Is Fertilizer Bad To Breathe In? What You Need To Know

Fertilizer is an integral part of gardening today. The discovery and streamlining of fertilizer has dramatically increased gardening efficiency, however, its adverse effects can be challenging to avoid. Ánd you might be wondering about its side effects and if it is bad to inhale. 

Fertilizer is bad to breathe in. Most fertilizers on the market are nitrogen fertilizers, and while plants greatly enjoy this nutrient to grow, it can be toxic to humans when inhaled or ingested. The side effects of breathing in fertilizer can range from mild irritation to cancer. 

In the rest of this article, I will discuss how toxic plant fertilizer is, and why fertilizer is carcinogenic. I will also explain the harmful effects it can have on the human body, and how to handle it safely. 

How Toxic Is Plant Fertilizer?

Plant fertilizer is very toxic if breathed in or ingested. This is because most fertilizers contain high levels of nitrogen, and though much of the air humans breathe already contains nitrogen; you can experience nitrogen poisoning. This can result in unconsciousness, illness, and even death. 

Therefore, fertilizer isn’t great for humans and has some severe side effects should you be exposed to it and develop nitrogen poisoning. However, to fully understand how toxic plant fertilizers are, it’s essential to understand what nitrogen is and its primary functions. 

How Nitrogen Works 

Next, I want to discuss how nitrogen works and what exactly it is about this compound that can cause such nasty side effects. 

Nitrogen is a greenhouse gas. This gas is the most abundant element making up around 78% of the earth’s atmosphere. Nitrogen is one of the keys to healthy plant growth; however, too much nitrogen can be harmful to plants, animals, humans, and the planet. 

When the nitrogen cycle begins, plants absorb the nitrogen through their roots in the soil and turn the gas into sugars which is then converted into energy for the plant. Nitrogen also promotes extreme leaf growth, leading to the plant producing more energy for themselves and yielding better crops. 

If you want to learn more about how nitrogen works with the human body, I recommend watching Walter Jahn’s video on nitrogen and the respiratory system. They do a great job of explaining how this gas reacts in the body: 

Are Fertilizers Considered Carcinogenic?

As you know, fertilizer can be harmful when ingested or inhaled, leading to several health problems if the exposure is severe or frequent. But what about cancer? Are fertilizers considered carcinogenic? 

Fertilizers are considered carcinogenic. However, the amount of fertilizer exposure it would take to get cancer is a lot, so it’s unlikely that you will get lung cancer from using fertilizer in your garden. Applying fertilizer in well-ventilated areas can help protect you from harmful side effects. 

Therefore, you could get lung cancer from frequent exposure to fertilizers. However, you should be safe so long as you take precautions when handling fertilizer. Furthermore, the use of organic fertilizers like manure are far less likely to contain high amounts of nitrogen, which can lead to nitrogen poisoning.

The Harmful Effects of Breathing In Fertilizer

Now that you understand how nitrogen fertilizers work and a few of the associated dangers, I will discuss the side effects in greater detail. 

Obviously, when it comes to any sort of chemical, you should be wary, and fertilizer is no different. 

Here are the harmful effects fertilizers can have on the human body if inhaled:

  • Skin irradiation such as burning or itching.
  • Burning eyes, nose, or throat.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Episodes of Vertigo.
  • Blacking out.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Blue hands, lips, and feet.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Seizures.
  • Death.

As you can see, developing nitrogen poisoning from fertilizer is highly unpleasant and can even result in death. Furthermore, studies show that long-term exposure can lead to the development of Alzheimer’s and even cancers. 

However, the long-term side effects from inhaling fertilizer are most likely due to frequent, prolonged exposure without proper gear. Additionally, people that work with synthetic fertilizers daily are more likely to become sick from the nitrogen found in fertilizer.

Is Organic Fertilizer Less Toxic To Breathe?

Generally, there are two main categories of fertilizer, inorganic and organic, and it’s essential to know the risks associated with handling both of them. 

Organic fertilizer is less toxic to breathe. This is due to the natural process in which it’s made. Generally, organic fertilizers have lower nitrogen content. However, these fertilizers can still be toxic if you ingest them or inhale particles into your lungs. 

Ultimately, any fertilizer type can be toxic if mishandled. This is because it contains necessary nutrients for plants, which can harm humans in high doses. Nitrogen poisoning can easily occur from breathing in too much nitrogen fertilizer or even ingesting it. Call poison control immediately if you suspect you have developed nitrogen poisoning. 

How To Stay Safe When Handling Fertilizer

Finally, it’s time to discuss how to stay safe when handling fertilizers. This is important because fertilizers are regularly used in gardens, lawns, and trees. And your plants need fertilizers to thrive and produce more fruit. So how can you give your plants what they need and stay safe? 

Here are some tips to follow when handling fertilizer: 

  • Wear a dust mask when applying fertilizer. Dust masks are specifically formulated to block out any dust particles that try to make their way into your lungs. Plus, this type of mask is more heavy-duty than most since it’s created to keep out construction debris. 
  • Apply fertilizer in well-ventilated areas. If you can, using fertilizer outdoors or in a vented greenhouse is best. If you are working in a warehouse, open windows or doors if possible. This will increase airflow and limit your fertilizer exposure. 
  • Wear safety glasses. Getting fertilizer in your eyes can be unpleasant and easy to do. So putting on a pair of safety glasses is a great way to ensure that doesn’t happen.
  • Put on gloves. Gloves are also great as they can be thrown away after use, and you will be less likely to rub fertilizer in your eyes or mouth by accident.  
  • Use a liquid fertilizer. Liquid fertilizers can be easier to detect if you breathe them in, and they tend to be heavier, meaning they won’t float through the air. 
  • Remove any excess fertilizer – It’s easy for excess fertilizer to attach to other outside spaces such as your lawn or driveway. However, this can be unsafe for you, your kids, and your pets. Therefore, clean the excess when you are done using it for your plants. 

Therefore, several safety steps can be taken to protect yourself from nitrogen poisoning. Although, it’s important to note that becoming deathly ill from fertilizer exposure is relatively unlikely. However, it can happen, so it’s a good idea to take precautions where you can. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Here are a few FAQs regarding the health effects of fertilizer: 

Should I Wear a Mask While Spreading Fertilizer?

You should wear a mask when spreading fertilizer. Wearing a dust mask can significantly reduce the risk of you inhaling or ingesting toxic fumes from fertilizer. Applying fertilizer outside or in a well-ventilated area is also best to avoid inhaling fertilizer dust or particles. 

Is Fertilizer Dust Toxic?

Fertilizer dust is toxic. The dust also contains nitrogen which can be harmful when inhaled. This is why it’s a good idea to wear a dust mask when applying, especially if you are using a granulated fertilizer. In addition, be cautious when handling fertilizer bags to avoid inhaling more dust. 

Can Breathing In Fertilizer Make You Sick?

Breathing in fertilizer can make you sick. Inhaling fumes or dust from fertilizer can have many adverse effects such as lung irritation, asthma, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer. However, the exposure must be extreme to develop the most lasting side effects.


Ultimately, fertilizer is toxic to breathe in, as most fertilizers contain large amounts of nitrogens or other chemicals, which can cause issues with the body. However, fertilizers can safely be used in well-ventilated spaces and outdoors with relatively few consequences. 

Of course, if you use the right tools such as a dust mask, safety glasses, and gloves, you can avoid any adverse effects.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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