Accidental poisoning by soap products can occur as a result of contact with household cleaning products that contain strong chemicals, including soap you use to wash your body.
Most shampoos as well as hand and body soaps are minimally poisonous in small amounts, but they can irritate the eyes and cause symptoms of nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea if ingested.
Soaps not intended to clean the body are poisonous if ingested. Swallowing or inhaling these highly toxic products can result in life threatening symptoms.
If someone you know is experiencing soap poisoning, immediately call 911 or the National Capital Poison Center (NCPC) at 800-222-1222.
The signs and symptoms of soap poisoning depend on:
- the product you came into contact with
- how you ingested the product
- how much contact you had with the product
The signs and symptoms of soap poisoning can include the following:
- If soap gets in your eyes, you may experience eye redness, pain, loss of vision, or have difficulty focusing because the chemicals may burn.
- If the soap or detergent comes in contact with your skin, you may develop irritation, blisters, or even burns on the top layer of your skin.
- If you inhale fumes from soap products, you may have difficulty breathing or experience swelling in your throat. Difficulty breathing or swallowing can be life threatening.
If you swallowed the soap, pain or swelling in your throat and on your lips and tongue may develop.
You may also:
- experience symptoms of gastrointestinal distress
- begin to vomit repeatedly, which may include vomiting blood
- experience abdominal pain
- have blood in your stool
Depending on the product you ingested, you may experience burns in your esophagus.
Other signs of soap poisoning
If you have soap poisoning, you may have low blood pressure, or your heart rate may drop rapidly. In serious situations, your heart could collapse from contact with the chemicals.
Blood tests may reveal that the acid or pH level of your blood changed, which can damage your vital organs.
This doesn’t always occur with household soap products but could happen with poisoning from commercial cleaning products.
Prolonged exposure to soap or household cleaning products can lead to poisoning. People often don’t realize the strength of the products they’re using.
They may not open the windows for ventilation because they don’t realize how harmful it is to inhale chemical fumes while cleaning.
Children are at an increased risk for soap poisoning. They may accidentally poison themselves if they’re left unsupervised and ingest or inhale soap products.
If you or your child has swallowed soap, call the NCPC immediately at 800-222-1222. This is a free and confidential line to poison specialists who can give you immediate instructions. The line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The specialist will walk you through what to do next depending on you or your child’s symptoms. If the symptoms are considered severe, they may tell you to call 911 or go to an emergency room right away.
Never try to make your child or anyone who you think may have been poisoned vomit unless a medical professional asks you to do so.
Also, it’s helpful to provide the poison control specialist or medical professional with the type and quantity of soap that caused the poisoning. Bring the container of soap with you to the emergency room if you can.
Treatment for soap poisoning will vary depending on how you’ve been exposed to the chemical products. In most cases, a medical professional will begin by checking your vital signs, including your:
- blood pressure
You should tell the medical team right away if you know how much or what kind of exposure you’ve had to soap products.
The treatment for soap poisoning may include:
- pain medication
- a breathing tube
- intravenous fluids
- removal of any burned skin
- skin irrigation, or washing the skin thoroughly
- a bronchoscopy, which involves threading a camera down your throat to check for damage in the lungs and airways
- an endoscopy, which involves a camera inserted down your throat to check for burns in the esophagus and stomach
Poisoning can be life threatening. You must get treatment immediately to help prevent severe complications, including brain damage and tissue death.
The outlook depends on how much of the chemical you were exposed to and how quickly you’re able to get treatment. The sooner you can get help, the greater your chances for recovery.
If chemicals have come in contact with your skin, it may be easier to recover because the damage is mostly superficial.
However, if you swallowed soap, recovery will depend on the amount of internal damage the chemical caused. Damage to your stomach and esophagus may continue for weeks after you ingested the chemicals.
- Be mindful of the chemicals you’re using to clean your home.
- Make sure you aren’t accidentally ingesting or inhaling them.
- Open the windows when you’re cleaning.
- Take breaks to avoid being in contact with the soap product for too long.
You should also keep soap, detergents, and other household cleaners safely locked away and out of children’s reach.
Parents of young children should be especially aware of single-load liquid detergent pods for your dishwasher or laundry. These can be tempting for toddlers, and they’re also particularly dangerous.
As of December 31, 2020, there were 10,559 cases of exposure to these extra-concentrated packets of laundry detergent by children ages 5 years and younger, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
Consumer Reports recommends that families with young children avoid using liquid detergent pods altogether.
You can also try using baby locks on your cabinets and drawers. There are several options available depending on the type of cabinet you want to secure, and they work well.
Magnetic locks can be mounted inside your cabinets and drawers. Adhesive latches are a cheap and less permanent way to secure cupboards, appliances, and even the toilet.
Make sure you put any soap and household cleaners away again after using them. Don’t leave them out on a counter where they’re within your child’s reach.
When the bottle or package is empty, and you’re ready to discard it, be sure to rinse it thoroughly and throw it away safely.
The NCPC can provide more information about soap poisoning. You can call them from anywhere in the United States at 800-222-1222. This service is free, confidential, and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Soaps can be highly toxic. Call the NCPC or 911 right away for medical treatment if you believe that you or someone you know has soap poisoning.