Using biocides

Biocides can be used by people in their workplace or in their own homes, so it is important that these products can be used without causing harm to people, pets, the environment or wildlife.

Everyone who uses biocides is responsible for using them correctly. This guidance is to help you to  use, store and dispose of biocides safely.

Do you need to use a biocide?

Before buying or using biocides, always consider:

  • Is there a problem that needs to be controlled?
  • If there is, do you need to use a biocide or is there an alternative available? Alternatives might include:
    • non-chemical methods such as fly swatters, mouse traps
    • preventing the harmful or unwanted organism from entering your home such as correctly sealed doors and windows
    • protecting affected items by storing them differently such as in sealed containers
    • making sure the problem area is clean, dry and well maintained
    • changing the temperature in the affected area - extreme heat such as steam may be effective in some circumstances
  • If you do need to use a biocide, do you already have a suitable one that needs using up?

If you decide to buy a biocidal product, try to ensure you only buy what you need.

If you are not a professional, consider using a professional pest controller to deal with the problem. HSE cannot recommend any specific companies, but you could consider contacting:

Which biocidal products should you use?

HSE cannot recommend any specific products, but it is important to make sure that you are using a biocidal product that is suitable for what you want to use it for.

Details of products authorised or approved under the laws that regulate biocides in the UK can be found on the:

If a product does not appear on our lists, this does not necessarily mean it should not be used. The active substance could still be undergoing review so products based on that active substance may not yet require HSE authorisation.

For example, ethanol, which is used in many hand sanitiser products, has not yet finished the review process. Ethanol products can therefore continue to be used but they will not appear on our lists as HSE will not have assessed or authorised them yet. Companies supplying products remain responsible for ensuring their products are suitable, safe and effective.

You should determine what your needs are and find a product that meets this need. If you are unsure if a product is suitable, discuss your requirements with the product manufacturers or suppliers.

You can also take a look at the following pages for help in finding out if a product needs to be authorised or approved yet:

General public users

If you are a member of the public, you should only use biocidal products that are intended for the general public - sometimes the terms 'amateur' or 'non-professional' might be used instead.

You do not need to have specific training (in biocides or other specific topics or tasks) to be able to use products intended for use by the general public. Following the label instructions carefully should be enough to allow the product to be used safely and effectively.

Members of the general public should never use biocidal products that are only intended for professional users. This is because professional users are required to have had the appropriate information, instruction and training to be able to use such products. Additionally, professional users are required to hold specific certification for some professional use products.

Professional/industrial users

You are considered to be a professional user if you:

  • use biocides as part of your job or in your business
  • have received appropriate information, instruction and training in the use of those biocides

Professional users of biocides, such as professional pest controllers, do not need to have a 'certificate of competence' – this is required for users of professional plant protection products and does not apply to biocides. However, certain biocidal products (some rodenticides and metal phosphide products) can only be used by and sold to professional users with demonstrated competence. These are people who:

  • use biocides as part of their job or in their business
  • have received appropriate information, instruction and training in the use of those biocides
  • hold specific certification relating to a particular use of biocides

You are considered to be an industrial user if you:

  • use biocides in an industrial or manufacturing setting
  • have received appropriate information, instruction and training in the use of those biocides

The types of training that professional and industrial users are expected to have include topics such as:

  • the relevant laws such as the GB Biocidal Products Regulation (GB BPR), the EU Biocidal Products Regulation (EU BPR) and the Control of Pesticides Regulations (COPR)
  • the correct use of biocides
  • how to carry out a risk assessment under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH)
  • how to choose, use and maintain Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

There are numerous courses available in the UK that cover the many different elements of using biocides. These are run by private consultants or firms, trade associations and training bodies and HSE is not able to recommend any specific training courses.

Reading biocidal product labels

Before using a biocidal product, you must make sure you read and understand the label. The information and instructions on the label are there to make sure that the biocidal product can be used safely and effectively so you must follow these instructions carefully.

Look for the following information on biocidal product labels:

  • authorisation or approval number - only biocides that are authorised or approved under the relevant laws can carry one of these numbers:
    • HSE XXXX
  • what the product is authorised or approved for – the biocide must not be used for any other purpose:
    • for use only as a wood preservative
    • for use against ants, woodlice and cockroaches
    • for use against mice indoors
  • who is allowed to use the biocidal product:
    • the general public – sometimes referred to as 'amateur' or 'non-professional' users – members of the general public must not use professional or industrial use products
    • professional users
    • professional users with demonstrated competence
    • industrial users
  • if any protective clothing or equipment needs to be worn when using the biocide:
    • gloves
    • coveralls
    • eye protection
  • how to use the biocide without harming yourself, other people or animals:
    • restricting access whilst the area is being treated
    • restricting access for a period of time after the area has been treated
    • not treating particular items or areas
  • how to use the biocide without harming wildlife or the environment:
    • not treating close to bodies of water, including fishponds and tanks
    • not treating areas with roosting bats
    • not treating beehives
  • how to apply the biocide effectively:
    • how much to apply
    • where to apply it
    • how frequently treatment is required
  • how to store the product:
    • a cool, dry place
    • in original container
    • locked up
  • how to dispose of any left-over product and / or the empty container:
    • as hazardous waste
    • in accordance with local regulations

Storing biocides

When storing biocides, you must always:

  • store them in their original containers – this is for safety reasons and is required by the law
  • tightly close or seal the packaging to avoid spillage
  • store them in a safe place – this must be out of reach of children and pets and, if stated on the product label, must be locked

Guidance for professional users on the general principles of storing biocides can be found in HSE leaflet Guidance on storing pesticides for farmers and other professional users.

Disposing of biocides

Anyone who uses biocides is responsible for making sure that any biocidal waste, including empty containers, are properly disposed of. You should always check the product label for any product specific disposal instructions.

If you are not sure how to properly dispose of your biocidal waste, you should contact the waste disposal department of your local authority for advice.

Professional users may also need to contact a specialist waste contractor.

Accidents and emergencies

If you are following the label instructions and using biocides correctly, there should not be any harm to you, other people, animals or the environment. However, if you do feel ill after using a biocide, you should first seek medical advice and then report it.

Find out how to report exposure to biocides for people, animals and the environment

In case of an accident or emergency, you should note the authorisation or approval number of the biocide (where applicable) and the name(s) of the active substance(s) it contains.

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Updated 2022-09-01