Laundry detergent pod manufacturers are facing renewed pressure to redesign packaging to make their products seem less like colorful candy so that small children or the cognitively impaired won't be enticed to mistakenly eat them and possibly die.   

Two state lawmakers from New York are the latest to call for changes, reintroducing a 2015 bill that would require manufacturers to add warning labels, make the packets a uniform color, and start selling them in child-resistant packaging. 

“The incidence of poisonings hasn’t appreciably decreased since manufacturers undertook voluntary changes,” says Sen. Brad Hoylman, a sponsor of the bill along with a fellow Democrat, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas.

“This is a serious consumer-health issue. Every year thousands of young children and adults with dementia have been poisoned,” says Hoylman.

Consumer Reports doesn't recommend the use of pods in homes with kids under 6 or anyone with cognitive impairment. We won't recommend pods until we see a meaningful drop in injuries.

“Whether or not the New York bill passes and is signed into law, manufacturers should modify liquid laundry packets to be less attractive to young children and cognitively impaired adults, who mistake the pods for something tasty to eat,” says Don Huber, director of product safety for Consumer Reports. 

Pods are colorful like candy and squishy like playthings. They're designed to dissolve quickly when exposed to water. The concentrated formulation poses a greater health risk than conventional liquid detergent, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC).

Poisoning Incidents Are Still High

At least eight people have died and many others have been poisoned after ingesting the concentrated liquid laundry detergent packets in recent years. Some lawmakers and consumer-safety advocates also point to a disturbing social media dare called “The Tide Pod Challenge,” in which teenagers have shared video clips of themselves biting into the pods. 

Poison-control centers around the country have received reports of 156 teenagers age 13 to 19 intentionally “exposing” themselves to the pods in January, after the "Tide Pod Challenge" videos began showing up online. The unofficial name of the dare is a parody of Tide advertisements touting the effectiveness of the laundry product.

Though the phenomenon among teenagers has put the safety issue back in the spotlight, the New York bill aims to protect the two most vulnerable populations, young children and adults with cognitive impairments.

In the past five years, poison-control centers have received more than 50,000 calls related to liquid laundry packet detergent exposure, most of them for children under 6 years old.

More on Laundry Pods

Simotas and Hoylman are calling for the packaging changes from all manufacturers, including Procter & Gamble, whose Tide Pods and sibling brands account for a majority of liquid laundry packet sales in the U.S. Their bill aims to lower the risk of poisoning by banning the sale of liquid detergent packets in New York State unless the individual packets are opaque instead of clear, and uniform in color.

The bill also calls for each detergent packet to be enclosed in a nonpermeable wrapper with a warning: “Harmful if put in mouth or swallowed. Eye irritant. Keep out of reach of children.” Every container must also have this warning label.

“We support the lawmakers' efforts to improve the safety of detergent packets,” says William Wallace, senior policy analyst for Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports. “Since the packets were first introduced, CR’s product-safety experts and advocates have been pushing the industry to take strong steps to protect consumers. We’re hopeful that there has been progress already, but we also think there’s more that can be done to ensure that these products are safe.”

The American Cleaning Institute, a trade group that includes detergent manufacturers, says the legislation is unnecessary because there are already initiatives addressing the safety of detergent packets.

“Manufacturers have already made major changes to their packaging, including the harder-to-open packaging, the addition of easy-to-understand safety icons, and improving warning labels to advise proper use and storage instructions,” says Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for the group. “Manufacturers of these products are also actively engaged with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to coordinate actions to reduce accidents.”

The bill is now in consumer protection committees in the Senate and the Assembly. If it passes and is signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, its mandates will apply to all concentrated liquid detergent packets sold in New York State.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified New York state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas as a state senator.