Retailers that sell laundry appliances and/or accompanying detergent packs should be aware of the risk to children posed by the capsuled, or pod-style, cleaning powders and liquids. Often brightly merchandised and visually appealing to youngsters, these detergent pods can cause serious injury and death if ingested by accident.

“Laundry capsules are small and often colourful, making them attractive to young children, yet the damage they can cause may be shocking,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard told me.

“The product has only been widely available in the market recently and its risks are not necessarily well-known. This is why regulators worldwide have identified it as a priority emerging issue and joined together to share information to help parents protect their young children.”

In recent years, more and more laundry appliance brands have been manufacturing and marketing their own detergents, both powdered and liquid, for use in both automatic dosing and traditional washing machines.

According to figures provided by Rickard, there have been 2 deaths and over 16,000 ingestion cases reported worldwide. In Australia, there have been 280 incidents reported since 2011, including 85 in 2014. Injuries have included severe irritation or chemical burns to the skin, eyes or gastrointestinal tract; eye damage; severe distress; coughing and vomiting; internal bleeding; respiratory difficulty; and lethargy or drowsiness.

The powdered detergent included in these pods is often highly concentrated and water soluble, meaning contact with only a small amount of saliva can cause serious damage, Richard said.

Here are some tips for staff to share with customer buying laundry appliances and/or detergent packs:

Safe Storage

  • Store these products up high, out of reach and out of sight of children.
  • If stored in lower accessible cabinets/cupboards, these should be secured with child resistant locks.
  • Keep the capsules/packets in their original container, fully closed between uses.

Safe Use

  • Carefully read the labels on the packaging.
  • Do not use the capsules/packets while children are close by and do not allow or invite children to manipulate them.
  • Never pierce or break laundry capsules/packets.
  • Do not leave the capsules/packets outside their container.
  • Close the container lid properly after every use.

What To Do In Case Of Exposure

In case of a child’s accidental exposure:

  • If the capsule/packet is put in the mouth, rinse the child’s mouth and face thoroughly.
  • Do not induce vomiting.
  • If a child has capsule liquid close to eyes or on hands, rinse carefully with plenty of water.
  • Call a doctor or a Poison Control Centre or go to the medical emergency department.

(Tips furnished by the ACCC.)

This author is on Twitter: @Patrickavenell