Some hazardous materials are easy to spot. For example, it’s clear why a can of gasoline, a barrel of hydrofluoric acid or a crate of fireworks would require special labeling and handling when shipped.  

However, there are a number of hazardous items that aren’t as obvious. Because it’s critical to disclose these items to your carrier so they can be properly labeled, packaged and handled, we’ll run you through a list of six unexpected hazardous materials you should be aware of.  

After all, mislabeled hazardous materials can create dangerous situations on the boats, trucks, and planes that carry them—and the fines that result can be steep. Additionally, procedures for domestic shipments differ from those for international ones, and some materials that are permitted for ocean freight may not be allowed in an air freight shipment. 

The bottom line? Disclose everything to your carrier or freight forwarder. That way, their experts can ensure that your shipment follows established regulations so it arrives safely at its destination. 

Now, let’s take a look at six different materials you might not have known to belong to the nine classes of hazardous materials

Unexpected HazMat #1: Nail Polish and Other Cosmetics 

If you’ve ever walked into a nail salon, the smell in the air might have tipped you off that nail polish—and nail polish remover—contain serious chemicals. The culprit here is acetone, which falls into Class 3: Flammable and Combustible Liquids. In addition to nail products, acetone can also be found in many haircare and skincare products. 

If you plan to ship an item with acetone in it, make sure to let your carrier know. Other companies have attempted to ship products containing acetone without declaring them. If discovered, the fines can be steep. The FAA recently proposed a fine of $140,000 against a retailer who didn’t declare the nail polish and sunblock (a Class 2 hazardous material) in their air freight shipment. Additionally, a pharmaceutical distribution company was fined $91,000 for an undeclared shipment of skincare products containing alcohol.

One more quote: No matter the quantity, disclosure is always your best bet. Even when it comes to small amounts, your carrier needs as much information as possible to properly label your shipment. 

Unexpected HazMat #2: New Year’s Poppers 

There’s nothing like celebrating the first few minutes of a new year with a little party favor that shoots confetti into the air. While some of these New Year’s poppers are spring activated, others may contain a small amount of gunpowder. Or, as the site How It Works puts it, “Party poppers are basically tiny sticks of dynamite inside a plastic seal.” Surprising, no? 

So, as you can guess, these seemingly harmless party favors will fall under Class 1: Explosives. Any party poppers that contain even small amounts of gunpowder will require special handling and paperwork if you plan to ship them. 

The same goes for cap guns, by the way, which also contain small amounts of gun powder. If you plan to include cap guns or party poppers in your shipment, make sure to let your carrier or freight forwarder know. 

Unexpected HazMat #3: Whipped Cream and Other Aerosol Sprays 

Whether you’re shipping whipped cream, cooking spray, hair spray, spray paint, spray sunscreen, all aerosol cans fall under Class 2 of the hazardous materials table: gases.  

In addition to being labeled and disclosed, it’s important for aerosol cans to be packaged carefully. The FAA fined a South Florida company $78,000 after an air freight shipment of aerosol cans was discovered to have burst, leaking flammable fumes.ii No matter what type of aerosol can you plan on shipping—or in what quantity—work closely with your carrier to ensure it’s packaged carefully for its journey.  

Unexpected HazMat #4: Laundry Detergent 

Sometimes, hazardous materials hide in plain sight. Laundry detergent and certain types of household cleaning solutions are considered hazardous materials. However, they may not be on your radar because you use them almost every day. 

However, depending on its ingredients, laundry detergent commonly falls into Class 8: Corrosives. Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, is a common ingredient that moves cleaning solutions and detergents into the hazardous category. Even though these materials sit harmlessly on shelves above our washers and dryers, it’s critical that you disclose any kinds of detergents, bleach or cleaning solutions that you plan to ship. That way, your carrier will help you ensure they’re properly labeled, packaged and placed within the ship, truck or plane that will be carrying them.  

Unexpected HazMat #5: Helium Tanks

It’s pretty common to walk into a Party City, Walmart or Target and purchase a small helium tank for under $50. However, even though it’s easy to get these small helium tanks, it’s important to recognize that they still pose a risk during shipping. 

Helium tanks fall under HazMat Class 2: Gases. Even though helium is a non-flammable gas, it still needs to be declared and labeled as a hazardous material so it can be properly handled during shipping. 

Unexpected HazMat #6: Rechargeable Power Drills

Rechargeable power drills, as well as computers, cell phones, cameras and other electronic devices, may be considered hazardous materials if they contain lithium batteries. When these batteries are crushed, dropped or damaged, they can catch fire, as a recent incident on a Delta passenger flight out of Salt Lake City demonstrates. In this particular case, a single battery in passenger luggage exploded and caught fire before the plane took off.

Even one lithium battery can cause a fire, as the Delta flight demonstrates. In fact,  

the U.S. Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued new rules earlier this year, preventing carriers from shipping lithium batteries in the cargo areas of passenger planes.  

If you plan to include an item with a lithium battery in it, make sure to disclose it to your carrier. Their experts can work with you to find a solution to deliver your shipment, and they’ll help you package and label it properly to ensure safe delivery. 

Stay Safe, Stay Compliant: Disclosure Is Key 

If there’s been one consistent theme throughout this article, it’s the importance of talking to your carrier or freight forwarder early and often about any potentially hazardous materials in your shipments. They will have trained hazardous materials experts on staff who can help you get your paperwork in order, choose the right shipping method and properly label your shipment.  

Not only will this keep you compliant and help you avoid steep fines, but it will also ensure the safety of the crews and vessels moving your shipment. This, in turn, ensures the safe delivery of your cargo to its final destination. 

If you have more questions about shipping hazardous materials, check out our other article: “Conquer Hazmat Regulations with These 5 Shipping Tips.” 


Or, feel free to reach out to one of our experts. Our dedicated hazardous materials team can help you with labeling, documentation and shipping methods—and answer any questions you have. 


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