Tide laundry pods are supposed to represent “the ultimate perfect dose” of detergent, a spokesman for manufacturer Proctor & Gamble told the Wall Street Journal soon after the product’s launch in 2012.
The perfect dose for a load of laundry, it turns out, can be a fatal dose for humans. Capsules contain a much more highly concentrated–and toxic–dose of soap than traditional bottled detergent, and their bright red-and-blue packaging bears a dangerous resemblance to candy wrappers; early containers even looked eerily similar to candy bowls (see above). A recent analysis by the Wall Street Journal highlights the relatively new problem of death-by detergent.
Women in general tend to be more susceptible to the health risks of cleaning chemicals. Toxic ingredients like chlorine bleach and ammonia are often found in cleaning products for drains, ovens and toilet bowls, and it’s still women who are doing the vast majority of indoor housework. A 2014 survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that women do about 55 to 70 percent of household cleaning. The divide is even greater among professional cleaners: Eighty-nine percent of housekeepers and hotel cleaners, who spend long hours dealing with toxic cleaning products, are female.
In the case of laundry pods, though, kids and seniors of both sexes are at risk. So far this year, U.S. poison-control centers have been getting about 30 calls a day about kids under six who have come into contact with detergent from laundry pods. About 80 percent of the calls concerned kids who had swallowed the small capsules; others were about children who had squeezed the pods until they burst, releasing chemicals that came into contact with their eyes and skin. Exposure to the detergent has caused vomiting, breathing problems, and in at least seven cases, death.
Rates of detergent-related accidents climbed each year between 2012 and 2014, apace with the growth in laundry pod sales. The 30-per-day rate this year represents only a slight drop from the 32-per-day rate last year, even though Proctor & Gamble and other distributors have added warning labels and child-resistant latches to containers and launched campaigns urging parents to store them out of reach.
Nearly three-quarters of incidents have involved kids younger than three, and 90 percent involved children under six. But seniors with dementia are at risk, too; they accounted for at least two of the seven reported deaths. (One was a Canadian man living in a nursing home; the other, a 67-year-old man in Ohio who swallowed a Tide Pod while his wife was out.) Such fatalities are far less likely with traditional Tide powder detergent: According to news aggregator Digg, an adult would need to ingest 17 cups of powder. It seems that the attractive, compact packaging that makes the pods convenient and marketable also makes them uniquely lethal.