Detergent Capsules Can Choke, Poison Kids

Detergent capsules, also known as detergent pods, can choke and poison children. The pods are candy colored and very attractive to children.

United States and United Kingdom authorities report a rise in calls to poison control centers and in hospitalizations over children who have swallowed or were exposed to the dangerous, highly concentrated, detergent products, said CNN. In fact, said CNN, U.S. poison hotlines received 2,950 calls this year about young children exposed to the detergent pods; 734 calls were received last month, alone.

“Because they are colorful and squishy, they are attractive to children,” the American Association of Poison Control Centers warned, said CNN. “They can look like candy or something fun to play with.” The pods are anything but, and contain strong alkaline cleaning chemicals that can devastate tissue and lead to serious swelling, said the British Medical Journal. Children who have swallowed the pods have experienced serious illness, including excessive vomiting wheezing, and gasping. Some have required hospitalization, said CNN.

The first call concerning the detergent gel packs was received by New York City’s poison hotline this April. The hotline said it has received about 40 more calls since and that most are from hospitals, Health Department spokeswoman, Chanel Caraway, told CNN. “It is something new that we’re seeing,” Caraway said. “These are basically brand new to the market and once they started hitting the market is when we started seeing (reports of exposures).”

As we’ve written, detergent pods are usually packaged as one-inch cubes and contain equivalent of a cup of laundry detergent. Pods are dropped into washing machines, are meant to cut down laundry prep time, and take less space. Richard Geller, MD, MPH, Medical Director for the California Poison Control System (CPCS) at Children’s Hospital, Madera warned that the product should not be used in homes with children. If used, he said, they should be kept locked away, up high, and out of the reach of curious children. An area poison control hot-line number should be readily accessible.

Poison control centers in the U.S. began discussing the issue this year and the American Cleaning Institute (ACI), an industry group, began advising consumers to store the pods “out of reach and out of sight of children,” according to CNN. The organization has guidance on its web site at, which also includes the toll-free number to reach a U.S. poison center: 1.800.222.1222.

“Detergent manufacturers are re-emphasizing the importance of keeping single unit dose laundry detergent packets out of the reach of children, in the wake of recent reports about children accidentally ingesting these products,” Brian Sansoni, ACI vice president, told CNN. “We are obviously very concerned whenever these situations occur.”

In the United Kingdom, the National Poisoning Information Service received 647 calls and nearly 4,000 online searches last year from health care professionals concerning accidental consumption of the pods, said the British Medical Journal. Physicians there are seeking improved safety warnings and childproof packaging following five incidents in which toddlers swallowed the capsules, the Journal said, noting that the cases were reported in the “Archives of Disease in Childhood,” CNN reported. Four of the children required intubation; one need surgery. “All the children recovered, but … the incidents had ‘a catastrophic impact on the child and family,'” the Journal reported, said CNN.

We recently wrote that in a 72-hour period, nine toddler poisonings were reported to the CPCS.

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