pod photo croppedLaundry detergent pods continue to cause trouble — increasing convenience yet posing risks to young children. New data out today confirms what we’ve seen since their introduction. These cute, colorful and entirely convenient laundry packets (typically called “pods”) were introduced in the U.S. in 2012 and quickly made measuring out laundry detergent a thing of the past. Unfortunately we’ve also seen that these pods grab the attention of young children. Beautiful design gone wrong. As you’ve likely heard, or witnessed yourself, young children can be drawn to the pods (often these packets of detergent look like a preschooler’s toy or a piece of candy) and because of young children’s unique method of exploration (infants/toddlers/preschools use their mouths as much as their eyes & hands to explore) they may be at risk for injuries if the detergent pods are in arm’s reach. New research out today from Pediatrics documents an ongoing onslaught of children exposed to laundry pods, more than 17,000 children in less than two years. Some in the media have translated the volume of calls to poison control — a call every hour in this country — secondary to exposures to these packets of concentrated detergent.

Single-Dose Detergent Concerns

The first warnings about the dangers of laundry pods came out in May of 2012.  The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) started getting calls about children getting in to the capsules and ABC news did a subsequent story warning parents about the risks. Several factors make the pods a serious risk for young children: they’re appealing to the eye (look how fun and colorful the Tide pods look in the photo above) and small in size.  They also have a thin membrane (built to dissolve quickly in the wash) and are full of highly concentrated soap. It’s unclear exactly why this concentrated liquid causing so many new symptoms (vomiting, coughing, or rarely severe breathing problems and severe symptoms like changes in level of alertness or seizures). Dr. Suzan Mazor, an emergency physician at Seattle Children’s, adds she’s seen several eye abrasions, which happen when children accidentally squirt the pod contents in their eyes. She adds, “These ultimately heal just fine but can be painful and distressing to the children and parents.” The ingestions have been serious enough at times to send children to the ICU and need mechanical ventilation. With the beautiful curiosity of a toddler coupled to the lack of judgement, you have a recipe for this “pod” problem. Here’s a look at it by the recent study numbers:

  • 17,230 – Children under the age of 6 exposed to laundry pods (between Feb. 2012 – Dec. 2013), the majority being ingestions. The AAPCC reports that 8,915 exposures have already been reported in 2014 (data through end of September, 2014)
  • 645% -The increase in exposures to laundry packets between March 2012 – April 2013
  • 74% – The percentage of children exposed to detergent packets who are under age 3 years. Clearly toddlers are the most vulnerable group when it comes to these packets of detergent
  • 80% – The percentage of ingestion for the reported cases. This translates out that 8 of 10 children who have an exposure put these pods in their mouths. About 7% of children have injuries to their eyes, and the remaining 3% are a combination of skin injuries and damage caused by inhalation into the lungs
  • #1 – #1 household product ingested in Italy. This isn’t just a US problem. In Italy, where detergent pods have been available since 2010, the product is the number one most commonly ingested household product
  • 56% – More than 1/3 of kids vomit after an ingestion. For overall exposures, 48% percent of children exposed to pods vomited, making it the most common side effect. After vomiting comes coughing  or choking (13%), eye irritation or pain (11%), drowsiness or lethargy (7%), and eye redness (6%)

pod poison timeline

What Parents Need to Know:

  • Store laundry packets in a safe place: While Tide changed their lids in 2012 to be child-proof to improve safety, there are several brands of single-dose detergents on the market and not all have safe containers (I have purchased one at a big retailer that doesn’t really lock so well). If you have capsules for laundry or even for your dishwasher, store them up, out of reach and out of sight of your children.
  • Don’t let your young kids help with the laundry detergent. I’m all for family chores but tossing in the laundry detergent is not the correct task for young children of any age. Familiarity will bring curiosity to the small packets and could lead to exposure so if your kids are helping. Consider sock matching or folding laundry to share responsibilities.
  • Know the signs: If you notice your child vomiting, wheezing or gasping for air, or they seem very sleepy and may have been exposed to laundry pods, call poison control immediately 1-800-222-1222