In 2015, The Onion published a satirical op-ed from the perspective of a kid who wanted to eat Tide Pods due to their candy-like appearance. Fast forward three years and what was once considered a ridiculous, absurd joke has been turned into the latest internet craze, aptly called
“The Tide Pod Challenge,” which dares people to share videos of them biting into laundry detergent packets.
The trend has been picked up by highly impressionable teenagers and younger kids, many of whom have ended up in hospitals due to poisoning symptoms. In fact, poison control centers have already received more than 130 emergency calls related to Tide Pods in 2018—compared to only 53 calls in all of 2017.
Tide Pods have been the butt of online jokes for years due to their “appetizing” appearance. However, this “joke” took a weird twist when a CollegeHumor video released last year depicting college student eating the packets went viral. The video caused thousands of reactions online, and eventually, Twitter users reached out to candy company Gushers to share the idea of Tide Pods-looking gummies. Gushers humorously responded and mentioned that there have been plenty of other people who have suggested the idea. This kicked off a series of memes and viral videos (including the “challenge”) comparing the laundry pods to candy due to their color, shape, and smell.
While social media and businesses have been capitalizing on the situation (Tide Pod donuts, pizza, shots, etc.,) health professionals are warning the public not to take the challenge jokingly. The pH level of the highly-concentrated detergent inside the pods makes it life-threatening when it enters the human body. It can cause chemical burns to the throat, esophagus, lungs, and any other mucous membranes it comes in contact with, causing abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory arrest, seizure, and even death.
Social sites like Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter have started taking down posts that promote the challenge since they technically violate their policy against harmful content. Although Tide’s parent company Procter & Gamble has communicated that they have no intent to redesign their packaging, they have been active in educating the public about the dangers of the challenge. They even released a PSA with New England Patriots player Rob Gronkowski telling people to use Tide Pods for washing and not eating. Even rapper Ice-T made his own PSA with Jimmy Fallon on the matter.
Ever since their introduction in 2012, Tide Pods have been considered a health risk due to their “fun-sized” shape and colorful design, which is easily mistaken for candy by smaller children. In 2015, after numerous reports of children consuming their products, Tide changed the containers of their detergent pods from transparent to opaque and added a bitter substance that would condition children to spill the liquid out. Additionally, they included extensive warning labels on the packaging, and their website was updated with an entire section dedicated to this issue.
This small epidemic is not the first time social media stunts created for mass have gone too far. In recent years, trends like “The Kylie Jenner Challenge” and “The Cinnamon Challenge” have been the subject of controversy due to the young audience they’re aimed at and the potential harm they can incur. But it seems we’re a long way from learning our lesson—these so-called challenges are just getting ridiculous and more life-threatening, and The Tide Pod Challenge just serves as the latest example of that.