Photo of a laundry room

You might not think of your washing machine as dangerous, but if you have young children in the house, that appliance can be deadly. On Aug. 4, a 3-year-old child in Orlando died of what police believe might have been a lack of oxygen after getting trapped inside the front-loading washer in his home. 

"We are currently investigating this tragic death as an accidental death,” says Cory Burkarth, public information officer for the Orlando Police Department. “It appears that a 3-year-old child was playing with a younger sibling when he climbed into a front-loading washing machine, and at some point the door ended up being closed.” 

The Orlando police would not release the name of the washer brand. Meanwhile, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is also investigating the death. 

MORE ON child SAFETY

“The CPSC is aware of three deaths among children 5 and younger since 2014 related to washing machines,” says Patty Davis, a spokesperson for the agency. Two of the deaths involved front-loaders, according to Davis. The CPSC doesn't know the type of washer in the third death.

The agency also estimates that since 2014, there have been about 3,000 emergency-room-treated washer-associated injuries among children 5 and younger. Most of the cases were related to falls. 

It's critical that parents explain to their young children that appliances are not toys, and that they can be dangerous. It's equally important to point out any potential dangers to anyone watching your children while you’re away. Remember that young kids are at a developmental stage that makes them especially curious.

“The job of a child between ages 1 and 4 is to explore and to find out how the world works,” says Ben Hoffman, M.D., a pediatrician in Portland, Ore., and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. “They’re curiosity machines, and by nature, impulsive.”  

Water fascinates them, Hoffman says. Children see their parents around washers all the time, and they can see clothes moving around through the front-loader’s door, so it naturally piques their curiosity. “We can’t hazard-proof kids, so we need to be as careful as we can in identifying hazards and protecting them,” says Hoffman.

Below, CR's experts offer advice on how to keep your child safe if you have a front-load washer in your home.

How to Keep Your Child Safe Around Washers

Lock the Door to Your Laundry Room
The absolute best plan is to prevent your kids from getting access to the washer at all. “If your washer and dryer are in a separate room, close the door and lock it,” says Richard Handel, who oversees CR’s tests of laundry appliances. “Do not let young children play in the laundry room, period.” 

Keep the Washer Door Shut
Leaving the door open on front-loaders can help prevent mold, but if you have young children at home, keep the door closed. You can dry off the washer’s rim and inside of the door after washing a load to help keep mold down if that is a concern.

Engage the Washer’s Lock-Out Feature
Many washers these days have a lock-out or child-lock feature—typically activated by holding a combination of buttons or holding a button down for a certain number of seconds. How they function and what they do varies: On some models, it locks the washer door and prevents a child from opening it; on others, it prevents the machine from starting. If you’re unclear what the child lock on your machine does, check the manual.

Use a Childproof Safety Lock
A lock you put on the outside of a front-load washer’s door will also prevent your child from opening it. The concept is the same as a lock for cabinet or oven doors. It's a good idea to put one on your dryer, too.

Shut Off the Water
When your washer is not in use, turn off the water valve that feeds it. Most front-loading washers will stop running and show an error code if the water is off.

Consider Installing Additional Power Switches
“Hire an electrician to wire a ‘master’ switch for the washer and another for the dryer that you can turn off when it’s not in use,” says Jim Nanni, associate director of CR’s appliance testing. “That way your child won’t be able to turn on the appliances even if she can reach the buttons.” (Such shut-off switches are required by code for mechanical equipment such as boilers.) Just make sure the switch is located out of sight and out of reach of small children.

Beware of Laundry Pods, Too
In addition to safety precautions with washers, keep in mind that laundry detergent packets, also known as pods or pacs, can be especially tempting, and dangerous, to young children.

“CR believes liquid laundry pods should be avoided in homes where children under 6 years old or adults who are cognitively impaired may be present,” says Don Huber, director of product safety for Consumer Reports. “Contact with or ingestion of the packet's liquid contents may pose a risk of serious injury or death.”