Tide Becomes Drug Currency

Basically, Tide detergent is a popular product with a very small profit margin. So small non-chain grocery and convenience stores are happy to buy it cheaply, no questions asked. This makes it easy to sell if you steal it. And drug dealers have started taking it as currency, large bottles being worth about $5.

EDITED TO ADD (2/13): Snopes rates this as “undetermined.”

Posted on February 7, 2013 at 12:51 PM30 Comments


Alan February 7, 2013 1:18 PM

I’m surprised someone hasn’t started counterfeiting bottles of Tide, i.e., sticking Tide labels on bottles filled with a generic detergent. Or maybe they have, we just haven’t heard about it yet.

Alan February 7, 2013 1:22 PM

P.S., or maybe the price point of black market Tide is about the same as a generic detergent, so there is no incentive to counterfeit it, or alternatively, black market Tide already mostly counterfeit and its price is pegged to the price of generic detergent plus a small premium?

Martin February 7, 2013 2:12 PM

Big drug deals are now conducted with Malaccamax tankers… Just watch the tankers and you get a giant drug bust ;-).

.1 grams of crack (10$) are two bottles of Tide. 1/4 gram of meth being 5-6 bottles.

Don’t know if Google gave me the correct street prices, but at the researched prices this doesn’t seem feasible to me.

Spaceman Spiff February 7, 2013 2:21 PM

So, I have to wonder how long it will be that possession of more than 2 bottles of Tide will be construed as an intent to purchase drugs, and made illegal? 🙁

jimrandomh February 7, 2013 2:26 PM

This news story reads like a press release, and it probably is one. I mean, it talks about how people are shoplifting laundry detergent, but it’s a terrible shoplifting target: too big to conceal, heavy, and not worth very much.

And then half the article is about how awesome Tide is and Tide’s history. This is clearly the work of a PR firm.

Nick P February 7, 2013 2:33 PM

Large and small retailers in the Mid-South have known about this problem for a while. My years of work experience in that field taught me plenty about thieves and their preferences, which haven’t changed. There are certain items that are easy to sell on the street and quite profitable. Here’s some categories:

  1. Baby formula
  2. Detergent
  3. Expensive meat/deli products.

(May be hidden in other products or pockets. One time I heard about a guy shoving raw chicken in his pockets.)

  1. Beer/alcohol products
  2. Shaving razors
  3. Beauty products (esp Olay’s $80-100 offerings)

They are also known for tag switching, esp markdowns and PLU’s. An example of the latter is getting organic produce, but removing the tag. Cashier will assume it’s non-organic. Such moves have the added benefit of being deniable.

Gord Wait February 7, 2013 2:45 PM

A coworker once told me that bricks of Mozzarella cheese had become the low end currency for drug deals in Vancouver.
A quick grab from a downtown grocery shop, and a quick sale at the local pizza by the slice place.
Nobody in a grocery store is going to risk their lives to prevent the theft of a $5 block of cheese..

Clive Robinson February 7, 2013 3:06 PM

It’s funny how domestic cleaning products can be used in other ways…

For those living in the UK you may depending on how old you are know of a washing (laundry) powder brand called ‘OMO’

Well it used to be sold a lot in the Army stores near “married quaters” where it had another purpose as I found out.

When the “men folk” were off getting low down on the dirt on exercise for a week or three then their “women folk” could get a bit lonely…

If you happen to be one of those who were not out on excercise for various reasons and also had occassion to walk through the married quaters you might see a box of OMO visible in a window.

It basicaly ment that someone was in need of some company… as OMO could also stand for “Old Man Out” telling any prospective suitors the coast was clear…

MingoV February 7, 2013 4:50 PM

This sounds like an urban myth. I believe the stories about shoplifting detergent — many people will steal anything they can. But, the stories about using Tide to buy drugs make no sense. A dealer will swap a tiny bag of drugs for a box or bottle of Tide? A few of those transactions and the typical dealer will need a wheelchair to move to the next corner.

T February 7, 2013 4:57 PM

You doubters! 🙂
I’m so glad to see that headline here, because I thought I was losing my mind when I saw that Tide and all it’s competitors at the grocery were selling at Gold prices.
It’s Just Soap. For God’s sake, it’s just soap.

Costco: $30 for a 15lb box of Tide powder
Target: $25 for a 9lb box same

Unfortunately, a member of my family insists on Tide, but even if that weren’t the case all the grocery shelf ‘competitors’ are the same high value, for …soap.

When I saw the price hike a couple of years ago, I thought they must be MAKING dope from the stuff, but no, it’s just a Fear Uncertainty and Doubt thing,
(we’re afraid to buy it at the Dollar Store), and it’s a price fixing problem.

If some nefarious character ever comes to my door selling discount Tide, I will take him up on it so fast his head will spin. The prices are insane–it’s just soap.
I struggle to fight the FUD.
Anyone got any Tide for sale? 😉

Nick P February 7, 2013 7:07 PM

@ T

“because I thought I was losing my mind when I saw that Tide and all it’s competitors at the grocery were selling at Gold prices.
It’s Just Soap. For God’s sake, it’s just soap. ”

The prices are ridiculous. They’re not just soap, though. There’s definitely performance differences among detergents that can justify paying more. See Consumer Reports detergents rating for the best breakdown. Also, specific detergents’ chemicals can cause skin breakouts in some people. I’m one of them. So, I’m picky about detergent.

That said, our entire household used the huge buckets of generic brand detergent for years with good effect. We used the higher quality stuff on expensive clothing or clothing with tougher stains. We didn’t need to buy pricey stuff often. Saves tons of money.

@ Alan

“I’m surprised someone hasn’t started counterfeiting bottles of Tide, i.e., sticking Tide labels on bottles filled with a generic detergent. Or maybe they have, we just haven’t heard about it yet.”

Me too. I’ve seen this done for almost every other thing. Certain bars around here put generic brand liquor into premium brand bottles and Penn & Teller showed how many restaurants fake expensive dishes using cheap fish. Clever moms have been known to trick kids by putting generic cereal in name brand boxes. The amount of counterfeit jewelry and electronics is well known.

I think the Chinese are in an ideal position to make a bunch of counterfeit detergent.

Figureitout February 7, 2013 9:47 PM

“So, what you do for living?”
–“Flip stolen Tide on the black market.”

@Nick P
–I have to use way too expensive special facial scrub made w/ ingredients from the Dead Sea (for my crappy skin) that I can only get from an Israeli mall stand, company is DSC. They list the ingredients, but obtaining “Polyquaternium 7” and other exquisite chemicals aren’t in my capability set. Israeli chemists have succeeded, unless they copied.

RE: Sensitive Skin: I think too many dryer sheets or too much soap irritates too; had some problems too. The drying process should be much less energy intensive…

Any kids from the 90’s here? Beanie babies were the rage (what a scam), and even though I had more of the worthless bags of beans than I needed (and a book predicting their future value to ^3-10 fold); I remember feeling let down by the fakers getting in on the hype my parents bought me. How hard would it have been to counterfeit the fur-patterns and stupid “Ty” tags that supposadly gave these bags of fur-covered plastic beans so much value? My family and many others got played so hard…my parents should have just said what they usually said of my requests, “No.” 🙂

anony February 8, 2013 2:28 AM


Less energy-intensive drying process in two steps:

1) Hang clothes to dry on a line or a clothing rack.

2) Wait patiently for a few hours to a few days depending on local temperatures and climate.

Adam February 8, 2013 2:44 AM

You’d be surprised at the crap that people counterfeit.

Trading standards in the UK discovered fake Tetley tea bags being sold. Tetley are a popular brand but the tea bags aren’t exactly a gold blend quality to begin with. You can buy 80 of the original tea bags for a pound so why anyone bothered to produce fakes for such a low cost item is a mystery.

So anyway if a grocery did become a commodity, you can guarantee someone somewhere will figure a way of counterfeiting it.

Figureitout February 8, 2013 3:14 AM

–Haha, yes I know. “You’re such a genius.” Both my mother and father’s residence had/has a clothes line (almost used to get “clothes-lined” by it when I was a kid). My mother’s property has been sold since her M/F are both dead. Society is such that if I did that in the “front yard” these days I’d look like a “loony”. You know my father used to take sponge baths until around high school by the fireplace (he was that poor). No one would believe the stories he’s told me, because he could own any little “sh*t talker” physically and technically. He told me he’d spend around 10 hours a day on the radio(in the summer), comms/ with the world w/ morse. He’d make most modern people look like very weak people; I can’t say what all he’s done. He’s now one of the most productive, rich person you will ever meet. Give him enough time(like a week or 2), he can fix almost any homebrew problem. My mother grew up in a house at least 1/6th the size of the house I’m in. My dad was very poor and has become more a man than I will ever be; but I won’t be someone to completely overlook because…well I’m his only offspring that will be an engineer; and that means I’m gonna learn some secrets.

GregW February 8, 2013 3:44 AM

Add to the list of odd currencies “tuna fish”.

I decided at one point that hey, when someone asks me for money, I’d ask them for what they want to spend it on, and go to a nearby store and buy it for them and give it to them. “Responsible giving”, right?

Sometimes this has resulted in a sense afterwards that I did the right thing, like when a young woman in an urban neighborhood asked me for money on the street, and when I asked what she needed, I ended up going with her and buying a (surprisingly-expensive-to-a-bachelor) $20 pack of diapers in a nearby store. She thanked me profusely afterwards and was so grateful afterwards that she offered certain sexual favors (I declined). Given her various reactions, I don’t think it was a scam.

On other occasions, the true use of the items desired were a little less clear. I admit to becoming somewhat suspicious when after being asked for money for food, I took a guy to the nearby corner grocery store. What he wanted to buy there was 2, 3, or 6 if I would buy them, cans of tuna fish (which were more expensive than I expected!) That was weird but I proceeded and got him his tuna fish. (To do good, I am willing to risk loss.) I wondered if there was really some sort of monetization angle going on here, either him returning the tuna fish to the store or selling it on the street (someone everywhere has a cat) or something but never quite figured it out. I actually ran into him again and he again wanted tuna fish, and on a third occasion he was unaware of his surroundings in a way that supported my growing suspicions he was a drug user.

In any case, in hindsight I’d say they probably were street currency after all, fitting nicely in NickP’s category 3 items (“expensive meats/deli items).

lullz February 8, 2013 8:36 AM

Junkies where I live mainly steal cheese to sell to those cheap pizza by the slice places, they also steal metal anywhere they can including trying to rip off power and old phone lines to get copper. Old screen doors made of aluminum are easy to take off from the outside and are worth $200 in scrap apparently too.

Herf Derpf February 8, 2013 7:17 PM

Perhaps this will help bring attention to a senseless tragedy going on every day in our ghettoes. Hundreds of young drug dealers are killed by drive-by bullets as they vainly attempt to seek shelter behind their stacks of collected Tide bottles. And that’s why I’m urging you to contact your representatives and demand that Tide start incorporating kevlar into the plastic their bottles are made from. Surely we could all endure a tiny rise in costs to save the lives of young people who demonstrate daily that they already have precisely what it takes to be a corporate executive or politician one day.

fish in a box February 9, 2013 2:56 PM

@GregW WSJ has an article (“Mackerel Economics in Prison Leads to Appreciation for Oily Fillets”)


that claimed one of the favoured currencies among prisoners in US prisons was canned Mackerel. The reasons: it has established value ($1 each), is durable and easily stored, and has very little use value as everyone hated to eat it. It replaced cigarettes when they were banned. They have quotes from the import broker who reports that they have trouble selling it anywhere else in the USA, but prisons are huge customers.

MW February 10, 2013 12:55 AM

I just looked up the price of aluminium – it is about US$2000/ton. So, assuming zero profit for the scrap metal merchant accepting stolen goods, those must be 100kg screen doors.

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