Starch is a substance used for cooking. Another kind of starch is used to add firmness and shape to clothing. Starch poisoning occurs when someone swallows starch. This can be by accident or on purpose.
This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
Cooking and laundry starch are both made from vegetable products, most commonly:
Both are usually considered nonpoisonous (nontoxic), but some older laundry starches may contain:
Starch is found in:
Cooking starch and laundry starch are different substances. There are many brand names for both. Other products may also contain starch.
Swallowing cooking starch can cause a blockage in the intestines and stomach pain.
Swallowing laundry starch over a very long period of time can cause the symptoms below in different parts of the body:
BLADDER AND KIDNEYS
EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT
HEART AND BLOOD
STOMACH AND INTESTINES
If the starch is inhaled, it may cause wheezing, rapid breathing, shallow breathing, and chest pain.
If the starch contacts the eyes, it may cause redness, tearing, and burning.
Seek medical help right away. DO NOT make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to.
If the person swallowed the starch, give them water or milk right away, unless a provider tells you not to. DO NOT give anything to drink if the person has symptoms that make it hard to swallow. These include vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness. If the starch is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
Have this information ready:
Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Bring the starch with you to the hospital, if possible.
For cooking starch:
The person will probably not need to go to the emergency room, unless they cannot drink fluids or are in severe pain.
For laundry starch:
The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated.
The person may receive:
How well someone does depends on how much starch they swallowed and how quickly they receive treatment. The faster medical help is given, the better the chance for recovery. Cooking starch is generally not harmful, and recovery is likely. Poisoning from laundry starch is more serious.
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.