Tide is the new currency on the criminal underground, can be exchanged for meth

The Daily's M.L. Nestel cites law enforcement reports from across America describing a crime-wave of Tide detergent thefts, including claims that bottles of easily resellable, name-brand washing soap can be bartered for meth and heroin in Gresham, OR.

Tide has become a form of currency on the streets. The retail price is steadily high — roughly $10 to $20 a bottle — and it’s a staple in households across socioeconomic classes.

Tide can go for $5 to $10 a bottle on the black market, authorities say. Enterprising laundry soap peddlers even resell bottles to stores.

“There’s no serial numbers and it’s impossible to track,” said Detective Larry Patterson of the Somerset, Ky., Police Department, where authorities have seen a huge spike in Tide theft. “It’s the item to steal.”

Why Tide and not, say, Wisk or All? Police say it’s simply because the Procter & Gamble detergent is the most popular and, with its Day-Glo orange logo, most recognizable of brands.

It’s a dirty job: Police nationwide take on soaring Tide detergent theft (via Consumerist)


  1. My BS meter is in the red on this one.  Bottles of laundry detergent seem exceptionally unwieldy for currency, especially at the prices listed in the article.  Nobody wants to lug some 180lb pallet of the things just to get some drugs. 

    The concern that it is less traceable than paper money seems weird too.  Paper money has serial numbers, but as a tracking mechanism they are pretty much only useful if the cops had you dead to rights already, and it’s not like they could put some sort of identifier on your detergent if they wanted, like a chemical trace. 

    Not to mention the difficulty in turning this back into actual cash. The article suggested that they’re reselling the bottles back to the stores that were robbed earlier, which has to be an awkward meeting. Some store manager has a gang banger walk up and offer to sell a vanload of random varieties of Tide, some of which the store doesn’t carry, for what has to be pennies on the dollar. It’s a lot of effort for the gang member and would seem to have pretty low profit margins. It is hard to imagine a situation where this is preferable to just taking your chances with cash and laundering it the old fashioned way (with Borax presumably).

    1. agreed.   at least something like balsamic vinegar or chestnut puree gets a bit closer to the density o’ cash.  (and we all know about the scary black market in fake french truffles (from China), don’t we?)

    2. A user steals a bottle of tide and their dealer accepts it as payment for a, or a couple, fix(es) worth of drug. The dealer has two basic choices for liquidating the detergent, which determines the value. Sell it on the “black market” (undervalued) or trade it for cash at a store (equal, or nearly, value of MSRP).

      There are various ways to accomplish the latter. The easiest is probably returning it with a receipt. Funnily enough, there’s probably a market for receipts in areas where Tide is used as currency. Next, selling it to a small local store that isn’t going to question 90c on the dollar Tide. Finally, amassing enough Tide to sell a palette of same-type detergent to a big box store. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear of large-volume dealers acting as, or with, licensed distributors.

    3. What probably happened was that they busted a guy who had a lot of laundry detergent, and invented a trend for it.

    4. Razor refills have been locked up for a long time. High price, small package, in high demand. Used as currency, they’re pretty ideal. I’ve seen them in small corner stores with remnants of labels that resemble Walgreen’s security stickers- pretty obviously resold at lower cost through the black market.

      As a commodity, Tide is just a poor target. Agree on BS.

      1. About reselling: a plausible tactic I’ve heard is for privately-owned gas stations to search unsold newspapers for coupons and then purchase products at a discount to resell in the gas station.

      1. Yeah.. they are… I believe it was recently discovered second most miserable place to live by Forbes.com?

        And I’m not someone just picking on KY.. I grew up there (30 years) and got out.

  2. Police also warn that teenagers across the nation are using Tide-soaked tampons inserted rectally to smuggle Tide into schools to barter for high-grade heroin. A police spokesperson noted that any teenager who does laundry or smells of detergent be reported to law enforcement agencies immediately.

  3. Infant formula is another popular shoplifting target. In many shops it has been moved  behind the service counter.

    Why not steal balsamic vinegar or capers? Because it would be harder to resell those to Mom & Pop stores, or out of a van.

    FYI: Gresham is a suburb / city east of Portland, at the end of the light rail line. It has a scruffy working class rep.

    1.  I doubt baby formula is being used for currency on any sort of widespread basis.  The reasons for stealing it are obvious:  The stuff is expensive and babies go through a lot of it.  If you can’t breastfeed for whatever reason and you don’t have much cash (especially if you don’t qualify for government aid due to being an illegal alien or something) then you don’t have a lot of options. 

      I don’t know about you, but I would not go shopping for laundry detergent on street corners.  Maybe they’re pushing it, but again, how much of the stuff are they going to have to sell to get their money?  It’s not like you go through a bottle a week. 

      The whole story smells like something someone made up just to see how far it would travel around the internet. 

      1. Baby formula is definitely stolen and resold at bodegas in Chicago. Maybe Tide is too, but in neither case does it strike me as an important part of the drug issue. It is a means to get money. 

  4. I can see it now- you must prove you are over 18 by showing an ID, and Tide will now be kept in the same area as cigarettes…

  5. Everyone needs to do their laundry.  Inflation and petrol speculation have jacked the price of laundry detergents into the unaffordable range for far too many Americans.  Tide is nealy iconic.  It’s creative, but plausible (and St. Paul police *did* bust a theif, so it actually happened.  I’d imagine it’s much easier to sell a bottle of detergent to anyone in your neighborhood at a steep discount off retail price than pawn stolen laptops and game systems.  Only so many pawn shops.  I’d hazard you can only take so many laptops to the same broker before the broker gets worried that he’s about to get stung for fencing.

  6. I would consider it bull if I hadn’t seen some pretty amazing things being sold on the street… like half-frozen turkeys on Thanksgiving. Who buys a turkey off a guy on the street on Thanksgiving? Some one. Some one does… and that’s what matters.

    That being said the article is probably… overstating.

  7. This smells like jenkem to me.  Tide is $8/bottle on amazon, and generic detergents are more like $3/bottle in stores.  I simply do not believe that there is an actual market for stolen laundry detergent.

  8. If you are looking to buy Tide powdered detergent on the black market, be very very careful about who you deal with.  I thought I’d bought 2.4 kilos of Tide detergent but then when I got home it didn’t clean very well.  With some careful experimentation, I found out it was just uncut cocaine.  Well, crap.  What am I going to do with all this cocaine when my clothes are dirty?

    1. Are you serious? They do cleaning chores for days at a time. If you need some really nasty grout cleaned, hire a tweaker and pay him/her up front.

      1. Tweakers just want to do their clothes in Tide because, during the winter, they can’t do them out-tide.

  9. Yeah, this just popped up on Snopes today.  And they quote the story from The Daily above and follow-up with a story from FoxNews that  suggests that the original story is bogus:


    And yeah, the second story is FoxNews, but the first story is TheDaily, which is also a NewsCorp company.  So we’ve got one NewsCorp company telling another NewsCorp company they’re full of crap.  Wheels within wheels people – wheels within wheels.

  10. Bleach keeps you young
    so I’m told
    ’cause no one who drinks it
    lives to get old

    I love the “Tide Pods” ad at the bottom of the page.  That’s some real good  targeted advertising there.  I wonder what the street value is on them…

  11. Anybody else getting the ad for “Tide Pods” on this page?

    While it’s extremely unlikely that any part of this story is true, let’s assume that it is: and if so, that makes people even dumber than previously imagined. As a “maker,” and/or cheapskate, let me tell you that I’ve done extensive testing between brand name detergents and the absolute cheapest $1.79 a gallon stuff from Jewel. Guess what? They’re both equally effective detergents. If there was ever a product that screamed out “buy the generic,” it’s laundry detergent.

    I mean, I don’t know who would be a bigger dope in this scenario: people who exchange Tide on the black market, or consumers who pay full price for that crap.

    1. Anybody else getting the ad for “Tide Pods” on this page?

      Nope, I get the Merry Maids Housecleaning Service.  “Sparkle & Shine.  Relax.  It’s Done.”

  12. Did you try without detergent at all?  I’m not convinced it is particularly necessary unless you have a big greasy stain or something.

    1. Here we go, now we’ll start hearing about how you can supposedly even SHOWER without detergent.

  13. Since a member of the local constabulary is mentioned, I’d expect the local media to be all over this story like a wine stain on a silk blouse. But a quick search of the TV news stations’ sites and the local fishwrap isn’t turning anything up. Nor is Google turning much up except sites echoing the same story.

    So take this one with a big grain of salt laundry detergent.

  14. I think the biggest problem with this story is the volume of detergent the dealers would have to go through. I have it on good authority that meth sells for about $80-$100 a gram in my area. If we take the article at its word, bottles of Tide go for $5-10 on the black market. So a gram of meth is between 8 and 20 bottles of Tide. Now, ask yourself, how many grams is the dealer selling in a week or a month? Multiply that by 8 or 20, and on top of that, add in the hassle that the dealer has to go around to stores trying to find somebody to buy back his black market detergent. No fucking way.

    My guess, if this story has any truth to it at all, is ONE dealer somewhere had a hook-up who would buy Tide from him, and he or she was accepting purloined detergent as payment. There’s no way that the perfect storm of circumstances necessary to make this a profitable and feasible enterprise occurs regularly.

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