The EcoInventor

Dangers of Laundry Pods

Reports of children harmed by liquid laundry packets continue to grow, despite years of warnings and packaging changes, Consumer Reports says in a report out Thursday.

As a result, the non-profit organization is dropping the single-use packets from its list of recommended detergents. It also says they should never be used in households where young children live or visit.

“We are taking a pretty strong stance. We are saying, ‘Use a different laundry detergent,’ ” says Dan DiClerico, senior home editor for Consumer Reports, which publishes influential ratings on everything from cars to cosmetics.

Concerns about the packets — often called “pods” after the popular Tide Pods brand — have been growing since 2012, when frequent reports of child poisonings and injuries first popped up. In typical cases, children bite or poke though the thin, dissolvable packet membranes and get squirts of concentrated detergent down their throats or in their eyes.

They tend to get much sicker than children exposed to traditional laundry detergent, though it isn’t clear why. Vomiting and coughing are common; in rarer cases, comas, seizures and breathing problems occur. Two children have died, according to Consumer Reports.

In 2013, U.S. poison control centers logged 10,877 calls about children under age 6 who ingested, inhaled or got detergent from the packets on their skin; in 2014, they counted 11,714 such calls. With 6,036 calls in the first half of 2015, “the trend is only going up,” DiClerico says.

That’s despite the fact that manufacturers have taken steps such as making outer packages opaque and harder to open. They also have participated in public education campaigns.

Katie Stahlheber, a spokesperson for Procter & Gamble, maker of Tide, Gain and Ariel laundry packets, said in an email that exposure reports involving P&G packets are falling relative to sales and that most incidents “resulted in minor or no medical treatment.”

P&G is among several U.S. manufacturers who recently announced more changes to the pods, including adding a bitter taste and making them harder to break, says Brian Sansoni, vice president of the American Cleaning Institute, an industry group.

Those changes are based on voluntary new standards, still under review in the United States, but just adopted in Europe. The standards don’t include some changes, such as adding individual wrappers for each packet, urged by some safety advocates.

Parents and other caregivers remain the best line of defense, Sansoni says: “It comes down to keeping cleaning products out of reach and out of sight of children.”

But Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, says he “wholeheartedly agrees” with advice to keep the pods entirely out of the homes of young children.

“The added convenience is not worth the danger,” he says.