Poisoning Risks of Detergent Pods to Children

Poisoning Risks of Detergent Pods to Children

Single use laundry detergent packs are popular because of their convenience. You don’t need to measure out a load in a cup, and you never have to worry about the sticky mess of spilled liquid detergent. But the ease of use of these detergent “pods” may also carry the price of potential risks to children.

According to a study published in the December 2014 edition of Pediatrics and led by Amanda Valdez of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, laundry detergent packets pose a significant health risk to young children. Parents who frequently use detergent pods need to take care in storing these items to mitigate any potential exposures which could lead to serious illness.

Study Findings

Researchers reviewed data from the National Poison Data System in 2012 and 2013. Data showed that 17,230 cases of exposure to laundry detergent pods by children younger than six were reported to poison control centers nationally. Of these cases, 4.4 percent required hospitalization while 7.5 percent experienced a moderate to the major medical outcome. 79.7 percent of cases involved ingestion of laundry by biting or eating a pod. Of ingestion incidents, 0.6 percent required a tracheal intubation and one led to death.

Reasons for Dangers

Experts warn that laundry detergent pods attract the attention of young children – particularly those under three – because of their look. Because they are liquid capsules that are often brightly colored, small children can mistakenly think they are candy and try to eat them. This can lead to poisoning along with potential mouth, eye and throat burn from the chemicals in the concentrated detergent.

The study in Pediatrics noted that the toxic effects of laundry detergent pods in children appear to be greater than contact with regular laundry detergent. This is despite the fact that the ingredients suspected of causing toxic reactions in pods – such as ethoxylated alcohols and propylene glycol – are also found in traditional detergents.


The authors of the report strongly urged parents to treat laundry detergent pods as a possible dangerous item that needs to be stored out of the reach of children. According to the study, when children were poisoned because of access to laundry pods, almost one-fourth of the cases involved the seeds being stored in a way that children could easily access the detergent.

Because of the risks associated with laundry detergent pods, the study’s authors recommend that parents with children younger than four use traditional liquid or powder detergent rather than detergent pods. According to a story by the Associated Press, the American Cleaning Institute, which represents cleaning product manufacturers, released guidelines in March 2014 encouraging companies to voluntarily improve safe handling labels on pods and to work harder on parent outreach about possible poisoning dangers.

Laundry pods are relatively new in the market, meaning that many of the potential risks and causes of issues are still unknown. The study suggests that further research could help to identify causes of toxic reactions and reduce risks. An example cited is the reformulation of fabric cleaners to replace benzene with safer aliphatic chlorinated hydrocarbons.