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Parents with small children: Beware of laundry detergent pods

REUTERS/Gary Cameron
During the first six months of 2016 — from Jan. 1 through June 30 — poison control centers in the U.S. received 6,429 reports of children aged 5 and younger experiencing possible injuries from exposure to laundry detergent pods.

In 2015, Consumers Union “strongly” urged households with children under the age of 6 to refrain from using liquid laundry detergent pods because of the dangers the highly concentrated, brightly colored gel packets pose to young children.

As the organization (which publishes Consumer Reports) pointed out, since early 2012, when liquid laundry pods first became available in the United States, poison control centers have received tens of thousands of calls from worried parents and other caregivers about children who have ingested the products or squirted them into their eyes.

Most of those calls have involved potential injuries to children 5 years old or younger.  

Indeed, during the first six months of 2016 — from Jan. 1 through June 30 — poison control centers in the U.S. received 6,429 reports of children aged 5 and younger experiencing possible injuries from exposure to laundry detergent pods, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC).

Those injuries can be serious. As the AAPCC explains, children who have swallowed laundry detergent pods can experience vomiting, wheezing and gasping. Some children become very sleepy and may develop breathing problems so serious that they need a ventilator to help them breathe.

The concentrated detergent can also cause corneal abrasions — scratches on the eye’s outer protective layer — should it get into a child’s eyes. These scratches are unlikely to cause permanent damage, but they can cause pain and discomfort until they heal.

More evidence

A new study, published recently in Injury Prevention by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, offers additional compelling — and troubling — evidence to back up the Consumer Union’s recommendation about keeping liquid laundry detergent pods out of homes with young children.

This study looked not at the number of laundry detergent pod-related calls being placed to poison control centers, but at the frequency and severity of visits by children to hospital emergency departments for all types of laundry detergent-related injuries. 

The findings  — which relied on data collected by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) from 2012 through 2014 — revealed that hospitalizations of children were much more common with pods than with standard liquid or powder laundry detergents.

The study’s details

According to the NEISS data, almost 36,000 U.S. children and adolescents aged 18 or younger sought emergency-department medical care for exposure to laundry detergents during 2012-2014.

A third of those injuries involved exposure to the liquid pods.

Most of the children who were injured by detergents were aged 5 or younger. Children in that age group accounted for 94 percent of the injuries involving liquid pods, for example, and 73 percent of the injuries involving standard laundry detergents.

Poisoning was the most frequent injury associated with the liquid pods (occurring in three-quarters of those cases), followed by eye irritation or damage. Contact dermatitis (irritated skin) was the most common injury associated with standard laundry detergents (occurring in about three-quarters of those cases).

Laundry packet exposures reported to poison centers (children 5 and younger)
AAPCC
Laundry packet exposures reported to poison centers (children 5 and younger)

Given that the pods are associated with a higher incidence of poisoning, it’s not surprising that they were also much more likely to lead to serious injury.

In fact, the odds of being hospitalized were four times higher for children exposed to detergents from laundry pods than for those exposed to other types of detergents.

“While the innovation of pod laundry detergent makes mundane home tasks easier, their use does require caution and vigilance to safety, especially in homes with young children,” the study’s authors conclude.

Take preventive steps

The researchers say more should be done to educate the public about the dangers of laundry detergents, especially liquid pods.

Stronger regulations — childproof containers, opaque packaging and less colorful (and thus less enticing to children) pods — could also help, the researchers add.

But, “ultimately it is the responsibility of caregivers to ensure a child-safe environment,” they stress. 

What can parents and others who care for young children do? The AAPCC recommends three simple protective actions:

  • Always keep detergent containers closed, sealed and stored up high, out of the reach of children.
  • Follow the instructions on the product label.
  • Call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately if you suspect a child has come in contact with this detergent.

You could also follow Consumers Union’s recommendation and not have liquid laundry detergent pods in the house.


Consumer Reports: The problem with laundry detergent pods

FMI: You’ll find the new study on Injury Prevention’s website. For additional information about the dangers of laundry detergent pods, go to the Consumer Report’s website.

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