Update 3.14: Has the Tide theft story been blown way out of proportion? A trend story put on spin cycle? This is what one publication has to say.

Things you’d totally expect to be branded with a security tag or kept locked up in a case or behind the registers at your local CVS or Walgreens: disposable razor cartridges, Sonicare replacement heads, nicotine patches and gum, that fancy Bumble & Bumble conditioner, batteries, cosmetics, OTC painkillers, Preparation H (no joke), Jennifer Lopez’s latest perfume.

Things you wouldn’t expect to be branded with a security tag or kept locked up in a case or behind the registers at your local CVS or Walgreens: liquid laundry detergent.

Well, that may all change — and has already changed in some areas — as Tide liquid detergent has apparently become a lucrative commodity on the black market where it sells for between $5 and $10 a jug (Tide usually retails for more than $10). Aside from being a laundry room staple in households across America, the popular detergent in the bright orange plastic bottle is often also used as currency — “liquid gold,” if you will — in the drug trade. Rick Blake, a detective with the Gresham, Ore., police department, tells The Daily: “They’ll do it right in front of a cop car — buying heroin or methamphetamine with Tide. We would see people walking down the road with six, seven bottles of Tide. They were so blatant about it.”

Reacting to the upswing in Tide-related thefts — one guy in St. Paul, Minn., made off with $25,000 worth of the stuff over a 15-month span before being caught — retailers like CVS are ramping up security measures around the stain-busting product, and the authorities in some cities are assembling special task forces to handle pilfered laundry soaps.

Given that I’m not exactly an expert in the ways of shoplifting bulky items from the laundry aisle of brightly lit chain drugstores, I have to wonder how Tide thieves get away with it or, ahem, clean up. I mean really, you can’t exactly conceal 52 loads of HE liquid laundry detergent with Febreeze in your coat or in your pants, can you? According to The Daily, most offenders slip out of stores with carts filled with the product and into awaiting getaway cars. Says Detective Larry Patterson of the Somerset Police Department in Kentucky: “There’s no serial numbers and it’s impossible to track. It’s the item to steal.”

This dubious distinction is probably the last thing Tide’s maker, Procter & Gamble, wants at the moment as they push Tide Pods, the company’s long-awaited, not-hot-on-the-black-market dissolvable detergent/stain fighter/brightener capsule with a “multi-chamber design.” Appealing, sure, especially for those who are tired of hauling big plastic jugs around, but I’ll wait until P&G releases a petrochemical-free cold-water version without the noxious-sounding “Mystic Forest,” “Spring Meadow,” or “Ocean Mist” scents. I get the feeling I may be waiting a long time. Dropps offers a similar, more eco-friendly product that I’ve used before and recommend.

But I digress. P&G doesn’t have much to say about Tide's popularity on the black market other than this: “We don’t have any insight as to why the phenomenon is happening, but it is certainly unfortunate,” Sarah Pasquinucci, a spokeswoman for P&G, tells The Daily.

Whether this is all just a bizarre shoplifting trend that will soon pass or one of the weird ways in which the down economy is rearing its ugly head (most likely a combination of the two), I'm not going to worry until there's a shady character on every other street corner pushing bars of Fels-Naptha. Psst. Hey buddy, I got something here for you — excellent price ... even better stain pre-treating abilities. Soothes bug bites and poison ivy rashes, too. I'll give you a good deal. Then, I'd know that something is really wrong.

Via [The Daily]

MNN homepage photo: Joshua Lott/Reuters

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Orange bottle, black market: Tide detergent thefts sweep nation
Authorities and retailers across the country are on high alert as a most unlikely product, Tide liquid laundry detergent, becomes all the rage with shoplifters