Dr Andy Raffles
Laundry Detergent Ingestion
Updated: Aug 8, 2019
HELP - I left my 2 year old with a relative and she's just rung to say he's been found munching on a laundry detergent capsule!! What should I do?
Don't panic!! Laundry detergent and dish washing detergent capsules are amongst the commonest cause of accidental ingestion in children, with approximately one child a day being admitted to hospital as a result, in the UK and countless others being found with the attractive capsules in their hands or mouth. The reason is that they are brightly coloured and in soft easily chewable sachets, which will dissolve quickly in a small amount of saliva. It is reassuring to note that very few children have had any long lasting effects of ingesting these capsules.
Firstly you should remove the capsule from the child and remove any clothing which has been soaked in the detergent. Use lots of water to wash down the child's face and if he/she complains of sore eyes, to irrigate the eyes with water. Do NOT make the child vomit, but do try to make them drink water in order to dilute down any detergent which may be in the mouth. Seek medical help by attending your local Emergency Department.
Some manufacturers coat the surface of the capsules with very bitter tasting coatings, which results in the child discarding the capsule before ingesting any detergent and makes them reluctant to put anything in their mouths immediately afterwards. If they do ingest the detergent then they may develop a sore throat and noisy respiration - known as stridor. In any event you should get your child checked by the local Emergency Department, although the need for any specific further treatment is low.
On returning home, or wherever the incident occurred, make sure all domestic cleaning products are either in a locked cupboard, or are behind childproof catches, as 70% of all childhood poisonings are with domestic cleaning products, yet less than 10% of families store such products safely away, from children under 5 years of age.