Five Years Later: The Tide-For-Drugs Phenomenon

FIVE YEARS LATER THE TIDE-FOR-DRUGS PHENOMENONIn 2011, the squeaky-clean image of Tide detergent may have been somewhat tarnished in the eyes of some Americans. That was the year the “Tide-for-drugs” phenomenon hit the media.

As New York Magazine recounted in a 2013 article, local law enforcement officials all over the country began to get reports of strange shoplifting episodes. People were stealing dozens of bottles of Tide from convenience stores, grocery stores, superstores.

By the end of 2012, the popular brand of detergent was so often stolen that it reached the National Retail Federation’s list of most-targeted items.


Stores were losing tens of thousands of dollars worth of this product alone, monthly. It was hard for many retailers to stem the outward flow of the bright orange bottles from their shelves. Tide isn’t something you keep locked behind a glass case, and doing so might have dissuaded potential buyers from purchasing it.

Tide is relatively easy to steal, and it is a long-beloved brand by many. As New York Magazine’s writer Ben Paynter points out, in a 2009 survey the detergent brand ranked in the top three name brands consumers were unwilling to stop buying even in the economic recession.

The reason why Tide came to be known as “liquid gold,” why addicts could trade it for drugs, is its popularity. Addicts in need of a fix also sold it cheap to corner stores and salons. These businesses were able to resell it and reap a much higher profit margin than dealing the detergent honestly.

For its part, Proctor & Gamble, the company that owns the brand, didn’t get too bent out of shape about the Tide-for-drugs phenomenon.

The company’s marketing director told New York Magazine, “It’s unfortunate that people are stealing Tide, and I don’t think it’s appropriate at all, but the one thing it reminds me of is that the value of the brand has stayed consistent”.


A 2015 article in the Arizona Daily Star cited an instance of a mass Tide theft from a Safeway in the local community of Oro Valley.

A man came in and stole seven bottles of Tide one day. Then a month later returned with an accomplice to steal seven more bottles, the article states.

At that time, it struck the local police as an uncommon type of theft. Later they identified it as part of the Tide-for-drugs trend.

There isn’t much talk of the “liquid gold” in the orange bottle being used as a currency in the drug market these days, but perhaps that’s because the story’s novelty has worn off.

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