A viral meme kicked off a highly disturbing trend.

By Liz Steelman
January 11, 2018
Lukas Kurka/Getty Images

There is a new meme making its way around the internet that should alarm parents of teens: The Laundry Pod Challenge. The challenge, which encourages people to bite into or eat the colorful filling of detergent packets, has been going viral, with many videos on YouTube and Twitter of people purportedly eating the pods.

According to KnowYourMeme, the “Laundry Pod Challenge” started as an internet joke which gained steam in 2017 after CollegeHumor published a Youtube video “Don’t Eat the Laundry Pods.” In the following months, more articles and memes on the Internet were shared about the obtrusive desire people felt when confronted with the colorful, candy-like laundry pods, hitting a peak in the week between Christmas and New Year’s, with many tweets concerning the challenge receiving thousands of likes and retweets in a matter of hours.

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And of course, what starts with a joke can end up with serious repercussions. The danger of laundry detergent pods have been well-documented since they were reintroduced to consumers by Procter & Gamble in 2012 with the launch of Tide Pods. Since the laundry detergent pods are more concentrated than regular liquid detergent or dishwasher packets, there is a higher risk of toxicity. According to a statement from the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), ingesting a single-load liquid laundry packet can cause coma, seizure, pulmonary edema, respiratory arrest, and other digestive tract issues. 

According to a March 2017 study in JAMA Ophthalmology, 26 percent of all chemical eye injuries in children three to four years of age were caused by pods either directly being squirted into their eyes or leaking onto a toddler’s hands and then the child touching their eyes. A 2016 Pediatrics study also noted that between 2013 and 2014, calls to U.S. poison control centers about incidents with laundry detergent packets in children younger than six years old increased 17 percent in two years.

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But it’s not just young children who experience harm due to liquid laundry detergent pods. According to a June 2017 article by Consumer Reports, eight deaths concerning the packets have been reported between 2012 and early 2017. Of the eight deaths, two were young children and six were adults living with dementia.

"Recent social media memes have created a moment for parents and caregivers to remind teens and young adults on the importance of safe behavior and good judgment; including the proper use of household cleaning products," a spokesperson for Tide told RealSimple.com in an email. "Laundry packs should only be used clean clothes—nothing else. They should not played with, no matter the circumstance, even if meant as a joke."

If you’re looking to prevent an incident with laundry pods, the AAPCC and other safety professionals recommend locking pods up high, out of reach of children. However, since this viral trend concerns teens, this might not be the best course of action, so make sure you talk to your kids about the serious health dangers. And if you suspect detergent has been swallowed, call 1-800-222-1222 immediately to be connected to your local poison center.