Windshield washer fluid is a brightly colored liquid made of methanol, a poisonous alcohol. Sometimes, small amounts of other toxic alcohols, such as ethylene glycol, are added to the mixture.
Some young children may mistake the fluid for juice, which can lead to accidental poisoning. Even small amounts can cause serious damage. This article discusses poisoning from swallowing windshield washer fluid.
This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
Methanol (methyl alcohol, wood alcohol)
This poison is found in:
Symptoms of windshield washer fluid poisoning affect many different body systems.
Airway and lungs:
Heart and blood:
Skin and nails:
Stomach and intestines:
Other symptoms may include:
Seek immediate medical help. DO NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by Poison Control or a health care professional.
The following information is helpful for emergency assistance:
However, DO NOT delay calling for help if this information is not immediately available.
Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The person may receive:
Because rapid removal of methanol is a key to treatment and survival, a kidney machine (renal dialysis) will likely be needed.
Methanol, the main ingredient in windshield washing fluid, is extremely poisonous. As little as 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) can be deadly to a child. About 2 to 8 ounces (60 to 240 milliliters) can be deadly for an adult. Blindness is common and often permanent despite medical care. Multiple organs are affected by intake of methanol. Permanent organ damage may occur.
The ultimate outcome depends on how much poison was swallowed and how soon treatment was received.
Although many windshield washer fluids are a watered-down form of methanol, they can still be dangerous if swallowed.
Reviewed By: Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.