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Camphor

Camphor is dangerous to young children and should be kept out of their reach. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has developed this fact sheet to address questions and concerns regarding camphor.

What is camphor?
Camphor (alcanfor in Spanish) is a white solid with a strong, fragrant odor. There are many reported uses for camphor, including to treat colds and congestion, to protect against illness, for pest control, as an air freshener, and in religious ceremonies.

How is camphor sold?
Camphor is sold as solid cubes or balls, as a balm or ointment, or in vapor-steam products. All products containing camphor must be labeled with ingredients, directions for use, appropriate warnings, and manufacturer's information.

Several camphor products being sold in local stores are unsafe and illegal because they do not have full labels and warning information. These products are sold in clear plastic packages and may have small colored stickers with pictures such as deer, bears, or boats. These stickers are not proper labels.

Why is camphor dangerous?
Camphor products are toxic and especially dangerous to young children. Mouthing or eating camphor can cause seizures. Applying balms or ointments in large amounts and adding it to the water of a room humidifier may also cause children to seize. Other symptoms of poisoning include stomachache, nausea, vomiting, irritability and agitation. The onset of symptoms may occur very quickly - as early as 5 to 20 minutes.

Camphor is also a fire hazard. It should be kept away from heat, including hot water and microwaves. Never add camphor to water humidifiers or place in bowls with hot water. Heating camphor can cause splattering and result in burns.

How are children exposed to camphor
Camphor can get into the body if it is swallowed, breathed in, or if it touches the skin.

What should parents do?
  • Keep all camphor products out of the reach of children. 
  • Do not scatter camphor products around the house or use them in humidifiers.
  • Do not attach them to your child as a bracelet or hang them near your child.
  • Do not use any camphor products on young children, especially if they are under 2 years of age.
  • Do not use any camphor products without an ingredient label, information and directions for use, manufacturer name and address - these products are illegal and unsafe.
  • Read all product labels and follow instructions carefully.
  • Do not use camphor to control pests in your home.
  • Report suspected poisonings to The Poison Control Center:

      Call 212-POISONS (212-764-7667) or (Español) 212-VENENOS (212-836-3667)
      (TDD) 212-689-9014
      You can call 24 hours a day/7 days/week

What should store owners do?
  • Remove camphor products without proper labeling from shelves and from inventory immediately.
  • Call distributors to arrange for returning products.
  • Inform possible or known users of unsafe camphor products to discontinue use.
  • Only sell products with labels that list ingredients, directions for use, appropriate warnings, and manufacturer's information.
  • If products are used as pest repellants they must meet EPA requirements for pesticides.

Last Updated: August 24, 2012