Laundry Detergent Packet Poisonings Spike, Study Says

New research suggests families with small children consider switching out their detergent.

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Photo by William Abranowicz

In the past few years, doing the laundry has become a little easier—just throw in a pre-portioned packet and out comes perfectly cleaned clothes. But unfortunately the story doesn’t end there. According to a new study, poison control calls regarding laundry detergent packets and young children have increased 17 percent in two years.

For the study, published in Pediatrics, researchers from the Center for Injury Research and Policy of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Central Ohio Poison Center looked at call data from U.S. poison control centers for 2013 and 2014. During that period, 62,254 calls were about laundry and dishwasher detergent exposure for children younger than 6 years old. Sixty percent of the calls concerned these new detergent packets.

Though dishwasher detergents posed a danger, too, laundry detergent packets were considerably more dangerous. Almost half of all calls were referred to seek immediate health care. Some even resulted in difficulty breathing, heart problems, and, twice, death—these serious outcomes were not seen in dishwasher or liquid detergent poisonings.

Previous research from Nationwide Children’s Hospital has highlighted how the thin wrapping of the packets makes it easy for children to bite and consume the contents—and critics have suggested that they look too much like candy or teething toys, the New York Times reported when those findings were released in 2014.

“Many families don't realize how toxic these highly concentrated laundry detergent packets are,” Marcel J. Casavant, study co-author, said in a statement. “Use traditional laundry detergent when you have young kids in your home. It isn’t worth the risk when there is a safer and effective alternative available.”

The safest way to prevent any detergent poisoning is to keep detergent up, away, and out of sight. If you do opt for laundry packets, make sure it’s locked in a high cabinet. And always make sure bags and containers are closed tightly and put back immediately after using them. In case of an emergency, contact the Poison Help Line at 1-800-222-1222.