700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Laundry Detergent Packet Dangers

Apr 25, 2016
detergent dangers

Hey, moms and dads: I get it. You are busy. I’m a parent. I’m busy, too. My calendar is so full that I have to schedule time with my husband or it doesn’t happen. So I love products that make my life easier. When laundry detergent packets became widely available, I know parents everywhere jumped at the chance to simplify one step in the never-ending task that is family laundry.

But sometimes danger outweighs convenience, and unfortunately, as research shows, laundry detergent packets fall into this category.

Bottom line: if you have or care for young children, don’t buy laundry packets. Here’s why.

Detergent in laundry packets is highly concentrated. This means it’s much more dangerous than traditional powder or liquid detergent and much more harmful if your child swallows or breathes it in. If there are children younger than 6 years old that live in or visit your home use traditional liquid or powder detergent instead of laundry detergent packets.

Laundry detergent packets are attractive to kids. The packets are often brightly-colored and scented, which kids may associate with something that’s okay to eat, like juice or candy. It only takes a few seconds for a child to grab a packet and put it in his mouth.

Most of the packaging is not child-resistant. Think about the other dangerous products in your home—they’re probably stored up, away and out of sight. Now think about the packaging for laundry detergent packets: plastic bins that kids can easily open or zip-top bags that resemble ones for candy, trail mix, cheese and other snacks. The lack of child-resistant packaging makes it easy for kids to get their hands on packets, so storing packets up, away and out of sight is essential if you choose to continue using them.

The packets themselves are delicate and break easily. The thin membrane that holds the detergent is designed to dissolve in water, so it will dissolve in your child’s mouth, too. Packets also break open easily when squeezed, and even a small amount of the detergent can make your child sick.

It happens more than you think – and it can be serious.Poison control centers in the U.S. are getting more than 11,000 calls a year about children younger than 6 years old that have swallowed or burst open a laundry detergent packet. That is about one call every 45 minutes. And some of these cases are quite serious. A recent study showed that laundry detergent packets were by far more dangerous than all other types of laundry and dishwasher detergent – causing more serious medical outcomes and more admissions to health care facilities, even leading to 2 confirmed deaths.

If laundry detergent packets are in the home, safe storage is important. If you or your children’s caregiver use laundry detergent packets, make sure the detergent packets are stored up, away, and out of sight – in a locked cabinet is best.

 If you are the parent or caregiver of a young child, keep the number for the poison control help line posted in visible locations throughout your house and program it into your phone: 1-800-222-1222.

As a health educator at Nationwide Children’s, I’m always looking to share information that will make your life easier, keep your kids healthier- and help you feel more informed. Laundry packets may let you complete a task faster and give you more time to spend with your kids, but in this case, that extra time just isn’t worth the risk. If you have young children at home, stick to traditional laundry detergent.

Featured Expert

Tracy Mehan, MA
Center for Injury Research and Policy

Tracy Mehan is the manager of translational research for the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.