The Washington Post

On local black market, a bottle of Tide detergent buys $10 of crack

If you’ve ever wondered why your local CVS keeps Tide detergent locked up, journalist Ben Paynter has an interesting theory: Apparently on some less reputable corners, Tide doubles as a street currency. A 150-ounce bottle gets you $5 cash — or $10 of marijuana and crack cocaine.

Paynter’s story in last week’s New York magazine, cheerily titled “Suds for Drugs,” details rising detergent theft and the black-market motives. The story, which takes place largely in Prince George’s County, has drawn attention to a phenomenon local drugstores and supermarkets have observed since at least 2004.

“I understand that some of those stealing the Tide were using it in trade for drugs,” a spokesman for the Prince George’s police told the Post last March. “In our special enforcement division, they actually call it liquid gold.”

Before you padlock your own store of detergent, keep in mind that Tide isn’t the only ad hoc “gold” around -- thefts of household property in general are on the rise, and a wide variety of products moonlight as currency on the local black market. Among the big sellers:

●Stolen Dove soap gets only a dollar on resale, but it’s popular with thieves because “it’s easy to sell.”

●Police in Prince George’s County busted a barbershop for brazenly selling stolen toothpaste, Tide and Dove body wash out of visible glass cases, “like this mini pharmacy.”

●Diapers, clothing and frozen foods disappeared from store shelves last winter, the same thieves nabbed copper gutters and downspouts from 26 homes.

●High-end make-up and lotion remain a predictably popular target -- last year, two D.C. women stole $20,000 worth of product and resold it from the trunks of their cars.

Caitlin Dewey is The Post’s digital culture critic. Follow her on Twitter @caitlindewey or subscribe to her daily newsletter on all things Internet. (


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