Eating Laundry Detergent Pods: Health Threat or Internet Shenanigans?

A man holding laundry detergent pods close to his open mouth.
Reports of possible laundry pod ingestions have featured prominently in the news lately.

Reports about people biting or eating single‐load liquid laundry detergent pods, such as Tide Pods, have been all over the news lately. Is it all just foolish, but harmless, fun? “No,” say the experts at the Blue Ridge Poison Center, “It is a dangerous practice that could cause injury, illness, even death.”

A Surprising Uptick in Cases

Until recently, poisoning prevention messages about these packets were targeted to parents of babies and toddlers. Small children may be tempted to handle and eat the products because they smell good and look like candy or teething toys.

Last year, U.S. poison control centers received reports of more than 10,500 children younger than 5 who were exposed to the capsules. Some of these children were hospitalized with vomiting, breathing difficulties and loss of consciousness. Since 2012, eight fatalities have been reported among children 5 and younger who ingested the packets.

Though calls about single‐load liquid laundry packet exposures to young children far outnumber calls about teens and adults exposed to the same product, teen and adult calls are way up. As of January 15, U.S. Poison Centers have already managed 39 teen single‐load liquid laundry packet exposures in 2018; which is exactly how many exposures were managed for the entire year in 2016.

So, What is the Concern?

“The laundry detergent packets pose several potential problems,” says Christopher Holstege, MD, medical director of the Blue Ridge Poison Center at the University of Virginia Health System. “These products contain concentrated detergents that can cause injury and pain on contact with sensitive tissues like the eyes, mouth and throat. These products, when ingested, have also been associated with repetitive vomiting, coma, respiratory failure and even death.”

Suspect someone in your family has eaten laundry detergent or another poisonous item? Call 911 or the Blue Ridge Poison Center at 1.800.222.1222. for help.

The poison center recommends that parents have a conversation with their teens about the dangers of eating the laundry packets, or any non‐food product, for that matter. “Almost anything can be poisonous if it gets into your body the wrong way or in the wrong amount,” Holstege continues.

If someone has been exposed to single‐load liquid laundry packets, please contact the Blue Ridge Poison Center right away at 1.800.222.1222. Call even if there are no obvious symptoms. The center is open 24/7, every single day.

A version of this article first appeared on the Blue Ridge Poison Center website.

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