Ingesting Tide Pods: Explaining the Viral and Incomprehensible

Kian Lavender

Ever seen a Tide Pod?  These orange-and-blue squishy laundry packets may resemble sweets, but at the end of the day, they’re laundry packets. No one would try to eat one — right?  Unfortunately, wrong.  Procter & Gamble’s Tide Pods are nothing new either — they…

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Ever seen a Tide Pod? 

These orange-and-blue squishy laundry packets may resemble sweets, but at the end of the day, they’re laundry packets. No one would try to eat one — right? 

Unfortunately, wrong. 

Procter & Gamble’s Tide Pods are nothing new either — they were originally introduced as Tide, the first heavy-duty laundry detergent in 1946 and they took over as a household item by the beginning of the 1950s.

But in 2012, P&G’s Tide was repackaged in a colourful, concentrated packet of detergent, trapped in a see-through, dissolvable film and renamed Tide Pods. 

While Procter & Gamble was not responsible for the trend of consuming their product, the similarity of their repackaged Tide Pods to a sweet was as clear as freshly washed clothing. 

They do seem like a lolly (in reference to Tide Pods)

-Nathan Kilah, Senior Lecturer in Chemistry

Then on March 31st, 2017, comedy company CollegeHumour posted a video on their YouTube named “Don’t Eat the Laundry Pods”, featuring a college man confessing to eating one out of temptation and being admitted to the hospital for poisoning. 

This video went viral and generated over 2 million views by the end of the year. 

While the joke originally stemmed from the absurdity of consuming a laundry packet, it is clear in today’s age that not everyone got the memo. 

Within the first 15 days of 2018, there were 39 confirmed incidents of intentionally misused detergent pods. Compared to the 39 confirmed cases for all of 2016, this was a sharp contrast. 

Originally, the joke around detergent packets, specifically Tide Pods, was centred around how bizarre ingesting one would be. But social media had other ideas. 

The Tide Pod Challenge: What’s so Bad About it?

As we know, laundry detergent is not meant for consumption — and certainly not something to be viewed as an accomplishment to ingest. 

But what really happens when you eat a Tide Pod? What’s so bad about it? 

So if we ignore the obvious no-nos that come with eating a Tide Pod (burning sensation and irritation in your mouth and throat, dizziness or confusion, diarrhea), we’re left with respiratory problems, choking and coughing abdominal pains, and nausea. 

As you can imagine, the stomach isn’t really designed to handle massive amounts of laundry detergent in it, so the body’s reaction will, naturally, be to expel said laundry detergent. 

But it doesn’t stop there — throwing up the detergent makes foam, and inhaling this foam can cause suffocation. 

The biggest problem is that if you vomit it up, the foam can be inhaled, and if the foam is inhaled into the lungs, the chemicals will start to burn through lung tissue and cause suffocation. – Nathan Kilah, Chemist

So if you couldn’t tell, eating the Tide Pods is definitely a big no-no. Even if you are hungry. 

Tide’s parent company, Procter & Gamble weren’t too happy with the challenge either — going as far as working with New England Patriots player Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski to help get the message out to the public. 

The company also put warnings on the front of their containers, advising parents to keep Tide Pods out of reach of young children who may mistake them for candy. But that’s not all — Facebook, YouTube and Instagram have also been busy, scrubbing their platforms clean of posts referencing the Tide Pod challenge.

Social Media and Tide Pods

Everyone loves a bit of social media now and then. 

Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, you name it, you or someone you know’s on it.

And everyone loves a quick laugh now and then, hence the rise of trends on social media. At their core, trends are simply a type of post discussing popularised topics and ideas.

Harmless, right? 

But every once in a while, social media trends appear that are a) harmful, b) hard to make sense of, or c) all of the above (cough, the Tide Pod challenge, cough).

So, why did people participate in this trend? 

People typically participate in hazardous trends such as the Tide Pod challenge for one thing: the attention economy — likes, views, and shares. 

The online reinforcement one receives (in the form of likes, shares, retweets and comments) does act as a source of motivation for users who view positive interaction as validation. According to psychologist Divna Haslam, individuals with poor self-esteem are more likely to be impacted by social media trends and participate in the race to become viral. 

It appears online reinforcement in the form of likes, shares and retweets do motivate some teens who view these as a form of personal validation. This may motivate some teens to engage in activities or make posts of a certain type in the hopes of getting attention and support. – Divna Haslam, Psychologist. 

To make matters worse, when it comes to these social media trends, the validation that comes with likes, shares, comments and retweets has made many social media users disregard the risks and potential dangers associated with whichever trend they’re participating in. 

History repeats itself. The Condom Snorting challenge, the Kiki challenge, and the Tide Pod challenge are all harmful trends that throw personal health out of the window in an attempt to go viral. 

The Tide Pod challenge is now long gone — just one memory out of many. 

But through stricter moderation of the content that appears on our favourite platforms (Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, etc.), the misinformation that comes with the uprising of such trends as well as the trends themselves can be silenced. 

Music Credit: Boy Lofi on YouTube.

Image Credit: RDNE Stock ProjectDavide Baraldicottonbro studio

Reference List

Bever, L. (2018, January 18). Teens are daring each other to eat Tide pods. We don’t need to tell you that’s a bad idea. The Washington Post. Retrieved from 

Dyer, H. T. (2019, June 13). Tide Pod challenge: Blaming stupid millennials is the easy way out. Retrieved from The Conversation website: 

Kilah, N. (2023, July 25). A new TikTok trend has people drinking toxic borax. An expert explains the risks – and how to read product labels. Retrieved September 27, 2023, from The Conversation website: 

National Capital Poison Center. (n.d.). Laundry Detergent Pods and Children. Retrieved from website: 

Nelson, B., & Schultz, P. (2019, November). The Tide Pod Challenge: Responding to The Threat of Viral Internet Phenomena. Retrieved September 27, 2023, from website: 

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