Popular laundry packets dangerous for young children: study

Laundry packets make washing clothes so easy.  You drop one in, hit “start" and you’re done.  But a new study warns the colorful, convenient single-use pods may be injuring thousands of children in the U.S. each year.

Every 45 minutes, researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital say a young child is injured by a laundry detergent packet.  They've become the leading cause of accidental poisonings in children age 6 and under.

Dr. Taaha Shakir, a pediatric emergency physician at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, says he can see why some of these detergent pods may be attractive,  especially to toddlers, who like to put things in their mouths.

"They kind of look like candy, and they kind of look like a toy,” Dr. Shakir says. “And, when you think about it, when you put it in your hand, they feel like a toy, soft and squishy.”

Researchers found the main danger involves children putting the pods in their mouths, biting down, and releasing the detergent into their mouths.  But children have also suffered eye injuries.

The study in The Journal of Pediatrics shows in 2013-14, there were 22,000 incidents involving young children being exposed to laundry packet.   Two children died.

That’s a 17% jump, from an earlier study, even as manufacturers take steps to make the product safer.

Dr. Shakir says some of the detergent pods are more colorful, and more tightly packed.

"Regardless of the brand, you always have the risk of them chewing on it and then having it pop in their mouth and them choking on that substance,” says Shakir.  "The concentration, it is, it's not so much the detergent itself that is dangerous, it's what it can cause."

So, what should parents do?  Start by being careful where you store the pods, or any detergent.

"The most important thing is keeping them up, not around,” says Dr. Shakir.  “So if you're doing laundry, take them out of whatever container you have and then use them but don't just leave them around where kids can have access to it."

Researchers say if you have a child under six, skip the pods and use liquid laundry detergent.

Dr. Shakir says as long as you’re careful, that may not be necessary.

"I think it's like anything else,” he says.   You could make the argument for any of these things.   As long as it's up and in a safe place and used appropriately, I think it's fine."

The pod manufacturers have changed the packaging contains, making them opaque and adding child-resistant closures.   But, the study points out that accidental poisonings involving the pods are increasing.