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First Aid for Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning

Last updated Feb. 28, 2018

Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of windshield washer fluids.


What is Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning?

  • Windshield washer fluids are chemical solvents that are used to clean automobile windshields using the windshield wipers; the fluid being sprayed onto the glass via a pump
  • These fluids are generally brightly-colored (blue color), thick and viscous, and maybe mistaken by children as juice or other beverages. However, windshield wiper cleaning solutions can be highly toxic, since most contain methanol (30-50% component), which is a deadly alcohol type
  • Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of windshield washer fluids
  • The condition is diagnosed based upon the clinical history, combination of signs and symptoms, and additional tests (that may include, in some cases, radiological studies and laboratory tests)

Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning may be also referred to variously as the following:

  • All-Season Poisoning (Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning)
  • Bug Remover Poisoning (Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning)
  • De-icer Poisoning (Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning)
  • Screen Wash Poisoning
  • Washer Fluid Poisoning
  • Windshield Washer Fluid Toxicity
  • Windshield Wiper Fluid Poisoning
  • Wiper Fluid Poisoning

What are the Causes of Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning?

  • Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning is caused by the ingestion/swallowing of windshield washer fluid
  • Exposure of skin and eyes may result in injuries; inhalation of the washer fluid vapors may also result in symptoms
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • There are several types of windshield washer fluid solutions. These may contain chemicals including methanol, ethanol, or ethylene glycol (antifreeze compounds), and other compounds
  • The chemicals contained in the product are highly-toxic in nature and may cause severe symptoms

Note: The compound can interact with other prescribed or non-prescribed medications in the body. Such interactions may enhance the therapeutic effects of other medications being taken, resulting in undesired side effects.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning can vary from one individual to another. It may be mild in some and severe in others. Several systems of the body may be affected. The poisoning may occur due to swallowing of the compound, or breathing-in of windshield washer fluid fumes and vapors.

The signs and symptoms of Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning may include:

  • Headache, fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Breathing difficulties (including absence of breathing)
  • Mumbling, slurring of speech
  • Unable to walk properly, lack of coordination
  • Low response level
  • Skin may turn yellow
  • Bluish discoloration of skin on the lips and beneath the fingernails
  • Increased heart-rate and heart rhythms
  • Reduced blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Muscle cramps, especially affecting the legs
  • Vision abnormalities including blurred vision and vision loss; partial or total blindness is a possibility
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness and coma

Note: Symptoms are observed only after a few hours, in many cases. Initial presentations may include vomiting, stomach pain, and an upset stomach. This is followed by confused behavior, sleepiness, and drowsiness.

How is First Aid administered for Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency help number immediately, for emergency assistance
  • Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or your local poison control center) for further instructions
  • Provide them with information such as the compound taken, quantity and time of ingestion, age, weight and general health status of affected individual
  • Carefully remove the individual from the exposure area; move them to region of fresh air immediately
  • Confirm that the airways are protected; also, ensure breathing and the presence of pulse
  • Administer CPR, if necessary
  • Unless instructed by a healthcare professional, DO NOT induce vomiting in the affected individual
  • If eye exposure has occurred, then wash the eye thoroughly with copious amounts of water (for about 15 minutes)
  • Take individual to emergency room (ER) for further treatment
  • Always try to take the compound bottle/container to the ER

The emergency medical health professional might perform the following steps towards treating the condition:

  • Monitoring of vital signs
  • Medically manage symptoms, such as abnormal heart rate and seizures
  • Provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Administer activated charcoal to avoid absorbance of the substance in the body
  • Administer suitable medication (such as fomepizole or ethanol), to counter the effects of the toxin
  • Wash skin and eyes repeatedly and thoroughly (irrigation), to eliminate any remaining hazardous compound
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line
  • In case the kidneys are affected, urinary dialysis may be necessary

Who should administer First Aid for Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning?

First aid for Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning is administered by healthcare professionals.

  • The individual who is affected, or someone near, should call 911 for emergency assistance (or the local emergency number)
  • They should also call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow instructions

What is the Prognosis of Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning is dependent on the amount of substance consumed, time between consumption and treatment, severity of the symptoms, as well as general health status of the patient
  • Severity of the poisoning, the toxic ingredient present in the windshield washer fluid (usually methanol), and timely medical assistance are the key prognostic indicators. Generally, the prognosis of Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning is variable and can be assessed only on a case-by-case basis
  • Swallowing methanol can be extremely hazardous to one’s health. A small quantity of the substance can result in death; also, complete vision loss may be inevitable
  • In many cases, the central nervous system may be permanently damaged, which can lead to mental disabilities, blindness, muscle rigidity, and involuntary movements

In general, toxicities are common situations in the emergency departments. A majority of the cases are often not fatal, when appropriate treatment is given.

How can Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning be Prevented?

Windshield Washer Fluid Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Always following instructions for usage of any health or cosmetic products
  • DO NOT store portions of the liquid in smaller containers and leave them unattended
  • Diluted compounds may also be very toxic and immediate medical assistance must be sought in case of an ingestion
  • Keeping household products out of reach of children in child-proof containers
  • Keeping any poisonous/hazardous chemicals and other materials out of children’s reach
  • Being aware of basic first aid steps in case of an emergency (such as inadvertent poisoning)
  • Keep all poisons correctly labeled and in suitable storage locations

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Call 911 (or your local emergency number) for emergency assistance, if symptoms are life-threatening
  • Call Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow the recommend steps
  • It would be helpful if the following information is readily available:
    • Type, amount and time of consumption of the substance
    • Age and weight of the individual
    • And, the overall health status of the individual

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?


References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: July 9, 2017
Last updated: Feb. 28, 2018