The Tide of Currency

The other morning I had to run into Rite Aid to grab something before work. When I got to the checkout line, there was a bit of commotion. The police were there and they had one half of a shoplifting duo. The guy looked sad and hard on his luck. The girl had slipped away, though they had her backpack. In the backpack was the purloined item: a big red/orange bottle of Tide detergent, the kind with the pushbutton pour-spout.

I thought to myself that those two must be pretty hard on their luck if they had to steal laundry detergent. Either that, or they were kleptomaniacs, though the bulkiness of the detergent makes it seem like a weird sort of thing to steal on impulse.

I noted the weirdness, then never thought of it again. UNTIL…

A few days later, this article appears:


The tl;dr form of that article is that police are baffled by hooligans stealing Tide detergent. Somehow, druggies are using it as street currency to purchase drugs.

In a way, this answered the riddle of the Tide, but in turn it poses a few more questions. Where does the Tide ultimately go? How is it exchanged back into cash? Just as you would be concerned about the purity of your drugs, do people worry about the purity of the Tide — if someone had a full jug and an empty jug, can you split it 50/50 and cut it with water or blue Gatorade or something?

The chain of events and chain of custody just does not make sense to me.

  1. A meth-head steals a bottle of Tide.
  2. The meth-head goes to a meth dealer and trades the Tide for meth.
  3. The dealer goes further up the chain, trading the Tide to the meth manufacturer to get his supplies?
  4. The manufacturer has a stockpile of Tide?
  5. At some point, this Tide needs to be exchanged back into currency.
    • Does someone attempt to return it to a store? Without a receipt? For cash?
    • Is there a gray market where meth-heads use money to buy the Tide? And if so, why don’t they just use the money to begin with instead of lugging around the more bulky Tide bottles? It would certainly be quicker to run away if the police tried to nab you mid-transaction.
    • Can it be bartered for something more useful?  How frequently until you flood the market with detergent?
    • Can it be distilled or converted into something more useful, as can (old-school) Sudafed?
Big, heavy bottles of laundry detergent just don’t make sense to me as a unit of currency. You might as well be using Rai Stones.
Posted in: Dear Diary Portland

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Brian Enigma

Brian Enigma is a Portlander, manipulator of atoms & bits, minor-league blogger, and all-around great guy. He typically writes about the interesting “maker” projects he's working on, but sometimes veers off into puzzles, software, games, local news, and current events.

One thought on “The Tide of Currency”

  1. My guess is that they can just easily sell it at flea markets, swap meets, etc that you see all over the country. I went to many flea markets when I was a kid and you would see products like this all the time there, just like you do at many dollar stores. The same can go for batteries and other commodities that everyone uses or a large amount of people (cigarettes).

    As far as what half a bottle would be worth, I would guess nothing since you can’t prove the quality. I haven’t bought laundry detergent in years b/c I use a service (my clothes are clean, I promise!), but I imagine there is some type of seal that is broken when opened and would decrease or erase the value.

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