Windshield washer fluid

Poisoning caused by exposure to windshield washer fluid.

Poisonous Ingredient  

  • methanol (methyl alcohol, wood alcohol)

Where Found 

  • antifreeze  
  • paint remover  
  • shellac  
  • varnish  
  • windshield washer fluids  
  • Sterno cans

Note: This list is not inclusive of all brand names.


  • body as a whole       o weakness       o leg cramps  
  • respiratory       o rapid, shallow breathing       o stopped breathing  
  • eyes, ears, nose, and throat       o blurred vision       o blindness  
  • skin       o bluish skin (lips and fingernails)  
  • gastrointestinal       o nausea and/or vomiting       o abdominal pain  
  • heart and blood vessels       o drop in blood pressure  
  • nervous system       o coma       o fatigue       o headache       o dizziness       o seizures       o confusion

Home Treatment 
DO NOT induce vomiting without directions froms Poison Control!

Before Calling Emergency 
Determine the following information:

  • the patient’s age, weight, and condition  
  • the name of the product (as well as the ingredients and strength if known)  
  • the time it was swallowed  
  • the amount swallowed

Poison Control, or a local emergency number 
They will instruct you if it is necessary to take the patient to the hospital. See poison control centers for the national telephone number. Bring the poison container with you to the emergency room.

What to expect at the emergency room 
Some or all of the following procedures may be performed:

  • Administer ethanol (the alcohol found in alcoholic beverages)  
  • Administer Fomepizole (a medication that blocks the formation of toxins produced by the body when it breaks down the methanol)  
  • Dialysis  
  • Use gastric lavage  
  • Treat the symptoms

Expectations (prognosis) 
Methanol is extremely toxic. As little as 2 TABLEspoons can be fatal to a child, while 2 to 8 oz. can be fatal for an adult. The ultimate outcome for the patient will depend on how much was swallowed and how soon appropriate care was given. Many windshield washer fluids are a dilute form of methanol and therefore are not as toxic as pure methanol.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Martin A. Harms, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.