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Heads Up Parents: Teens Are Eating Detergent Pods in New Viral Challenge

Written by Jennifer Lai, M.D. on Feb 17, 2018, 8:25:00 AM

When I read that teens were taking a viral challenge to eat detergent pods, my initial reaction was skepticism. Because that seems like the kind of thing a teenager should know not to do. As it turns out, however, this is really happening, and it is as confounding to parents as some of the other dangerous viral challenges we’ve seen in the past few years – like the viral challenge where kids were setting themselves on fire, or the Kylie Jenner lip challenge. 

Cases Are on the Rise

While many parents are likely thinking, “No way will it affect my child,” the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 39 calls for teens misusing laundry pods in the first 15 days of January 2018. In 2016, there were 39 reported cases of laundry pod misuse, and in 2017, 53 cases were reported, which means the number of cases seems to be escalating, even though it’s only a small percentage of the population.

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If you don’t already know it, laundry pods are poisonous to consume. They are often comprised of products like ethanol, hydrogen peroxide, and other polymers that can do incredible damage to the mouth, stomach, and digestive system. Eating these cleaning agents can lead to seizures, pulmonary edema, respiratory arrest, or coma. If the components of these laundry pods are introduced to organs or the bloodstream, it could be fatal. 

The Influence of Social Media

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So how does something like this catch fire and spread to our homes and our families? Especially something that seems so obviously dangerous? It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that the “challenge” went viral as a YouTube phenomenon, like many other viral, albeit less harmful, challenges before it. Teens recorded themselves eating the laundry pods and then shared their reactions, which were obviously negative. YouTube was made aware of the situation after the challenge began to spread and has been working to take down any videos related to this challenge, but, as with anything that’s gone viral, the material is hard to contain. Even though there are several other laundry companies that offer detergent pods, Tide specifically seems to have taken the brunt of the negative press because the challenge is referred to as the “Tide Pod Challenge,” and the company has released statements echoing the same thing in this blog: Detergent pods are for laundry – do not eat them! 

What to Look For

While it’s clearly not good for anyone to ingest a detergent pod, at least if a teen is the one who has eaten it, they can tell you and you can get them to a hospital, or at the very least, call the poison control center. 

Teens aren’t the only ones who ingest the pods, although they seem to be the only population that intentionally ingests them while knowing what they are. Toddlers are another section of the population notorious for ingesting these detergent pods, but that lends more to the curious nature of children than anything else. Here are some symptoms to look for if you think your toddler or teen may have ingested a laundry pod: 

  • Severe vomiting
  • Trouble breathing
  • Burns to the skin and eyes
  • Obvious pain in the area of the esophagus 

If you notice any of these symptoms, call an ambulance immediately. 


Dr. Jennifer Lai is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center. She’s accepting appointments for kids of all ages. Her clinical interests include general Pediatrics, newborns, autism, and obesity.



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