Desiccant doesn't mean poison. It's a scientific word for a chemical substance that loves and absorbs water. Common desiccants include silica, activated charcoal, and calcium chloride. These chemicals are inert, another word for stable. This means that those little desiccant packets won't harm anything that they are packed in. They will just absorb moisture. Retailers use these little packets to protect their wares. Silica gel is the most common desiccant packet on the market. There are some common myths--and some suggestions for resuse--about these silica packets.
Myth 1: It's poisonous.
Parents have long told their kids that the silica gel packets that they find in their new shoes is poisonous and to throw them away. If you break one of the packets open and put it in your mouth, your mouth will likely dry out badly enough to prevent you from swallowing if you haven't spit out the substance already. If you did swallow the silica gel, your eye and nasal membranes would be so dry that they'd hurt. Your throat would be extremely irritated and your stomach would hurt. But that is because of the water absorption and not due to poison.
In fact, according to How Stuff Works, a 210-pound man would have to eat nearly 59,000 of the silica gel desiccant for it to absorb the water in his body and kill him.
Myth 2: You can't reuse the packets.
Don't throw them away! You can reuse them, even if they've absorbed moisture from the product that they were packed with. In fact, many people swear that the silica gel packets are better than rice for absorbing water from a cell phone that has been fished out of the toilet (or wherever). Just remove your SIM card, place the phone in a baggie full of the packets and wait a few days. Don't touch the cell phone while it is drying! Use the packets for emergency food storage areas, old pictures, scrapbooks, and any area of the home that needs free of moisture.
Myth 3: Don't touch the used silica beads.
Go ahead and open a silica gel desiccant packet. You'll notice that it's full of little beads. If the beads have done their job and have absorbed water, you can reuse them by drying them out in the oven or by recharging them in your microwave. Store them in airtight containers.
One Caveat: Little Kids Love To Eat
Now that those three myths are debunked, you still want to tell your kids not to play with the packets. Especially toddlers who are known to put everything possible into their mouths. The packets are a choking hazard. If they break open and get swallowed, you still need to get your child to the ER to make sure that they are okay. It's all common sense. Mom was still right to tell the kids to not play with them. Now, however, just pop them in some place that's airtight and use them over and over.