What Parents Should Know About the Tide Pod Challenge

I’m going to be honest- when news about this started slowly making its way into my various social media feeds, I thought it was just a joke. Mostly because I am familiar with the following sketch video from the site College Humor which was created and released in early 2017. (You can view it here)

In the video, originally titled “Don’t Eat the Laundry Pods”, we see a young man who is tempted to eat from a bowl of free laundry pods that have been left as samples. Even after researching whether or not the pods would have a harmful effect (they will) he gives into temptation and chows down on multiple pods. Smash cut to him foaming at the mouth on a stretcher uttering that he has no regrets.

The good folks at College Humor, in light of recent events have updated the video description with the following: “In light of recent news reports of idiot teens actually eating laundry pods, we want to make very clear that our position is the title of this video: DON’T EAT THE LAUNDRY PODS, you moron. Not even a little tiny bit, to impress your dumb friends or the internet. You will get poisoned and die.”

They have even go so far as to change the name of the video to: Don’t Eat the Laundry Pods (Seriously. They’re Poison.)

Jokes about chowing down on the pods date back to as early as 2015 with an article appearing on the satirical news site The Onion. The article “So Help Me God, I’m Going To Eat One Of Those Multicolored Detergent Pods” is told from the perspective of a young child who is hell-bent on consuming the pods.

Joking has morphed into a frightening reality with over 10,500 reports of child exposure to detergent pods coming into poison control centers in 2017.

The desire for viral internet fame has taken a dark turn as of late with many teens taking what is being refered to as the “Tide Pod Challenge”, video-taping themselves attempting to eat the pods and posting them to social media sites.

Quick Side Note: I will simply be referring to videos I have seen rather than directly linking to them as I do not want to promote the viewing of them as it really just encourages this kind of nonsense. Those curious enough are welcome to search for the challenge on YouTube though I highly advise refraining for both the above reason and for the sometime graphic content you will find.

UPDATE: Social media sharing site like YouTube have started cracking down on Tide Pod Challenge videos and have been removing them. Facebook and Instagram have followed suit. All three platforms site the user guidelines prohibiting content depicting users harming themselves.

Some videos show some users simply placing the pods in their mouths for a few moments while others show teens biting down and bursting the gel portion of the pod. One video showed a teen going so far as to swallow the entire pod whole.

Others show more creative ways of consuming the pods including on pizza and inside a hamburger.

While some of these videos may seem harmless on the surface, they are not showing the true effects of what consuming laundry detergent can do.

Teens run the risk of chemicals burns on their lips, mouth or in their esophagus. Consuming laundry detergent can also cause vomiting and other serious medical problems. The dissolvable membrane surrounding the soap, if consumed, can cause damage to your nervous system, which can lead to fatigue, breathing trouble, and even cardiac arrest or coma.

Some Additional Science:

Detergent – which is used to break up components of waste, is composed of a mixture of synthetic chemicals – and their most important ingredients are surfactants.

Surfactants, long-chain molecules that attach both to water and grease, form “supermolecules” when they are dissolved in water.

Our mouths and digestive systems are full of water – as well as fats. And having these aggressively stripped away from your digestive system is harmful.

However, according to a report by a scientific branch of the European Commission, “in small quantities, surfactants have low oral acute toxicity” and usually just cause an irritating effect on mucous membranes.

But if a higher dose is consumed, the effects can become much more severe.

According to the report, “Manifestations may include vomiting, abdominal pain, flatulence, and diarrhoea.”

Additionally, “In rare cases, vomiting or formation of considerable amounts of foam in the mouth involve an aspiration risk” – or the risk of becoming unable to breathe properly.

While the more severe risks associated with consuming surfactants are more likely to affect elderly, young children, or those with weakened immune systems, even healthy adults can suffer side effects.

And Tide pods also contain bleach – an oxidizing agent.

When consumed, which it should never be, bleach can cause burns to your digestive tract, which can induce vomiting.

What Parents/Educators Should Do?

As usual my best advice is to have a conversation with your kids. Ask them if they have heard about the challenge and are aware of the severe health risks associated with it. It’s important not to shy away from discussing these stories out of fear of putting ideas into their heads about giving it a try. Them knowing that you are aware of these kinds of stories puts your voice in the back of their head should they be tempted to give it a try.

This challenge is no laughing matter and has resulted in 6 deaths and multiple hospitalizations. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported six adults suffering from cognitive impairment, along with two children, have died as a result of ingesting the pods.

Those deaths were initially reported by Consumer Reports after filing a Freedom of Information Act Request with the CPSC.

Tide Is Taking Initiative to Prevent Further Tragedy

In early 2016 Tide released a safety video regarding the Pods: How to Keep Your Child Safe and Your Laundry Clean and have since dedicated a page of their web site about safe handling of the pods. The web site lists some of the following as safety measures:

  • In addition to keeping products out of reach of children, to ensure child safety, keep products in their original containers with the labels intact.
  • After each use, completely close the container, and immediately store the container in an appropriate location out of reach of children.
  • Choose child-resistant products like Tide PODS® Child-Guard™ Pack whenever possible.
  • Child proof cabinets and drawers when it comes to storing household cleaning and laundry items. For further information, please visit Safe Kids Worldwide website.
  • Keep laundry pacs out of reach of children.
  • When caring for an individual living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, all cleaning products — including laundry detergents – should be secured in a locked cabinet or closet when not in use.

Additionally the following safety precautions are listed in the event of exposure or consumption of laundry detergent:

  • Unintended exposure to or skin contact with laundry products usually causes no serious medical effects.
  • If exposure to the skin or clothing occurs, remove contaminated clothing and rinse skin well with water.
  • If a product gets in the eye(s), then rinse immediately with plenty of water for 15 minutes and seek medical advice as needed.
  • If a product is swallowed, drink a glass of water or milk and contact the Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) or doctor immediately. Do not induce vomiting.
  • Following these laundry safety steps will help keep your home as safe as possible. Know what to do before unintended exposure happens. Read the product safety information provided on the package.

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy Central and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

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