How to keep your household safe from corrosive and poisonous products.
Dishwasher detergents can cause chemical burns if eaten or left on the skin, or if they get into your eyes.
They’re highly alkaline, meaning they can dissolve many things, including human tissue. Products are less alkaline than they used to be, but they’re still dangerous – especially for children.
Always store dishwasher detergents well out of the reach of children or in a locked cupboard– especially dishwasher tablets, as a child could easily confuse them with sweets.
Only put detergent in the dishwasher when you're ready to start a wash. Make sure any residue is removed from the dispenser afterwards and close the door firmly. Burn injuries can occur when a child swallows detergent left in the dispenser.
Child-resistant packaging reduces the risk of children coming into contact with dishwasher detergent, but no container is 100% "child proof".
The National Poisons Centre advises that if a dishwasher powder or tablet is:
Swallowed: immediately rinse the mouth and remove any remaining powder. If the person is having difficulty breathing, keep them calm and help them into the recovery position or lie them on their side. Call an ambulance.
On skin: immediately flush the exposed area with lots of water and seek medical advice. Don’t leave the powder on the skin, even for a few minutes: it is corrosive and causes burns.
In eyes: immediately flush the eye with room-temperature water from a jug or low-pressure tap for at least 15 minutes and seek medical advice.
Medical advice is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from the National Poisons Centre, freephone 0800 POISON (0800 764 766). If you suspect ingestion, or the patient is unconscious or having difficulty breathing, call 111 immediately.
Several common detergent ingredients are classed as toxic or irritating by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Sodium carbonate: toxic if ingested or inhaled and an irritant to skin and eyes
Sodium silicate: toxic if ingested and corrosive to the skin and eyes
Sodium percarbonate: irritating to the eyes
Alcohol ethoxylates: most are toxic if swallowed and can irritate the skin and eyes; some can also damage your eyes
Enzymes (e.g. amylase, protease and subtilisin): most enzymes in dishwasher detergents aren’t dangerous if ingested, but they can affect the respiratory system if inhaled, and can irritate the skin and eyes
Notably, the dissolvable wrappers that tablets come in are made from water soluble polyvinyl alcohol (PVA or PVOH), a non-toxic substance.