The Brilliance of the Tide Pod Challenge

The Brilliance of the Tide Pod Challenge

The Brilliance of the Tide Pod Challenge | Darwinism on Display

I thought of naming this post “stupidity of the tide pod challenge” or cracking jokes at the expense of millennials but that’s been done so I decided to focus on the positive and the brilliance of the tide pod challenge. Like any good evolutionary development, the tide pod challenge helps weed out the terminally stupid. C’mon – aren’t we all thinking the same thing?

A lot has already been written about the tide pod challenge – but not the brilliance of the tide pod challenge, or even the problems of eating tide pods. Tide pods were developed by Proctor and Gamble and came on the market in 2012. Almost immediately, poison control centers were inundated with calls from frantic parents after their children were discovered biting into one and in some cases actually swallowing one. Between 2012 and 2013 over 7,000 cases of young children eating laundry pods (all kinds, not just Tide brand). By 2017, six deaths had been attributed to ingestion of Procter & Gamble laundry pods. 

Why were kids so crazy for the pods? It’s not as if the laundry pods tasted good. They are concentrated soap – and they taste just like, well, laundry soap. The conventional thought is that the pods are really very attractive – they look like candy, so kids being kids, they would find one and pop it in their mouths.

The Brilliance of the Tide Pod Challenge

Tide pods vs. candy

The Brilliance of the Tide Pod Challenge

The concentrated soap in the pods are divided into 3 compartments each containing a different chemical. The 3 compartments are enveloped in a layer of polyvinyl alcohol which is a water-soluble polymer. Apply water (or saliva) and it dissolves, releasing the detergent which is all well and good, provided the polymer coating is inside a washing machine where it is supposed to be.

The other ingredients include fatty acid salts, essentially long hydrocarbons that attach to grease or dirt; alcoholethoxy sulfate which binds to both dirt that’s stuck to the fibers of the clothes and water, allowing the stain to be lifted off the fibers and washed away; mannanase, an enzyme that dissolves guar gum and other difficult residues; amylase, which breaks down starch-based stains; subtilisin, another enzyme – this one breaks down keratin-based stains left behind by dead skin cells and other protein-based stains; diethylenetriamine pentaacetate, sodium salt which is a chelating molecule that binds to metals – it makes the water softer and the surfactants and enzymes better able to mobilize the stains, particularly metal-based dirt and grease; calcium formate which keeps the enzymes “folded” while sitting on the grocery store shelf; and disodium distyrylbiphenyl disulfonate, a whitening agent. In 2015, Proctor and Gamble added denatonium benzoate to the polymer casing in order to give a bitter taste – denatonium benzoate is one of the bitterest substances known to exist. They also strengthened to polymer layer to make it a bit more resistant to dissolving when contact is made with water (or again, saliva).

The weird thing is that we really have no clue as to why kids develop such severe symptoms after just putting a pod in their mouths. The most serious symptom that these kids presented with was central nervous system depression – kids eat Tide pods and then lapse into a coma. It doesn’t seem to be the alcohol in the polymer – its not ethyl alcohol. Other symptoms include coughing, vomiting, stomach upset and breathing difficulty (wheezing and shortness of breath). Fortunately, since P&G began adding the denatonium benzoate and strengthening the polymer envelop, there has been about a 40% drop in pediatric patients getting sick from the Tide pods.

Idiotic individuals, however are still a problem. The brilliance of the tide pod challenge is demonstrable as seen in these  communications with the Tide products consumer help line:

The Brilliance of the Tide Pod Challenge

Communication between consumers and the Tide products helpline.



Like they say – you can’t fix stupid.















The Brilliance of the Tide Pod Challenge

Bon appetite!

Written by Poison Boy

Gerry O'Malley (a.k.a Poison Boy) is a board certified ER doctor and toxicologist with a interest in the unusual, terrifying and occasionally hilarious world of poisonings and toxicology. This site is an exploration of poisons of historical interest as well as in current events and pop culture.

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