From a Joke to a Challenge- Eating Laundry Detergent Packets

Joanne P. Shelby-Klein BSN RN 


A  news headline caught my eye recently and has me thinking that common sense and critical thinking has gone out the window these days. It seems a joke video entitled the “Tide Pod Challenge” has “inspired” teenagers to eat Laundry Detergent Packets and post to social media videos of themselves biting into the packets to see how long they can keep it in their mouths. Most of us learned, as small children, to never eat soap or drink the liquid laundry detergent because it is harmful to our bodies. It could make us very sick because of the very harsh and abrasive chemicals needed to clean our clothes.

How did this “Laundry Detergent Package challenge” even get started? From a quick check of newspaper and online sources, it seems that it started in 2015 with an article in the satirical newspaper The Onion. They published an article about a child who wanted to eat the colorful, candy-like, Laundry detergent pods and ended up in the hospital. To a young child, the colorful laundry detergent packets can look like candy giving them a desire to try and eat it, that’s why people were cautioned to put the laundry packets in a container and stored out of the reach of children. In fact, all packaging and advertising warns consumers “ not for consumption” or “harmful if swallowed”. After all laundry detergent (especially in the form of Laundry Detergent Packets) is a very concentrated soap detergent made up of many chemicals that are intended to be abrasive to take material that is dirty, stained and sweaty and clean it of dirt, grime, and germs.

Two years later, in 2017, a comedy website known as College Humor decided to film a FICTIONAL and STAGED video of a college student trying not to eat the laundry detergent pods and then giving in and eating the pods. The film showed the student gagging and being taken to the hospital. The video’s popularity on social media and YouTube inspired fellow teenagers and college age students to try it and film themselves doing it.  After all, it was simple, pop the laundry detergent pod in the mouth, take a bite and feel the brightly colored liquid and powdered detergent pour into the mouth. Don’t like the taste, just spit it out, as most people do.  Simple right?

Wrong! It’s not so simple. Once the liquid and powder detergent is in the mouth it comes in contact with very delicate tissues and mucous membranes and can cause you to gag, cough and even swallow some of it. Those abrasive chemicals meant to clean clothes can burn the tissues inside the mouth including the tongue and esophagus, cause trouble breathing from the chemicals reaching the trachea (windpipe) and the lungs. It can also burn the skin around the mouth and chin when it spits out. All of these burns can cause permanent damage and even be life-threatening. Once the damage is done, the scars and consequences won’t go away.

Is a joke or a challenge, accompanied by being liked and followed on social media, worth the risk of permanent damage to your health?


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