Director of Science & Research
Would you know the difference?
For any busy parent, there are at least two things you are overly familiar with:
- – Laundry (and lots of it)
- – Getting distracted from the task at hand by your kids
And when these two things coincide—you get distracted from that load of laundry because one child is suddenly crying—risks abound from the detergent you inadvertently left on top of the washer. “What risk could I possibly be talking about?” you might be thinking.
Prepare to be shocked, if you haven’t heard of this phenomenon yet.
More than 10,000 parents have called poison control in the last year and a half because their kids have ingested single-dose laundry detergent packs. The kids who have eaten these packs commonly experience vomiting, choking and coughing. The more extreme cases have needed emergency care for blocked airways requiring breathing tubes to be installed. While kids have accidentally ingested detergent before, the new data on single dose packs represents a huge increase in detergent poisonings from when these single-dose packs were introduced on the market. And this shouldn’t be such a surprise when the products so clearly look like candy. What child wouldn’t be tempted? (Especially if they have been told they aren’t allowed to have them!)
Clearly, there is some work to be done by the manufacturers to make products that are not attractive to kids because they look like tasty treats. Procter & Gamble announced last year that it was improving the packaging of Tide Pods to have more child-proof safety latches. Since that change, single-dose laundry detergent poisonings went up, not down. More recently, Procter & Gamble announced they were going to make Tide Pods containers opaque instead of transparent. How much will this help, when the product inside still looks like candy? In order to get your wash done, you have to take the product out of the packaging at some point… and if your kid sees it, he’s going to want one.
(I had this experience with my daughter as an 18 month old: She nearly jumped out of the shopping cart in the cleaners aisle one day when she spotted a package of Tide Pods – “Mom!! I want THOSE!” she said, to my horror.)
Meanwhile, until manufacturers accept their full responsibility for making detergent that, well, looks like soap and not food – think twice before purchasing single dose laundry detergent if you have kids in your home. The record seems to show that they are simply not safe to have in your home around small children. And, of course, keep all laundry and other cleaning products stored and locked in a safe place away from children when you aren’t using them.
P.S. To any of you who might be thinking that the laundry poisoning events are all just due to inattentive parents who aren’t storing their cleaners safely from their children, here’s an interesting factoid: In Europe, they have been selling single dose laundry detergent tablets for over a decade. Until recently, most of them were relatively boring: chalklike, white and rectangular in shape. But in the last two years, manufacturers have introduced single dose “liquitabs,” which are brightly colored and encapsulate gel or liquid detergents. Since their introduction, calls to poison control centers about kids and laundry detergent have more than doubled, and health alerts and warnings on liquitabs have been issued by emergency physicians. The consensus is that children have begun mistaking these products for candy. Manufacturers of these products need to know that making detergent so exciting and attractive is both dangerous and unnecessary… after all, it’s just soap!