How Tide Detergent Became a Drug Currency

by Christopher Paul on January 13, 2013

New York Magazine put out an article that got some attention this week (or last, I can’t remember). It’s called Suds for Drugs and it talks about how Tide, the laundry detergent, is stolen and used as currency in the underground business of drug dealing. Odd to believe but the article explains it. However, I hand’t read the article until today, when I saw Dustin Curtis quoted something I hadn’t thought of before: Tide (and liquid surfactants) are a relatively new thing. And prior to their widespread use, most people didn’t own many clothes. Those they did were worn several times before cleaning because manual hand washing and the bars of soap would wear out the threads much faster.

Before the advent of liquid detergent, the average American by one estimate owned fewer than ten outfits, wearing items multiple times (to keep them from getting threadbare too fast) before scrubbing them by hand using bars of soap or ground-up flakes. To come up with a less laborious way to do the laundry, executives at Procter & Gamble began tinkering with compounds called surfactants that penetrate dirt and unbond it from a garment while keeping a spot on a shirt elbow from resettling on the leg of a pant. When the company released Tide in 1946, it was greeted as revolutionary. “It took something that had been an age-old drudgery job and transformed it into something that was way easier and got better results,” says Davis Dyer, co-author of Rising Tide, which charts the origins of the brand. “It was cool, kind of like the iPod of the day.” Procter & Gamble, naturally, patented its formula, forcing competitors to develop their own surfactants. It took years for other companies to come up with effective alternatives.

The lines Dustin quotes weren’t what I really expected an article titled ‘Drugs for Suds’ to see which are about detergent brand loyalty. But that loyalty does translate into demand even if it’s through less than legal means of acquisition. Still, it’s hard to imagine a world without liquid laundry detergent – especially when it’s called “the iPod of it’s time.”

via Dustin Curtis

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