laundry detergent podsDid you know that when it comes time to wash clothes and clean the house, you may be leaving dangerous – even poisonous – substances within reach of children?  Many household cleaners contain toxic ingredients that can be harmful if ingested or, in some cases, even left on the skin. While young children can mistake detergent “pods” for candy, teens and young adults have been in the news for eating detergent “pods,” sometimes with deadly outcomes.

University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital experts offer some tips on keeping your house a safe one.

What should parents keep in mind when storing detergent pods for laundry or dishwashers?

Like all household chemicals, these should all be kept up, out of reach, and out of view from young children.  Ideally they would also be placed in a locked cabinet, but that is often not a realistic goal in most households. All chemicals, not just laundry pods, should be kept in their original containers. If you transfer a chemical to another container, make sure to clearly label the container so someone does not accidentally use it or ingest it thinking that it is something else.

What makes these pods so dangerous?

The biggest concern with these pods is that they can affect a child’s ability to breathe. At least one death has been reported from ingestion of one of these pods. If the detergent gets into the lungs it can cause significant injury, making it difficult for the lungs to do their job of transferring oxygen to the blood. The detergent in the pods can also cause a chemical burn to the eyes, mouth, esophagus, and anything else that it comes in contact with.

Why are they appealing to kids?

They look like candy! The small size and the bright colors of the detergent and the packaging give the illusion that what’s in the packet could be a tasty treat. The majority of exposures to these pods are small children who are exploring and likely mistake them for candy. And we know that young kids love to check things out by first putting them in their mouths.

What should you do if a child eats a detergent pod?

First, if there are any pieces of the pod remaining in the mouth, take them out.  If there is any leaked detergent around the mouth, wipe that off as it can be irritating, especially if it gets in the eyes. Next, get them to an emergency department for further observation and management. If the child is sleepy, or appears to be having a hard time breathing, 911 should be called.

What are some other dangers regarding typical household cleaners?

For cleaners and other household chemicals, we generally lump them into two broad categories: caustics and hydrocarbons (oils). Caustic substances are things like drain cleaner that have either very high or very low pH (strong base or acid, respectively). If these are ingested, they can cause a chemical burn to the mouth, airway, and esophagus. Hydrocarbons are substances like motor oil and tiki torch oil. If these get into the lungs, they can cause a direct injury to the lung and can also prevent the lungs from exchanging oxygen. Some chemical exposures, like laundry pods, can cause a combination of both caustic and hydrocarbon effects.

What is the best way to talk to kids about the dangers of household cleaners?

The kids at highest risk for these types of exposures probably won’t understand too much of the details behind why these are bad, so prevention is certainly key. But emphasizing that they should only drink something if they know what it is, not drinking something that isn’t from their sippy cup, not drinking something if it smells (or tastes) funny are all good places to start. Teenagers are less likely to have an accidental exposure to these, but may be more prone to try something like the laundry pod challenge. At that age, teens should be able to understand if you have a conversation about the risks of these chemical exposures, but it may also be a good opportunity to talk to them about the dangers of these types of internet challenges.

Poison Control can be reached at 1-800-222-1222.