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Liquid laundry detergent capsules (PODS): a review of their composition and mechanisms of toxicity, and of the circumstances, routes, features, and management of exposure

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Simon Thomas


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Introduction: Liquid laundry detergent capsules (also called single-use detergent sacs; laundry pods; laundry packets) have become an increasingly popular household product worldwide. Objectives: To review the composition and mechanisms of toxicity of liquid laundry detergent, capsules, and the circumstances, routes, clinical features (and impact of packaging changes) and management of exposure. Methods: The databases PubMed and EMBASE were searched using the terms: "detergent" and "capsule", "pod", "pac" or "sac" combined with "poison", "ingest", "expos" but not "animal" or "in vitro" or "bacteria". The searches yielded 289 articles, of which 186 were excluded: 38 duplicates, 133 not relevant, 10 abstracts which had been published as a paper and 5 non-English language articles. The bibliographies of relevant articles were hand-searched which yielded 14 additional citations. Searching of abstracts from scientific meetings produced five additional citations. A total of 122 publications were relevant to the objectives of the review. Capsules and composition: Capsules typically contain anionic surfactants (20-35%), non-ionic surfactants (10-20%), propylene glycol (8-20%) and ethanol (2-5%) within a water-soluble polyvinyl alcohol membrane. Mechanisms of toxicity: Non-ionic surfactants are the primary mechanism, though anionic surfactants, ethanol and propylene glycol may also contribute. Circumstances of exposure: The majority (60%) of children are exposed when the capsule is removed from its original container. Routes of exposure: Ingestion is the most common (>85%); ocular (<15%) and dermal (<8%) exposure account for the remainder. Features following ingestion: Features develop in around half of all exposures, though >90% are minor. In those with features, vomiting occurs in some 50%; coughing and drowsiness are reported in <5%. Respiratory depression (<0.5%), central nervous system depression (<0.1%) esophageal or gastric injury (<0.5%), metabolic acidosis and hyperlactatemia (<0.05%) have been reported rarely. Of 17 deaths reported, 13 were adults and nine were suffering from cognitive impairment. Features following ocular exposure: Conjunctivitis, eye irritation and/or eye pain are commonly experienced; corneal injury is less common but complete recovery typically occurs within one week. Features following dermal exposure: Clinically important dermal toxicity seldom occurs, though skin burns can develop in <5% of cases when skin contact is prolonged. Impact of packaging changes on features: The implementation of packaging changes resulted in a fall in the number of exposures and their severity in the United States and in the number in Italy. Management-ingestion: Gut decontamination is not recommended, though small amounts of fluid can be administered orally to rinse out the mouth. Symptomatic and supportive care should be offered to all patients that develop features of toxicity. Supplemental oxygen should be administered for hypoxemia, and bronchodilators for laryngospasm/bronchospasm. Intubation and assisted ventilation may be required if CNS and respiratory depression develop. A chest radiograph should be performed if respiratory features develop. In patients with swallowing difficulties, drooling or oropharyngeal burns, endoscopy should be performed; if substantial mucosal damage is present MRI should be considered. In addition, intravenous fluids will be required if prolonged vomiting or diarrhea occur and acid-base disturbances should be corrected. Management-eye exposure: Thorough irrigation of the eye with sodium chloride 0.9% is required. Instillation of a local anesthetic will reduce discomfort and help more thorough decontamination. Due to the potential for corneal injury, fluorescein should be instilled. If ocular injury is present, the patient should be referred to an ophthalmologist. Management-skin exposure: Skin should be irrigated thoroughly with soap and water, and burns should be treated as a thermal burn. Conclusions: Accidental ingestion usually produces no or only minor features. Very rarely respiratory depression, central nervous system depression, esophageal or gastric injury, hyperlactatemia and metabolic acidosis occur. Ocular exposure results in corneal injury infrequently and skin burns can develop uncommonly following prolonged dermal contact. Of 17 deaths reported, 13 were adults and nine were suffering from cognitive impairment.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Day R, Bradberry SM, Thomas SHL, Vale JA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Clinical Toxicology

Year: 2019

Volume: 57

Issue: 11

Pages: 1053-1063

Print publication date: 01/11/2019

Online publication date: 27/05/2019

Acceptance date: 07/05/2019

ISSN (print): 1556-3650

ISSN (electronic): 1556-9519

Publisher: Taylor & Francis


DOI: 10.1080/15563650.2019.1618466

PubMed id: 31130018


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