • May be harmful if inhaled.
  • May irritate eyes, nose, throat and skin.
  • These statements may vary considerably. They usually are more moderate than the statements found on a DANGER label, often using "harmful" instead of "fatal" or "poisonous"; "irritant" instead of "corrosive"; and qualifying the warnings with "may" or "may be." This is in keeping with products having a CAUTION label.

    Specific Action Statements. These statements usually follow the route of entry statements. They recommend the specific action needed to prevent poisoning accidents. These statements are directly related to the toxicity of the pesticide product (signal word) and route(s) of entry which must be protected.

    DANGER labels typically contain statements such as:

    • Do not breathe vapors or spray mist.
    • Do not get on skin or clothing.
    • Do not get in eyes.

    (You would not deliberately swallow the pesticide, so the "Do not swallow" statement is omitted.)

    CAUTION labels generally contain specific action statements which are much milder than those on the DANGER label:

    • Avoid contact with skin or clothing.
    • Avoid breathing dusts, vapors, or spray mists.
    • Avoid getting in eyes.

    These statements indicate that the toxicity hazard is not as great. The specific action statements help you prevent pesticide poisoning by taking the necessary precautions and wearing the correct protective clothing and equipment.

    Hazards to Wildlife. The label may indicate that the product causes undesirable effects in the environment. In this case, the precautionary statement may tell you what to avoid doing. Some labels indicate toxicity to bees, birds, fish and crustaceans. Labeling may indicate limitations imposed to protect endangered species. These limitations may include reduced rates, restrictions on types of application, or a ban on the pesticide's use within the species range. The label may also tell you where additional information can be obtained.

    Protective Clothing and Equipment Statements. Pesticide labels vary in the type of protective equipment statement they contain. Some labels fully describe appropriate protective equipment. A few list the kinds of respirators which should be worn when handling and applying the product. Others require the use of a respirator but do not specify type or model to be used. Many labels carry no statement at all.

    Would you like to try a study question?

    You should follow all advice on protective clothing or equipment which appears on the label. However, the lack of any statement or the mention of only one piece of equipment does not rule out the need for additional protection.

    The best way to determine the correct type of protective equipment is to use the signal word, the route of entry statements, the formulation, and the specific action statements. Sensible selection of protective equipment depends on a thorough understanding of the pesticide, the job, the weather, the handler and how these factors interact. (See Chapter VII Safety Precautions).

    A WARNING label, for example, might carry the statements: "Causes skin and eye irritation. Do not get in eyes, on skin, or on clothing. Wear goggles while handling." Even though the label does not specifically require them, you should wear coveralls over regular work clothing, chemical-resistant gloves, and footwear. You should wear a chemical -resistant protective suit and hat if you will be in prolonged contact with the chemical or are using an overhead spray application.

    The safe use of pesticides depends on risk awareness, use of appropriate protective equipment, skill at handling equipment and pesticides, careful personal hygiene, and regular medical care.

    Other Precautionary Statements. Labels often list other precautions to take while handling the product.

    • Do not contaminate food or feed.
    • Remove and wash contaminated clothing before reuse.
    • Wash thoroughly after handling and before eating or smoking.
    • Wash clothes daily.
    • Not for use or storage in and around a house.
    • Do not allow children or domestic animals into the treated area.

    These statements represent actions which an applicator should always follow whether they are on the label or not.

    First Aid or Statement of Practical Treatment. These statements tell you the first aid treatments recommended in case of poisoning. Typical statements include:

    • In case of contact with skin, wash immediately with plenty of soap and water.
    • In case of contact with eyes, flush with water for 15 minutes and get medical attention.
    • In case of inhalation exposure, move from contaminated area and give artificial respiration if necessary.
    • If swallowed, drink large quantities of milk, egg white, or water do not induce vomiting.

    All DANGER labels and some WARNING and CAUTION labels have a section on First Aid Treatment, Poison Signs or Symptoms, Note to Physicians, or Antidote and an Emergency Assistance Call telephone number. WARNING and CAUTION labels usually do not provide this information, although some may provide an Emergency Assistance Call telephone number near the signal word or precautionary statements. Individuals experiencing poisoning symptoms should seek medical attention. The pesticide label is an extremely important document which should accompany the victim to the treatment facility.

    Would you like to try a study question?

    Environmental Hazards. Pesticides may be harmful to the environment. Some products are classified RESTRICTED USE because of environmental hazards alone. Label warnings may include groundwater advisories and protection information. Look for special warning statements on the label concerning hazards to the environment.

    Special Toxicity Statements. If a particular pesticide is especially hazardous to wildlife, it will be stated on the label. For example:

    • This product is highly toxic to bees.
    • This product is toxic to fish.
    • This product is toxic to birds and other wildlife.

    These statements alert you to the special hazards that the use of the product may pose. They should help you choose the safest product for a particular job and remind you to take extra precautions.

    General Environmental Statements. These statements appear on nearly every pesticide label. They are reminders of common sense actions to follow to avoid contaminating the environment. The absence of any or all of these statements DOES NOT indicate that you do not have to take adequate precautions.

    Sometimes these statements will follow a "specific toxicity statement" and provide practical steps to avoid harm to wildlife.

    Examples of general environmental statements include:

    • Do not apply when runoff is likely to occur.
    • Do not apply when weather conditions favor drift from treated areas.
    • Do not contaminate water when cleaning equipment or disposing of wastes.
    • Keep out of any body of water.
    • Do not allow drift on desirable plants or trees.
    • Do not apply when bees are likely to be in the area.
    • Do not apply where the water table is close to the surface.

    Physical or Chemical Hazards. This section of the label will tell you of any special fire, explosion, or chemical hazards the product may pose. For example:

    • Flammable Do not use, pour, spill, or store near heat or an open flame. Do not cut or weld container.
    • Corrosive Store only in a corrosion-resistant tank.

    NOTE: Hazard statements (hazards to humans and domestic animals, environmental hazards, and physical-chemical hazards) are not located in the same place on all pesticide labels. Some newer labels group them in a box under the headings listed above. Other labels may list them on the front panel beneath the signal word. Still, other labels list the hazards in paragraph form somewhere else on the label, under headings such as "Note" or "Important." You should search the label for statements which will help you to apply the pesticide safely and knowledgeably.

    Entry Restriction. Some pesticide labels contain a reentry precaution. This statement tells you how much time must pass before people can reenter a treated area without appropriate protective clothing. These entry restrictions are set by both EPA and some states. Entry restrictions set by states are not always listed on the label. It is your responsibility to determine if one has been set. It is illegal to ignore entry restrictions.

    The minimum standard for legal protective clothing for early reentry following agricultural and other outdoor treatments are:

    • A long-sleeved shirt
    • Long-legged trousers or coveralls
    • Hat
    • Sturdy shoes with socks
    • Gloves are suggested. For early reentry in enclosed areas, a respirator may be necessary.

    The entry restriction may be printed in any one of several places, such as under "General Information," or "Directions for Use," etc. If no entry restriction statement appears on the label and is not set by your state, then you must wait at least until sprays are dried or dusts have settled before reentering, or allowing others to reenter a treated area without protective clothing. This is the minimum legal reentry interval.

    Storage and Disposal. All pesticide labels contain general instructions for the appropriate storage and disposal of the pesticide and its container. State and local laws vary considerably, so specific instructions usually are not included. Typical statements include:

    • Not for use or storage in or around the home.
    • Store away from fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, and seeds.
    • Store at temperatures above 32°F (0°C).
    • Do not reuse container.
    • Do not contaminate water, food or feed by storage and disposal.
    • Open dumping is prohibited.
    • Triple-rinse and offer this container for recycling or reconditioning, or dispose in an approved landfill or bury in a safe place.
    • Use excess or dispose in an approved landfill or bury in a safe place.
    • Do not reuse bag. Burn or bury in a safe place according to local ordinances.

    Would you like to try a study question?

    You should try to determine the best storage and disposal procedures for your operation and location. These statements may appear in a special section of the label titled "Storage and Disposal" or under headings such as "Important," "Note," or "General Instructions." For additional information on proper pesticide disposal and storage contact your state regulatory agency.

    Directions for Use. Correct application of a pesticide product is accomplished by following the use instructions found on the label. The use instructions will tell you:

    • The pests which the manufacturer claims the product will control. (Federal law legally allows you to apply a pesticide against a pest that is not specified on the labeling if the application is to a crop, animal, or site which the labeling approves. Your state may not permit such a use.)
    • The crop, animal, or site the product is intended to protect.
    • In what form the product should be applied.
    • The proper equipment to be used.
    • How much to use.
    • Mixing directions.
    • Compatibility with other often-used products.
    • Phytotoxicity and other possible injury or straining problems.
    • Where the material should be applied.
    • When it should be applied.

    Would you like to try a study question?

    Would you like to try a study question?

    Labels for agricultural pesticides often list the least number of days which must pass between the last pesticide application and crop harvest, slaughter, or grazing livestock. These are intervals set by EPA to allow time for the pesticide to break down in the environment. This prevents illegal residues on food, feed, or animal products and possible poisoning of grazing animals. This information may appear as a chart or it may be listed just after the application directions for the target crop or animal.

    Directions for Use by Reference

    In the future there may be some directions for use (which pesticide applicators must obey) that are refered to on the label, but may not come with the product when it is sold. Directions by reference may include use instructions required by EPA regulations. As an example, a pesticide label may have a statement like this:

    "You must use this product in a manner consistent with its labeling and with EPA Worker Protection Standards for Agricultural Pesticides, Part 170 of Title 40, Code of Federal Regulations."

    This statement means you are responsible to determine if the regulation applies to your situation and intended use of that pesticide. If the regulation does apply, you are responsible for complying with these directions as well as the label and labeling directions. EPA regulations that may require additional pesticide use directions are:

    • agricultural worker protection
    • ground and surface water protection
    • endangered species protection
    • pesticide transportation, storage, and disposal

    The use directions for each of the programs above may be long and exceed the room available on the traditional pesticide label. EPA's decision to refer to use directions places great responsibility on the pesticide applicator. A paragraph or a sentence on the label may be the only notice an applicator will receive that more directions are required for proper and legal application of that product.

    The applicator must:

    • Read the label carefully and recognize statements referring to additional use-directions.
    • Locate and read the additional use-directions.
    • Determine if they affect the planned use.
    • Decide how to comply.
    • Comply with the additional directions.

    Reading the Label

    Before you buy a pesticide, read the label to determine:

    • Whether it is the pesticide you need for the job.
    • Whether the pesticide can be used safely under the application conditions.
    • Where the pesticide can be used (livestock, crops, structures, etc.)
    • Whether there are any restrictions for use of the pesticide.
    • How much product you need.

    Would you like to try a study question?

    Before you mix the pesticide, read the label to determine:

    • What protective equipment you should use.
    • What the pesticide can be mixed with (compatibility).
    • How much pesticide to use.
    • The mixing procedure.

    Before you apply the pesticide, read the label to determine:

    • What safety measures you should follow.
    • When to apply the pesticide (including the waiting period for crops and animals).
    • How to apply the pesticide.

    Before you store or dispose of the pesticide or pesticide container, read the label to determine:

    • Where and how to store the pesticide.
    • How to decontaminate and dispose of the pesticide container.
    • Where and how to dispose of surplus pesticides.

    Back to Top