Laundry Pod Poisonings Increasing Despite Safety Warnings - Promise
Laundry Pod Dangers, Powered by Nemours Children's Health System

Laundry Pod Poisonings Increasing Despite Safety Warnings

In the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, I can really appreciate the small conveniences that are available to make our lives easier…drive-throughs, single-serve coffee makers, even microwave meals. But sometimes these little conveniences can carry a danger we never considered.

The laundry (and dishwasher) detergent packets/pods are a great example of what seems to be the perfect modern-day convenience. No more measuring, no more mess — just pop one of these 1-inch cubes in with your laundry (or dishes) and let it do its magic. The downside? They are colorful, they are small, and some come in a candy-jar-like package — perfectly enticing to a toddler’s little hands and little mouths.

Poisonings From Laundry Pods Are Growing

A new study in the May 2016 issue of Pediatrics, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), reveals that despite efforts adopted by the detergent packet manufacturers to make these products safer, the number of young children coming into contact with these packets is growing — with serious and sometimes fatal consequences.

In 2013–2014, the study found that more than 62,000 calls were made to U.S. Poison Control Centers after children under the age of 6 were exposed to laundry or dishwasher detergent, with a majority of the calls due to laundry detergent pods. Additionally, the most harm came from the laundry detergent pods.

The study found that ingestion of the laundry detergent pods caused the following serious medical effects:

  • 17 cases of coma
  • 6 cases where children stopped breathing
  • 4 cases of fluid in the lungs
  • 2 cases of cardiac arrest (the heart stopped working)
  • 2 deaths

Typical laundry and dishwasher detergents usually only cause minor stomach upset and vomiting if ingested — if there are any symptoms at all. But the reaction to children ingesting these pods can be immediate and severe — with reports of vomiting, diarrhea, wheezing, and gasping for breath. The reasons for this severe reaction are still not known. It could be that a single packet has a full cup’s worth of detergent or because the packets themselves become active more quickly or differently. Whatever the reason, it’s a great reminder to us all that ANY type of household cleaner has to be not only out of children’s reach, but out of their sight.

Poison Prevention Tips

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that “every day, over 300 children in the United States ages 0 to 19 are treated in an emergency department, and two children die, as a result of being poisoned.” And the cause isn’t always chemicals clearly marked as poisonous. Household cleaners, like these detergent pods, and medicines can also be found and ingested by curious kids.

Here are some reminders about storing household cleaners and chemicals:

  • Never put cleaning products in old soda bottles or containers that were once used for food.
  • Never put roach powders or rat poison on the floors of your home.
  • Store household cleaning products and aerosol sprays in a high cabinet far from reach and out of sight.
  • Don’t keep any cleaning supplies, including dishwasher detergent and dishwashing liquids, powders or packets/pods, under the sink.
  • Use safety latches for all cabinets containing hazardous substances.
  • Keep hazardous automotive and gardening products in a securely locked area (ideally, in your garage if you have one).
  • When you’re cleaning or using household chemicals, never leave the bottles unattended if there’s a small child present.

Medicines can also be mistaken as candy by small children. To prevent children from getting into medicines:

  • Don’t rely on packaging to protect your kids — child-resistant does not mean childproof.
  • Never leave vitamin bottles, aspirin bottles or other medications on kitchen tables, countertops, bedside tables or dresser tops.
  • Never tell a child that medicine tastes like candy.
  • Store all medications — prescription and nonprescription — in a locked cabinet, far from kids’ reach. Even items that seem harmless, like mouthwash, can be extremely dangerous if ingested in large enough quantities by children. Just because cabinets are up high doesn’t mean kids can’t get to what’s in them — they’ll climb (using the toilet and countertops) to get to items in the medicine cabinet.
  • Make sure purses and bags — yours and guests’ — that could contain items like medications are kept out of kids’ reach at all times.

The safest way to prevent poisoning of any kind is to keep all of these household items far away from a child’s reach and a child’s sight. If you think your child has ingested a poisonous substance, call your doctor or the Poison Control Center right away: 1-800-222-1222.

Learn More
First Aid: Poisoning (from Nemours’ KidsHealth)
Preventing Poisoning (from Nemours’ KidsHealth)
Poisoning (from CDC)

Kate Cronan, MD

About Kate Cronan, MD

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Dr. Cronan is a pediatric emergency attending physician at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., and a medical editor at Nemours Children’s Health Media.