Ideas for Halloween costumes and decorations abound on Pinterest, Instructables, and other websites, including one that should frighten any parent of small children. Empty containers of Tide Pods laundry detergent are being turned into Halloween buckets to hold treats. This do-it-yourself Halloween bucket is a really bad idea.  

"Detergent residue can linger, so you don't want to reuse packaging from these products, especially for food or beverage storage," says Doris Sullivan, associate director of product safety at Consumer Reports. 

Tide, made by Procter & Gamble, designed these bright-orange containers to discourage children from grabbing the colorful pods, which have been mistaken for candy. But even with such efforts by P&G and other manufacturers, poisoning by exposure to the detergent in liquid laundry packets of all brands continues to be a problem.

More on Laundry Pods

The reason the Tide containers are opaque plastic instead of clear is to make the detergent pods less visible to children and reduce the temptation to reach for them. So far this year, poison-control centers nationwide have received reports of 8,665 children age 5 and younger being exposed to the detergent in liquid laundry pods and pacs, such as by ingesting, inhaling, absorbing the contents through their skin, or getting it in their eyes, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

By comparison, poison-control centers received reports of 4,899 young children getting into regular liquid and powder laundry detergent in the first nine months of this year. Swallowing that detergent often causes a mild case of stomach upset, if there are any symptoms at all, the association says. 

A child's exposure to liquid laundry pods, however, can have a significantly more serious effect because they're usually highly concentrated, according to the association. A study published in Pediatrics in May 2016 found that exposure to pods resulted in two deaths and that 104 children required intubation in 2013 and 2014. Other serious effects included coma, seizures, pulmonary edema, respiratory arrest, eye irritation, and corneal abrasion.

The Industry Reponds

Since 2012 Consumer Reports has called on manufacturers to make pods safer. Many switched from clear to opaque plastic containers, and some added child-resistant latches. But as pods became more popular, the number of reported exposures continued to increase, so we called for more changes.

We’re also part of a committee that has set a new voluntary standard for the industry, which includes adding a bitter-tasting substance on the outer film of the pods and ensuring that the pods are tougher to burst when squeezed. "Procter & Gamble, along with most major manufacturers, have rolled out changes to bring their products into conformity with the standard," says Don Huber, director of product safety for Consumer Reports. 

"All manufacturers should share incident data that shows whether or not the voluntary standard is enough to protect children," says William Wallace, a policy analyst with Consumers Union, the policy division of Consumer Reports. "While we're hopeful about the standard, it's far too soon to claim success, particularly without public data backing up that conclusion." 

We continue to urge households where children younger than 6 spend time not to use laundry pods until safety measures lead to a meaningful drop in injuries. Households should also make sure they keep all detergents and household cleaners out of sight and out of reach.

And as a result of our investigative report, we recommend that family members caring for anyone who is cognitively impaired not keep pods in the home. Read the details in "Liquid Laundry Detergent Pods Pose Lethal Risk for Adults with Dementia."