Doing laundry probably tops the list of the most frequent household tasks, so anything to make the chore easier certainly is welcome. While single-load liquid laundry packets offer lots of ease and convenience, these highly concentrated doses of detergent can be harmful if swallowed or splashed in the eyes of children.
This week is National Poison Prevention Week, a time when the American Cleaning Institute reminds parents and caregivers to store liquid laundry packets up and out of the reach of children.
The packets have been called “pretty poisons” — a term poison control centers use for products that look like something good to eat or drink to a child but which can be harmful if tasted, swallowed, or gotten on the skin or in the eyes. The packets often resemble candy or juice, and are the perfect size for a young child to grab and put in their mouth.
The health risks have been around nearly as long as the laundry packets themselves. Tide, for example, began selling its pods in February 2012. About a year later, federal consumer safety officials were compelled to warn families that children find such packets appealing.
In a study reported in Pediatrics, laundry detergent packets were identified as the biggest contributor to hospitalizations and serious medical issues among any other kind of detergent poisoning. Last year, poison control center received 10,585 reports of children 5 or younger being exposed to the packets. In the first two months of 2018, so far there have been reports of 1,194 exposures by young children, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. (Note: The term “exposure” means someone has had contact with the substance in some way; for example, ingested, inhaled, absorbed by the skin or eyes, etc. Not all exposures are poisonings or overdoses.)
While unintentional misuse by children five and under accounts for the majority of laundry packet cases, a recent trend among teenagers ingesting the packets — and uploading videos to social media — has caused significant concern among poison control centers.
In January and the first half of February 2018, poison control centers handled 191 cases in which teenagers were intentionally exposed to the detergent packets.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports there were 53 such cases in 2017 and 39 cases in 2016.
The companies that make the packets use different formulas, but one thing is clear: they contain more than just soap. Highly concentrated detergent and a variety of chemicals are inside, depending on the brand. A dissolvable covering holds it all together. The chemicals can cause severe burns to the mouth, esophagus or respiratory tract, and some very young and very old patients with cognitive issues have been rushed to emergency rooms or even died as a result of eating the packets.
Manufacturers of laundry packets have taken steps to improve the product’s safety such as making the packaging opaque so children cannot see inside the packets and adding a bitter taste to the packet’s film covering. In addition, the packets have been revamped to withstand the pressure of a child squeezing it and prominent warnings are now stamped on packaging along with contact information for the Poison Control Centers, in case of accidental exposure.
An American Cleaning Institute national survey revealed 61 percent of parents stored laundry packets in sight or in reach of young children. That is why they created the PACKETS UP safety initiative to help reduce accidents related to liquid laundry packets.
Families can prevent possible poisonings by following a few easy —but critical — safety measures. Laundry packets should be stored in their original packaging, with the label intact, and placed up high, out of reach and out of sight of toddlers and young children. It also is important to use laundry packets as directed and be sure to seal and put the package away immediately after use.
Consumers can find more information at www.PACKETSUP.com.
Contact the Hays or Great Bend offices of the Cottonwood Extension District for a free PACKETS UP cling containing a safety reminder from the American Cleaning Institute.
Don’t let a “pretty poison” cause a tragedy for your children. Put packets up for accident prevention.
Linda K. Beech is Cottonwood District Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.