Laundry pods more toxic than traditional detergents: study

A U.S. study found that laundry detergent packets pose more of a danger to toddlers than traditional laundry detergent or dishwasher detergent.

American researchers recommend that those with toddlers in their homes stick to traditional detergents

A new study found that children who consume laundry pods are more likely to be hospitalized than those who swallow traditional detergent. (Associated Press)

Laundry detergent packets or 'pods' may be less messy and more convenient than traditional detergent. But if there's a young child in your home, these brightly coloured, sweet-scented little capsules could also be deadly.

A U.S. study conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in conjunction with the Central Ohio Poison Centre, found that laundry detergent packets pose more of a danger to toddlers than traditional laundry detergent or dishwasher detergent.

The study, published online in Pediatrics, used the National Poison Data System to review calls to American poison control centres between January 2013 and December 2014. In total, they received 62,254 calls about children under the age of six who'd been exposed to laundry or dishwasher detergent.

The study builds on a 2014 paper covered by CBC News, wherein some of the same authors analyzed calls about detergent poisoning between 2012 and 2013.

A growing problem

Six in every 10 calls were related to detergent (either laundry or dishwasher) in packet form. And over the course of the two years, incidents tied to laundry detergent packets increased by 17 per cent, indicating that this is a growing problem.

The poison control centres received more than 30 calls a day for children who had ingested or otherwise came into contact with a laundry detergent packet, making for one call every 45 minutes. At least one child per day was admitted to the hospital after being exposed to a laundry detergent packet.

"These are quite attractive in colour and also their size and shape. If you're a little two-year-old … they're almost the perfect size if you have a little hand, and they're conveniently available at home," says Henry Spiller, co-author of the study and director of the Central Ohio Poison Centre.

More toxic effects

Not only were incidents of exposure to laundry detergent packets more prevalent, but the packets themselves also proved to have more dangerous effects than other detergents.

Serious adverse medical effects, including comas, trouble breathing, heart problems and death, were seen in some of the children who'd been exposed to laundry detergent packets, but not in those who'd encountered other forms of laundry detergent or any form of dishwasher detergent — including packets.

The risk of hospitalization and intubation was also higher.

The increased toxicity, Spiller says, is likely because the formulas of these pods are more potent than traditional laundry soap formulas.

"It dissolves in water. It's a little more concentrated to get all that 'cleaning power' in a small little packet," he says.

Dishwashing detergent is a different kind of detergent, meaning the formulas for its liquid and pod forms don't differ that much.

'A different animal'

The majority of cases of detergent encounters occurred when the detergent was stored either in sight of the child or in an unlocked, easily accessible kitchen or bathroom cabinet. A significant number of exposures also happened when the detergent container was temporarily open while it was being used and the parent or caregiver was distracted.

The study's authors recommend that people living with small children stick to traditional detergents, at least until their kids are out of the "putting everything in their mouths" stage.

"We want parents to know this is just different than the detergent they grew up with," Spiller says. "This one's a different animal."