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Super Convenient Laundry Detergent Pods Are Super Easy For Toddlers To Eat

Laundry detergent pods have a deadly design flaw: kids keep eating them.

Super Convenient Laundry Detergent Pods Are Super Easy For Toddlers To Eat
[Top photo: Flickr user Austin Kirk]

Single-load laundry detergent pods are perfectly designed for anyone who doesn’t live directly adjacent to a laundry machine, but terrible for people with children. The tiny, membrane-encased pods of concentrated detergent are far easier to carry up and down stairwells or down the street to the laundry mat than traditional tubs of laundry detergent, and they require no measuring. Unfortunately, they come with a major–sometimes even fatal–design flaw: they are really, really easy for a little kid to eat.

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Analyzing data from calls from poison control centers, a new study in the journal Pediatrics examined the risk posed by this particular laundry detergent design, which first came onto the U.S. market in 2012, for children under 6 years old. The analysis is pretty bleak for anyone who uses the pods anywhere near a toddler. According to the study, “Laundry detergent pods pose a serious poisoning risk to young children.”

US CPSC

In 2012 and 2013, poison control centers across the U.S. received more than 17,000 calls regarding kids under 6 (the majority 1- and 2-year-olds) being exposed to laundry detergent pods, largely through ingestion. When exposed to the concentrated detergent (orally or otherwise) common reactions include vomiting, coughing, and drowsiness. At least one child identified in the study–a 7-month-old–died as a direct result of being exposed to the detergent.

Part of the problem is that the pods totally look like candy, as the study’s authors, led by Amanda Valdez of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, point out. Tide’s multi-color, red, white, and blue swirled detergent pods don’t look all that different than a lollipop. And the pods are usually sold in a bag with a simple Ziplock-style seal, which doesn’t exactly scream “child-proof.” (The study’s authors note that research hasn’t confirmed that these features do in fact increase the pods’ appeal for toddlers).

Furthermore, the pods themselves are essentially designed to explode in your mouth. The coating that encases the concentrated detergent is designed to dissolve in water, so that when you throw it into your washing machine, the detergent is released. Unfortunately, the same thing happens with saliva, and it makes children far more likely to swallow the detergent.

“They are made with almost like a very thin Saran wrap that dissolves when wet,” as Dr. Cynthia Aaron, the medical director of the Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, told the New York Times. “They bite on it, and the contents go to the back of their throat.”

The study’s authors suggest that both the packaging the pods come in and the pods themselves need to be redesigned for safety. For instance, Proctor & Gamble, which makes Tide, added double-latch safety lids to its detergent pods to make the product more child-proof, but the study contends that no product on the market is truly child-proof in its design. “Standards are needed to help ensure that all manufacturers of laundry detergent pods adopt safer packaging for their produces to decrease pod exposure,” the authors, This includes packaging of the actual detergent pod as well as container packaging.” Because if you know any toddlers at all, it’s pretty hard to ensure that no child will ever come across your pack of deadly detergent pods and think “yep, that could fit in my mouth.”

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About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.

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