/ Health, Parenting

Why should laundry tablets look so much like sweets?

Every parent of a young child must at some time have longed to have eyes in the back of their head. You can take every precaution – get a stairgate, a baby monitor, and a washing machine with a childproof lock. And still there is only so much you can do.

And I speak from experience. As a kid, I drove my poor mum mad with worry when I went through a phase of picking up stones and coins to lick as soon as she wasn’t looking – seeing it as a game. And stuffing objects in my mouth to gnaw on them – even if the object in question happened to be my sister’s fingers.

Turns out it’s pretty normal for babies and young children to lift objects up to suck, and explore their taste and texture. Which is why a story about children eating laundry tablets doesn’t seem so surprising to me…

Toxic tablets

In fact, there have been more than 2,000 cases involving children and gel or liquid laundry capsules in the past five years, according to the National Poison Information Service.

Apparently the problem is that the tablets are so often brightly coloured, small and enticing-looking that children are mistaking them for sweets. But the capsules contain chemicals that can cause burns, internal swelling, breathing problems, temporary blindness and in severe cases can induce a coma.

Of course parents will do all they can to keep these out of reach or in locked cupboards, but it only takes a second for the child to reach out and grab one.

It must every parent’s nightmare and, try as you might to keep them safe, there is simply no way to watch everything they do, every minute of the day.

As Sheila Merrill, Public Health Adviser at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), says:

‘Children are naturally inquisitive and tend to explore the world with their mouths – coupled with the fact liquid laundry capsules can be mistaken for sweets, and that the casing dissolves in contact with saliva, it makes it important to safely store them out of the reach of children.’

Liquitab design

To be fair, action has been taken to tackle the problem. Many laundry capsules do now come in plastic sealable boxes, and European rules introduced in 2015 mean they must taste horrible and be more water and pressure-resistant than previously. But despite this, children are clearly still drawn to these brightly coloured jelly-like tabs.

So has your child ever gone through a phase of putting objects into their mouth that they shouldn’t have? What did you do about it?

Comments
Member

Yes children suck or drink things they shouldnt and those tabs look like coloured lemonade but they are not the only thing that could be swallowed . I remember ,in the past, being invited to a females home and while things started off okay I made two mistakes –#1- I gave an honest answer to a personal question and #2- I was daft enough to let her cook me something after it, it didnt take me long to find the food I was eating contained washing up liquid and by god ! did it burn my mouth ,I left quickly as I am sure she was searching for a knife in the kitchen just to make sure I “got the message “

Member
dieseltaylor says:
8 June 2016

consumerreports.org/cro/2013/03/laundry-detergent-pods-remain-a-health-hazard/index.htm

Shows the workings clearly of the US equivalent of Which? dealing with the issue. It also shows that in early 2013 the problems of accessing proper information in the US with hyndreds of redacted pages.

The content and recommendations, and the research are excellent. In my view it needs to be up-dated though by linking prominently to this later piece which includes a chilling video.
consumerreports.org/cro/news/2015/02/safer-detergent-pods/index.htm

Member

We are obviously behind the times in taking action on this problem. In order to achieve effective washing at low temperatures, the chemicals in these pods are pretty aggressive. I had a look at one example and the package was labelled as ‘irritant’. Having had a pod burst and got the contents between my fingers, irritant is a bit of an understatement.

Are the manufacturers of these products unaware that bright colours – the box as well as the pods – makes them attractive to children. For years we have had the problem of brightly coloured tablets and capsules containing drugs that can injure and kill.

Maybe we need some publicity about which of the products have caused most harm to encourage the manufacturers to act.

Member

Between the age of 0 and 2 the mouth is the primary sense organ, so changing the appearance of the tablets won’t have much effect.

I can still remember fitting child-proof locks to lower cabinets and moving all the caustic / poisonous items to cupboards well above floor level when our two were tiny. But kids can and do surprise with their developing abilities and it’s easy to forget that a child reaches half its adult height by the age of two, so constant vigilance is called for.

Member

The advice for parents to use powders rather than pods would seem a very sensible. Obviously keeping children and any household items , chemicals etc is necessary. In the case outlined in the video an accidental spillage was the culprit and one can easily imagine how it happened and why one escaped.

Powder is less tasty, far less damaging if ingested, and does not skitter away if dropped.

As an overall comment it is a sad indictment of the regulatory systems that when first launched or even pre-launch for the companies involved no one considered the potential damage and death.

Member

The obvious answer is to ban all sweets and thus remove the source of the attraction to washing machine and dishwasher tabs. That could also lead to other health benefits.

Member

🙂 Like it. On the ‘use powder not tablets’ front that’s what we used to do until we discovered that the propensity of powder to Aerosolize made it, in our opinion, more dangerous than tablets. After filling the dishwasher powder receptacle we could taste the stuff for quite a while afterwards, and it often led to a coughing session. Tablets are more controllable, but the real issue is kids grow and can always do something more than they could last week. Unless you build a sturdy cage in which to keep them it’s a pretty full time job watching what they’re up to at that age. And the Child Protection teams mildly disapprove of cages…

Member

Fair point but I think the advice is aimed at parents with small children.

It is also involved with laundry use and in that area I have trouble working out how a tablet knows how strong to be if there is limited washing in the machine. Powder can be added not to overdose, and of course water levels altered.