The Science Behind The Deadly ‘Tide Pod Challenge’

The first social media craze of 2018 has been the now infamous and potentially deadly “Tide Pod Challenge.” This game has been making headlines in recent days. But it is actually potentially very dangerous according to experts. Here we break down the science behind why Tide Pods are so dangerous.

The main problem with the so-called “Tide Pod Challenge” is that it is very often “played” by kids who might not be fully aware of the potentially negative health impact that it can have on them and their young bodies.

What Is The “Tide Pod Challenge”? 

According to a recently published Washington Post article, the so-called “Tide Pod Challenge” is just the latest in a series of challenges some young (and not-so-young) social media users engage in.

“I feel like I’m small and mighty and pack a powerful punch, just like Tide PODS.” — Simone Biles

The preceding challenges have been the “gallon challenge,” the cinnamon challenge,” and the “bath-salt challenge.” Those challenges have involved dangerous activities such as pouring salt in their hands and then holding ice until the burning sensation has become unbearable, throwing boiling water on people, setting themselves on fires.

But perhaps nothing has come close to be as dangerous as the new “Tide pod challenge.”

Tide is a well-known brand of laundry detergent manufactured by Procter & Gamble. One of its most popular products is its detergent pods designed to be put in with your load into the washing machine. In the course of the washing, the pods dissolve thus releasing the detergent in an effective manner.

Laundry detergent, like all other cleaning products, should never be ingested by human beings or other animals under any circumstance. The so-called “Tide pod challenge” mostly involved people biting into these detergent pods. Mostly, kids and teenagers do this while filming so they can upload the videos to social media and video sharing platforms, such as Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook. But sometimes the challenge involves other activities such as cooking them using a frying pan and then chewing into the slightly fired detergent before they spit it out.

Why Is The “Tide Pod Challenge” Dangerous? 

Discussing the potential dangers of the “Tide Pod challenge” with the Washington Post, Doctor Alfred Aleguas of the Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa, Florida said that engaging in this kind of behavior is not only pointless but also “foolish.”

According to Aleguas, the detergent is basically “poison.” Potentially, children (including teenagers) who come into contact with the pods or are exposed to them in any way could inadvertently inhale it or ingest it. If they inhale it, they could suffer from complications if they already have a pre-existing respiratory condition such as asthma. It is important to note that many teenagers that suffer from asthma are not yet diagnosed so they may not be aware of it.

Ingesting even a small amount of detergent can cause a sudden and, therefore, a dangerous change in blood pressure or heart rate. Not only could it make the person ingesting it ill, but it could also cause them to have a seizure or lose consciousness.

The backlash against YouTube for allowing this content to be uploaded and shared by kids on their platform has been met with the following official statement issued by the YouTube speak person Jessica Mason:

Youtube would work to quickly remove flagged videos that violate our policies. Youtube’s Community Guidelines prohibit content that’s intended to encourage dangerous activities that have an inherent risk of physical harm.

Although nobody claims to know for sure how this “challenge” got started, for years consumer product regulators, such as the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, have warned consumers that the brightly colored and pleasantly smelling detergent packets can attract the attention of young kids. But because of the toxic and highly concentrated detergent that they contain, they are seriously harmful.

But the problem with this challenge is not really young children but, rather, teenagers that should already know better not to put colorful or nicely smelling things in their mouths.

This is surprising because the attraction that some younger kids feel for brightly colored objects and have the instinct not just to touch them but to put them in their mouths, it is not expected that older kids, or teenagers, would feel the same attraction. What this means is that, so far, all efforts to prevent the ingestion of washing detergent have been focused on deterring young children from having easy access to it. It seems like now, thanks to this challenge, some effort should be made into discouraging teenagers from biting into or eating detergent packets.

The first video featuring a teenager eating or biting into a highly concentrated washing detergent was probably one published by the site College Humor back in 2017. The video, called Don’t Eat the Laundry Pods (Seriously, They’re Poison), showed a university student eating detergent pods and then being taken to hospital as a result. But, unlike the videos featuring teenagers doing the rounds currently on social media platforms, the College Humor video was merely a dramatization.

How Many People Get Poisoned With Detergent? 

The number of people who get poisoned for ingesting detergent, specifically from detergent packets is worryingly high.

In 2017, more than 10,500 under 5-years-old were exposed to detergent packets. But just under 220 teenagers were also exposed. What is shocking about this is that around 25 percent of those teenagers were exposed to the detergent pods on purpose. And this was way before the so-called challenge got started.

What Does Tide Say About All This?

The makers of Tide, Procter & Gamble, are clearly worried about their product being misused in such a public fashion.

They have issued the following statement about it:

We are deeply concerned about conversations related to intentional and improper use of liquid laundry pacs. Laundry pacs are made to clean clothes. They should not be played with, whatever the circumstance, even if meant as a joke. Like all household cleaning products, they must be used properly and stored safely.

Any ingestion of detergent, accidental or otherwise, should be immediately reported to a doctor.