Laundry Detergent Packets Causing Eye Injuries for Toddlers, Study Says

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

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, eye injuries in preschool-aged children have largely increased due to detergent pods.

For the study, published in JAMA Ophthalmology, researchers from John Hopkins University looked at the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System for eye injuries from 2010 to 2015. They focused their data on injuries that led to chemical burn or conjunctivitis in children three and four years old. During that period, they found that 1,201 ocular burns were related to the pods. In 2012, detergent packets only accounted for 0.8 percent of all chemical eye injuries. By 2015, that percentage shot up to 26 percent. Researchers found that toddlers sustained injuries when pods directly squirted into their eyes. Injuries also occurred when pods leaked onto a toddler’s hands and subsequently touched their eyes.

Other dangers from children interacting with detergent pods have been documented. A 2016 study published in Pediatrics showed that poison control calls to U.S. poison control centers regarding laundry detergent packets and young children have increased 17 percent in two years. Between 2013 and 2014, 62,254 calls 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 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, co-author of the 2016 study, 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 or injury 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.