Oct 29, 2001: How Toxic are Detergents and Soaps?

Soaps are the product of a reaction between  alkali and fats or oils.  Detergents are a bit more toxic as they contain combinations of surfactants which lower the surface tension of water and allow it to remove dirt more efficiently.

Clinical presentation of patients who have ingested detergents or soaps is usually nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  Treatment is supportive and the process is self-limiting.  Inhalation of detergents, however, may require a more detailed evaluation.  Upper respiratory tract edema with stridor, drooling and fever, as well as respiratory distress can occur. Some detergents have additives such as cationic surfactants that can cause corrosive injury. Cationic detergents with pH greater than 7.5 can cause caustic injury to the gut, eye, or skin.  Ingestion of these detergents can also cause pulmonary edema and hypotension.  Treatment is supportive. ds

As always, if there are any questions, call the MTPC.

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Donna Seger