Last updated on February 3rd, 2017
I first wrote about the potential dangers of liquid detergent capsules and tabs in 2009 after I saw in the news that a baby was “badly burned” by a washing machine detergent when gel from a liquid capsule had been trapped (partially undissolved) inside a vest. The vest was then unfortunately put onto the child without the gel being seen.
As far as I know this was an unusual incident, but since then it’s emerged there are far more common dangers as thousands of children (commonly aged under 5) are finding the brightly coloured capsules very attractive, and are either popping them open by pressing down onto the soft bubble filled with gel causing burns to the eyes, or actually biting into them causing severe internal burns when some of the liquid is swallowed. There have been tens of thousands of incidents, at least one reported death, and many hundreds of hospitalisations world-wide. Fortunately most children have recovered but this is a very real danger.
Keep children away from detergent capsules
Most parents are completely unaware of the dangers these products pose, and with a busy day-to-day routine often keep them under the kitchen sink, or close to the washing machine or dishwasher for convenience. Manufacturers need to seriously rethink these products, particularly their attractive colourful design but the most basic common sense thing to do is to make sure you keep liquid detergent capsules for washing machines and dishwashers out of the reach of children.
Treat these capsules the same as bleach and store them out of the reach of children. Even much older children can find them fascinating to play around with, and although less likely to put them in their mouths they can still accidentally pop some of them open squirting the liquid into their eyes. BBC news reported back in 2012 that 5 children in Glasgow in that year alone had been admitted to hospital with serious chemical burns after either swallowing or biting into a liquid gel detergent tab. The children suffered burns (some described as life threatening) to the inside of the throat or the eyes and an 8-month-old baby girl spent 4 days in intensive care after biting into one.
The liquid gel inside these tabs is clearly potentially dangerous and although I’d expect most people would assume it wasn’t good for any of the contents to be swallowed they wouldn’t necessarily realise just how toxic and corrosive the contents could be, and just how attractive the lovely soft bubble-wrap type packaging is to hold and manipulate.
Potential Danger from undissolved liquid detergent gel in laundry
Another issue to be aware of is related to my article in 2009 about the 17-month-old child reported to have been burned by the gel inside an Ariel Excel washing machine detergent. A spokesman for Proctor & Gamble who make the detergent in question are reported to have said: “All our products are extensively researched and are safe to use as directed.”
I’m assuming this incident happened because the detergent did not dissolve properly and even survived all the rinses. Overloading* the drum can cause this. The warning is that particularly when washing children’s items you should make sure the washing machine is not overloaded to such an extent that the whole mass of laundry just turns round in one big lump. In such situations the detergent has no room to dissolve properly and as this case highlights, undissolved detergents can burn and could have serious consequences. Instructions on the packet should also be read and understood. It’s too easy to assume we don’t need to look at instructions for commonly used products but we should.
Don’t under-load either though
The washing machine drum does need to be correctly loaded in order to avoid under-loading which can result in violent out of balance spins or a refusal to spin altogether. The drum also needs to be fully loaded to wash economically and cut down unnecessary loads. Tips on ideal loading can be found in my article – Am I overloading my washing machine?
Overloading may not be relevant in this case
* The case above has prompted me to remind people about overloading, and highlight the potential for more serious consequences than just poor wash results. I’m not saying overloading was definitely the main factor in this case, only that it could be. There is the potential for other causes that I am not aware of.