Tide Pods Are Friends, Not Food

by The Cowl Editor on February 2, 2018


A student holding a tide pod near their mouth.
Brianna Colletti ’21/The Cowl.

by Sarah Kelley ’18

Opinion Co-Editor

During the month of January, many Americans may reflect on how far we have come, both as a nation and as individuals. We often assess the past year in terms of economic, social, and political improvements or downfalls, and we look towards the upcoming year as an opportunity for new goals, aspirations, and intentions.

Yet, one recent and alarming trend has prompted many Americans to question how far we have really come as a society in 2018, and if we are really moving forward: the Tide Pod Challenge.

What began in 2015 as a darkly humored internet meme that jokingly presented the brightly colored detergent packets as delectable snacks, has quickly developed into a perverse and potentially fatal challenge. Teenagers today are posting videos of themselves consuming Tide Pods on Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media in order to “complete” the Tide Pod Challenge.

While many people may not realize that the Tide Pod Challenge is more than just an internet joke, the consumption of these potentially lethal detergent packets is cause for not only public health concern, but also for a serious questioning of where some of our young people stand in society in relation to this blatantly self-harming behavior.

In the first four weeks of January alone, there have been 134 reported cases of intentional detergent pod consumption by teens aged 13-19. That statistic exceeds the total number of reported cases of single load laundry packet consumption during the entire year of 2016.

And while the danger of young children and infants consuming these pods—mistaking them for bright, candy-like treats—has already been recognized and warned against, the same cannot be said for intentional consumption by teenagers.

Just last week the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) issued a press release detailing their high alert for  “Intentional Exposure Among Teens to Single-Load Laundry Packets.”

AAPCC’s CEO and Executive Director Stephen Kaminski explained, “Since our first alert to this life-threatening activity, the trend of intentionally ingesting single-load laundry packets has increased in its popularity despite repeated warnings… We cannot stress enough how dangerous this is to the health of individuals—it can lead to seizures, pulmonary edema, respiratory arrest, coma, and even death.”

Procter & Gamble—the corporation from which Tide Pods originated—is working to remove the harmful videos and images of teens performing the challenge from social media networks, as well as to provide safety information to young people about their cleaning product. Yet their loss of brand control is proving overwhelmingly obvious.

In response to the increased consumption rates, many American businesses are now even profiting from the dangerous trend, in creating and selling safe-to-consume Tide Pod-themed donuts, pizzas, and alcoholic beverages. This capitalistic response to a self-harming behavior seems almost as disturbing as the behavior itself.

Yet at the heart of this alarming spike in intentional Tide Pod consumption by teens in 2018 lies serious questions that should not be ignored. Why are these young people exhibiting such harmful behaviors when the health risks associated with consuming Tide Pods are so obvious and great? 

Is this trend a reflection of the impact of social media on certain vulnerable teens, so desperate for approval and “likes” that they will risk their own health for a positive response from peers? Does the challenge underscore a breakdown of some American families, as parents lose control of their teen children?  Or does this alarming behavior reflect a freak trend in our nation’s youth, because of stupidity, lack of common sense, or some disillusionment with reality?

As individuals and as a society, the Tide Pod Challenge reminds us of the difficult but necessary issues that must be addressed in response to such an abnormally stupid and unashamedly harmful trend.