There are many domestic dangers that continue to cause young children serious accidents in the home.

Babies and toddlers are at particular risk as they explore the world by putting things in their mouths. Toddlers are naturally inquisitive and determined and liquitabs and cleaning tablets often look edible and appealing.

More than 800 million gel capsules or liquitabs are believed to be sold every year in the UK. However, their brightly coloured liquid is attractive to young children and has led to little ones being burned or poisoned from putting them in their mouths or swallowing them. Or suffering eye injury if the liquid enters their eyes.

Read on to find out more about the dangers of these common household hazards and first aid should one be consumed


Attractive nature

Experts from the University of Alabama in the US warned tabs are much more likely to lead to poisoning than other washing detergents. This is believed to be due to their brightly coloured nature which proves attractive to children.


Higher rates

The study, published in Injury Prevention, discovered that there are much higher rates of poisoning and hospital visits among children who have been in contact with liquitabs. Liquitabs in particular are implicated, as opposed to other forms of washing powders and liquids. 

Additionally, there were 1,486 incidents involving laundry capsules in the UK between May 2009 and July 2012, equating to more than one a day. In France there were 7,500 reports between 2005 and 2013, and Ireland experienced 200 incidents in 2012 and 2013.

Children under five are most commonly involved and some even required reconstructive surgery.


RoSPA reports

If we use them correctly, these products are completely safe and very effective. However, RoSPA reports a recent survey demonstrated that 45% of store-bought liquid laundry capsules within reach of children, unaware of the risks involved.

Nearly 1500 children were admitted to hospital last year following the accidental ingestion of liquitabs. Some of those admitted required ventilation in Intensive Care and a couple required re-constructive surgery.

These capsules are enticingly appealing to little ones. Please store them safely; well out of sight and reach in a locked cupboard. ROSPA are so concerned that they have been handing out safety kits and specific advice.


First aid in the case of ingestion

If you find a child has put a dishwasher tablet or some other corrosive substance in their mouth – keep as calm as you can.


Reassure and rinse

Reassure them, remove any visible substance and rinse away any visible substance on their face or hands. If you think they have eaten or swallowed a corrosive substance. Phone the emergency services.

If a child was to mistake a dishwasher or washing machine capsule or tablet for a sweet it could cause serious damage – cleaning products are extremely alkaline and can burn the skin fast.


Swill with milk or water

If a child has put a dishwasher tablet in their mouth it is important to remove it and rinse the product away as quickly as you can. Protect yourself if possible, but attend to them fast. If they have swallowed some of the product, ideally get them to swill milk or water around their mouth and spit it out and then give them small sips of milk or water to dilute the product down their throat.

DO NOT MAKE THEM SICK as this will cause them to burn again as the corrosive product comes back up.

Phone for an ambulance and keep giving them small sips of milk or water.

Look for specific advice on the packaging

Look at the box that the substance has come from and read the advice in case of accidental ingestion.


Unable to breathe

If they have swallowed some of the product, it is possible that it will have burnt both their oesophagus and their airway and this can lead to their airway swelling and becoming obstructed so that they are unable to breathe. If this happens and they go unconscious and stop breathing, you will need to resuscitate them by giving them breaths followed by chest compressions.


Protect yourself

It is important that you protect yourself when giving the breaths – this can be done with a pocket mask or plastic bag with a hole in it – cover the mouth with the bag and breath through the hole in the bag into the nose – thereby protecting yourself and ensuring that you are not burnt as well. Keep the paramedics updated.


Take product with you

When the ambulance takes you to hospital, take the box of tablets and the remains of any tablet they have swallowed as this will help the doctors to treat them in the best way possible.


Useful Poisoning Advice for Parents

Some common household chemicals are incredibly toxic to children and can cause seizures, vomiting, blurred vision, acute anaphylaxis and can be fatal.

  • Keep all potentially harmful substances out of reach of small children and ideally in a locked cupboard. This includes dishwasher tablets, medicines, alcohol, cosmetics, DIY supplies, cleaning and gardening products and potentially poisonous plants.
  • Never decant medication or any other products into different containers. Always use the original containers, clearly labelled, ideally with childproof lids.
  • Keep batteries out of reach of small children and ensure that batteries in toys and gadgets are firmly secured. Batteries can burn a child’s intestine, causing irreparable damage.
  • Fit carbon monoxide alarms and have appliances and alarms regularly checked.
  • Tidy up straight after a party as little ones are likely to be the first up and could easily finish the dregs of drinks and help themselves to anything else before you’re even awake.
  • Be careful of other people’s handbags left accessible to children as they could have numerous potentially lethal hazards inside.
  • Choose cleaning products containing Bitrex which is bitter to discourage children from drinking the substances. Children can easily mistake a dishwasher or washing machine capsule/tablet for a sweet – keep them out of site and don’t be tempted to leave them in the door of the machine. Cleaning products are strong alkali and burn.
  • Don’t let children eat any plants in the house, garden or countryside.
  • Store medication carefully, be particularly careful with birth control pills and analgesics that are commonly kept on the bedside cabinet.


Written by Emma Hammett for First Aid for Life

First Aid for Life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information. It is strongly advised that you attend a First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.