Laundry / Dishwasher Packets Can Be Dangerous to Small Children

Detergent Packets Image

About 75 percent of all poisonings involve children under the age of 5 who mistake household cleaners for beverages, or medicines for candy. To a toddler or young child, those colorful, single-use packets of laundry or dishwasher detergent can be especially dangerous—they often look a lot like a toy or a tasty treat.

In fact, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), about 8,195 children 5 years of age or younger were injured—either by ingesting laundry packets or getting detergent from them in their eyes—between January 1 and September 30, 2014. Also, in the Archives of Disease in Childhood (September 5, 2012) Great Britain's National Poisoning Information Service reported 647 calls about laundry detergent poisoning and more than 4,000 "searches" for the topic in a toxicology database used by health care professionals—making it the "most common household product to be accidentally ingested."

Dangers of Detergent Packets

Detergent packets are designed to dissolve in the washing machine or dishwasher. They are often brightly-colored and come in packaging that can make them look like candy to a small child. Because chemicals in the packets are highly alkaline, damage can occur very quickly once the rubbery outer casing softens or breaks open.

In most cases, ingesting detergent causes mild symptoms such as upset stomach. However, possibly because they are more concentrated, swallowing detergent packets can cause severe symptoms like vomiting, wheezing and difficulty breathing. Injuries can range from soft tissue damage, including serious chemical burns to the esophagus, to severe eye irritation and swelling of the airways that may require a breathing tube. Due to their size, detergent packets also pose a choking hazard.

Mom, Grandmother, Toddler Laundry Image

Tips to Prevent Detergent Packet Poisoning

If you suspect your child has ingested or been exposed to a laundry or dishwasher detergent packet, call the Poison Control Center at 1.800.222.1222 immediately.

To reduce the risk of accidental poisoning, the AAPCC and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warn parents and child caregivers to keep all laundry products, other detergents and cleaners, and hazardous household chemicals—regardless of their packaging—out of the reach of children and pets.

Follow all directions on the packaging—for storing, using and disposing of detergent packets—and never store household cleaning products or chemicals in old food containers.

When using detergent packets follow these additional recommendations:

  • Do not cut or tear the packets.
  • If packets stick together, do not pull them apart. (This may cause them to tear.)
  • Don't handle the packets with wet hands. (Even small amounts of water can cause the outer casing to dissolve.)
  • Close the product container completely after each use to keep moisture out. Do not store the product near water.

Some manufacturers of single-use laundry and dishwasher detergent packets are researching child-resistant packaging for their products.

Sources: National Institutes of Health (NIH), Archives of Disease in Childhood (September 5, 2012), American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) and American Cleaning Institute®

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 06 Sep 2012

Last Modified: 10 Nov 2014