Detergent pods (self-contained, single use packages of detergent for washing machines or dishwashers) have been on the market in the U.S. since 2010. Not long after their introduction, they became the frequent subject of calls to Poison Control Centers due to inadvertent ingestion by children under 6 years old. Given their size and brightly colored appearance, it’s easy to see how a child may mistake a detergent pod for a piece of candy. As many as 6,219 calls to Poison Control Centers in the U.S. in 2011 involved pediatric ingestion of detergent pods. Many children suffered only mild toxicity such as nausea and vomiting, but there are numerous reports of more serious events.
The chemicals in the membranes of these products can break down in to substances that can act like alcohol, and cause sleepiness or electrolyte disturbances in the blood. The detergents contained inside can be caustic causing pharyngeal and esophageal burns, occasionally so severe that children developed respiratory distress and required intubation. Even without ingestion, broken pods can cause damage to sensitive tissue and are blamed for a substantial number of pediatric ocular (eye) burns 4. Despite awareness of these dangers and package labeling detailing potential harms, they continue to be the frequent subject of calls to Poison Control Centers. These cases highlight the need for parents to be aware of the nature and location of potentially toxic substances in their home and ensure that all laundry and detergent pods are safely stored up, away, and out of the reach of children.
Author: Evan Bradley MD, PhD