Can Better Design Keep Kids From Eating Detergent Pods?

Slate’s design blog.
Oct. 1 2013 9:15 AM

Can Better Design Keep Kids From Eating Detergent Pods?

130926_EYE_OriginalTidePods
The original transparent packaging for Tide Pods laundry detergent looks like a candy jar.

Photo courtesy of Procter & Gamble

Detergent pods are a modern convenience that has made doing the laundry less daunting for those who dislike measuring, any sort of mess, or lugging heavy detergent containers to the laundromat.

The handy little pods are designed to hold concentrated doses of detergent in film shells that dissolve quickly in water of any temperature. Like tea bags or espresso pods, they make life a little more streamlined. And they alleviate eco-guilt by dissolving without a trace.

But the exact qualities that make the pods a design innovation for adults render them little bombs of potential risk for children. Detergent pods were launched in the United States in 2010. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, 6,724 children under the age of 5 were exposed to single-load laundry packets through August of this year. That's up from reports in 2012.

Advertisement

Children were swallowing laundry detergent long before the advent of pods, often with few or no adverse effects. But the highly concentrated formula used in pods leads to more severe symptoms such as vomiting and respiratory problems and in at least one case fatal consequences: Last month a 7-month-old baby in Florida died after ingesting one of the pods while his mother was in another room.

Most detergent pods are little rectangular packets in the shades of green or blue, small enough to fit in a child's hand, squishy in a way that might make them appear like a toy. Procter & Gamble's Tide Pods feature a round, swrily, white-orange-and-purple design that makes its laundry pods look unmistakably like candy. Even the transparent jar packaging (above) made them look like bonbons that belonged on a sweet shop shelf.

It's impossible to know whether Tide's candy-like design has made its pods particularly appealing to tots; the AAPCC has received complaints concerning multiple brands. However, in response to concerns about accidental ingestion, in July P&G made changes to its packaging, adding a double safety latch, turning its transparent pod container opaque and removing the peekaboo window from its sleeve pack. Costco followed its lead in August by switching to opaque packaging for its own brand of candy-like laundry detergent pods. P&G also made warning labels more visible and stepped up its home safety education efforts.

130926_EYE_Tide_Pods_OPAQUE_TUB
New packaging features an opaque container and a double-lock lid.

Photo courtesy of Business Wire

It is good that P&G recognizes design can play a role in minimizing the risk, here. An email to the company wasn't returned by press time, so it's not clear whether it had evidence suggesting that the clear container—or the trompe l'oeil candy design of the pods—was especially attractive to children.

But is redesigning the packaging really the ultimate solution? It seems that individually packaged detergent morsels will inevitably pose a risk in households with young children, who are known to put pretty much anything in their mouths. Does it make sense to tempt fate by sticking with the detergent-as-candy design?

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

What Hillary Clinton’s Iowa Remarks Reveal About Her 2016 Fears

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Jurisprudence

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Frame Game
Sept. 15 2014 5:13 PM Hard Knocks I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 5:26 PM Robin Thicke’s Bizarre “Blurred Lines” Deposition Is Both Unflattering and Convenient
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 8:41 PM You’re Cut, Adrian Peterson Why fantasy football owners should release the Minnesota Vikings star.