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Laundry Products

Children get into all kinds of home laundry products: detergent, bleach, stain remover, fabric softener, pre-treatments, dry cleaning kits, rust removers, and so on.  Some of these products can burn the mouth, eyes, or skin. Many can cause irritation. Whether a child will have problems depends on the exact product and what the child did with it.  Here is a run-down of common laundry products – and why they should be stored up high, out of children’s reach.

  • Rust remover is the least common but most dangerous laundry product. Rust removers often contain strong acids that can cause eye, skin, and mouth burns on contact. A few rust removers contain hydrofluoric acid, an especially harmful poison. It can be absorbed through the skin and cause severe pain, tissue damage, and even death!

  • Other types of stain removers and pre-treatment agents contain a variety of ingredients. Some can cause a bit of irritation, while others can cause more serious irritation or a painful rash. Often, the packaging limits the amount a child can get at one time.

  • Detergents can cause mouth, skin, or eye irritation. This is true for liquid and dry detergents. Serious injuries are not common but can occur.

  • Fabric softeners contain some of the same chemicals as detergents and can cause the same types of injury. Mouth, skin, or eye irritation is possible if a child swallows or splashes fabric softener.

  • Bleach has a bad reputation that is not entirely deserved. Swallowing small amounts of bleach might cause mouth irritation and vomiting. More serious problems are unlikely unless someone swallows a large amount of bleach; children usually don’t do that. Splashing bleach might cause minor skin irritation. A serious rash could occur with long skin contact, for example, a child sitting in a puddle of bleach.

  • Home dry cleaning kits contain a pre-treatment chemical, similar to laundry pre-treatment/stain remover products. The packaging will determine how likely it is for a child to swallow the product. Other chemicals in home dry cleaning kits are embedded in solid objects and so wouldn’t be swallowed by a child.

Prevent poisonings by storing laundry products out of sight and reach of children. Also, keep products in their original containers. Countless children (and adults!) have swallowed bleach from a cup, thinking it was water. Pouring bleach into a cup, then leaving it on the counter or washing machine, is an invitation to poisoning.

If a child gets into a laundry product, here’s what to do:

  • If the product is in the eyes or on the skin, flush with running water for at least 15 minutes, then call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • If the product is swallowed, give a small amount of water or milk. Then call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222

The poison center expert will ask a few questions about what happened and if there are any symptoms. Then, the Specialist will tell you exactly what to do. Most of the time, the incident can be managed at home if you call the poison center right away.
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February 2012, The Poison Post®    
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