As the number and variety of single-dose laundry and dish detergent packets continue to grow, so do the hazards they present to small children, some of whom are eating them.
"The product looks very similar to a candy product," says Tom Vierhile, a director at the Datamonitor Group, a business information provider. "They're very colorful and come in a swirl packet that almost looks like a gummy candy or marshmallow candy."
From Jan. 1 to July 1, the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) recorded 1,464 calls about exposures of children 5 and younger, says AAPCC communications manager Loreeta Canton. Some children have swallowed the entire packets, others have bitten into them and ingested mouthfuls of the detergents, Canton says. No deaths have been reported, but Canton says children have experienced vomiting, wheezing and dizziness.
Proctor and Gamble recently announced a redesigned, double-latch lid for its Tide Pods containers in response to news reports about the unintended exposures. But parents, Vierhile says, need to go a step further.
"Obviously, parents want to make sure these products are not at eye level for kids," he says. "In the past, when laundry was down in the cellar or basement, laundry aids were not as much a part of the house that kids had access to. Now, in many houses, one of the selling features is laundry on the first floor."
And single-use pods don't appear to be going away. In addition to Tide Pods, Arm and Hammer, Fab, Purex, All and Ajax also have single-use laundry detergent packets. Cascade, Palmolive, Finish and Method all offer dish detergent pods. Procter and Gamble, according to Vierhile, expects single-dose laundry detergents to account for 35 percent of the U.S. laundry aid market over the next five to 10 years.
"From a sustainability standpoint, it eliminates packaging," Vierhile says. "There's nothing to throw away, it's pre-measured, it doesn't spill. On the other hand, they can be problematic."
Poison control experts urge parents and caregivers to store the packets in a locked cabinet or container and to call a poison control center immediately (1-800-222-1222 in Minnesota) if a child ingests one.