My child has eaten a washing machine tablet? What do I do?

My child has eaten a washing machine tablet? What do I do?

Child with household poisons

Children are mistaking dangerous laundry capsules for sweets at a rate of at least one incident every day, parents have been warned.

Incidents involving the often brightly coloured liquid or gel detergent capsules are happening with “deeply alarming” frequency. This has lead to the Local Government Association (LGA) warning parents to ensure they are kept out of children’s reach.

Their brightly coloured appearance and small size mean a lot of children mistake them for sweets.

Why are they dangerous?

If a child bites into the capsule it will cause a cocktail of harmful chemicals to dissolve in their mouth and be ingested, causing serious harm.

The tablets contain a cocktail of chemicals which can cause burn-related injuries, internal swelling, breathing difficulties. Even the risk of falling into a coma.

Exposure to the eyes can cause damage including temporary blindness.

How common is this problem?

Latest figures showed there was more than one incident every day involving laundry capsules and a child, usually aged under five, the LGA reports.

A survey by the UK’s National Poison Information Service found there were more than 2,000 recorded cases in five years. Four children suffered breathing difficulties, one had a burned airway and four needed the support of a ventilator.

According to the most recent yearly breakdown of data on reported exposure in the UK, there were 404 cases in 2014.

RoSPA suggest that all household chemicals should be stored either up high or in a lockable cupboard. This would significantly reduce the chances of a young child getting hold of them.

“The frequency with which these incidents are happening – at least once a day – is deeply alarming. Yet they can be easily prevented with a few simple steps of caution.”

A number of measures have already been taken in the UK to help prevent the overall risk posed by household cleaning products.

This includes legislation that requires manufacturers to use packaging which reflects the potential danger of the product. Also to have child resistant caps.

Liquid dishwasher and laundry tabs must pass a test of robustness. This includes taking more than six seconds to dissolve, and being able to resist a ‘squeeze’ test equivalent to a teenager’s grip.

In addition to this they must also incorporate a coating that is impregnated with a bittering agent to help stop children eating them.

Baby climbing into washing machine.

What do I do if my child eats a tablet?

So what is the correct treatment?

The RoSPA website provides fact sheets and checklist of actions to be taken for making homes safer.  In particular guidance on the procedures for First Aid:

  • Get medical help immediately
  • Do not let the child drink anything – neither milk or water
  • Do not make the child sick this can cause more damage to the throat (larynx, trachea)
  • If you know what has been taken, keep a sample to show to the medical services
  • If they appear to be unconscious, try to wake them and encourage them to spit out any substances
  • If a child’s lips are burned by corrosive substances, frequent sips of cold water or milk may be given
  • Residual chemicals on the skin should be rinsed away with copious amounts of water
  • Swill mouth out with water but do not allow the child to swallow.

Where can I find out more?

We have a series of blogs relating to specific child and paediatric first aid issues

Book a paediatric first aid course. Learn and practice these vital skills!


You may also be interested in our Digital Paediatric First Aid manual. The manual is free for anyone who books on one of our first aid courses, or can be purchased here

It can be downloaded to your hand held tablet or phone and includes links to a large video library demonstrating child and baby first aid techniques like CPR and injury management.