Study Finds Dramatic Increase in Child Poisonings from Laundry Detergent Pods

A new study published recently in the Journal Pediatrics found a dramatic increase in child poisonings from laundry detergent pods. Brightly colored, self-contained detergent pods are marketed as a new, convenient, no-fuss way of cleaning laundry, but they are also attracting the natural curiosities of young children who are being poisoned after being drawn to the vibrant pod colors which look and smell like candy. Poisonings of young children from these cleaning products has increased dramatically since their introduction to the market in 2012 as the data shows somewhere every 45 minutes in the United States, a local poison control center receives a call about a potential child poisoning from a detergent pod.

Researchers led by Gary Smith, MD, Director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, analyzed data from 2013 and 2014 from the National Poison Data System for children under 6 years of age. Of the 62,254 reported accidental poisonings of children during that timeframe, 35% of poisonings involved laundry detergent pods, showing a marked 17% increase, with another nearly 25% of poisonings from dishwasher detergent pods, a 14% increase over that same time period. 85% of children poisoned by these detergent pods suffered exposure through ingestion, with 15% of exposure through inhalation, or from absorption through the skin or eyes.

The most common bodily response to poisoning is vomiting, but some of the reported reactions to laundry detergent pod exposure in particular caused life-threatening conditions including stopping breathing, coma, and cardiac arrest. Researchers believe laundry detergent pods are more toxic than regular powder laundry detergent or dishwasher detergent pods, and, therefore, poisonings likely to be more serious, due to the higher concentration of toxic chemicals whose water-soluble skins quickly dissolve inside a child’s mouth allowing it to be ingested quickly. Thankfully, only two children have died from laundry detergent pod poisonings, but injuries and potential life-threatening episodes are increasing.

Dr. Smith believes laundry detergent pods are “highly dangerous products” to have in a home where there are children, and emphasizes “child safety should be put first” rather than the convenience of a self-contained cleaning pod. Because of their increased toxicity and potential deadly harm to a curious, young child, Dr. Smith and the other authors of this study urge the public to keep laundry detergent pods out of their homes where there are children under 6 years old. Manufacturers report they are working to improve childproof packaging by making it less attractive to children and more difficult to open, and are engaged in a national safety campaign about the proper use of their product around young children.

The best approach always is to exercise common sense where curious children and potentially dangerous products are involved. If you have young children in your home, we agree with the study’s authors and recommend you completely forego detergent pods of any kind, especially laundry detergent pods because of their highly toxic natures. If you must have cleaning products and detergent pods in your home, please keep laundry pods, dishwasher pods, or any toxic cleaning products out of the sight and reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet. We also recommend keeping the phone number to the Poison Helpline on your smart phone for immediate answers if you suspect poisoning. The Poison Helpline is 1-800-222-1222, or dial 911 for emergencies.