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Not to be confused with Smart fluid.
This article is about the theft deterrent. For the beverage, see Energy Brands.
Greater Manchester Police SmartWater warning sign

SmartWater is a traceable liquid and proprietary forensic asset marking system (taggant) that is applied to personal, commercial, and industrial items of value to deter theft and to identify culprits for prosecution. The non-hazardous liquid leaves a long lasting and unique identifier, whose presence is invisible to the naked eye except under an ultraviolet black light. The SmartWater crime suppression system is marketed globally by SmartWater Technology Ltd, in conjunction with their proprietary crime reduction program, called 'The SmartWater Strategy' (US patent pending).


SmartWater was started in the early-1990s by Phil Cleary,[1] a retired British police detective and later CEO of SmartWater Ltd., and his brother Mike Cleary, a chemist,[2] responsible for the development of the technology, whereas Phil created the deterrence and business strategies.

In 1996, the two brothers appeared on national BBC TV to win the Prince of Wales Award for Innovation for the 'product with most commercial potential'.[3] The brothers later credited this award for providing them with the commercial boost needed to turn an idea into a multimillion-pound profitable business.

In 2000, SmartWater was awarded Millennium Product status, with the brothers receiving the award from the prime minister Tony Blair at a ceremony held at the Millennium Dome.[4]

Mike Cleary is a Chartered Chemist and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. His brother Phil was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts in recognition of his entrepreneurialism and contribution to crime reduction. He is also the published author of the thriller book 'Elixir'.[5]

During the course of a 'proof of concept' trial in 2013 in London, UK, the Metropolitan Police Service first used the generic term 'traceable liquids' to describe SmartWater and other similar forensic coding products.

Use and effectiveness[edit]

The main difference between SmartWater and other technologies is that they developed a holistic crime reduction strategy that requires them, amongst many other tactics, to work with Law Enforcement Agencies to assist with 'sting operations' which identify suspects and aid in their conviction. SmartWater believes that the more criminals they help law enforcement agencies convict, the more a deterrent they become, to the benefit of the whole community, both business and residential. [1]

In 2005 security expert Bruce Schneier pointed out that abuse of SmartWater was possible because an owner of a personalised solution can easily administer it to other people's valuable items.[6] However, in 2008, he accepted that SmartWater worked as a deterrent, citing the 2008 publication of a research paper prepared by a team led by Professor Martin Gill,[7] who interviewed over 100 criminals and asked whether or not the presence of SmartWater would deter them from committing a burglary, with 74% saying that it would.[8]

SmartWater has been used to convict criminals[9] and the company claims in press releases to have over 600 convictions to its name.[10]

In addition, the company developed a holistic crime reduction programme, called 'The SmartWater Strategy'. During the first six months of a pilot scheme in 2009 involving 100 households in a part of Kent, UK, police recorded a reduction in burglary of 94%.[11]

Another area that has used the 'SmartWater Strategy' is Nottingham in England, where 56,000 homes have now had their property marked with individual SmartWater signatures and covert operations using SmartWater were instigated by the police. There has been a reported 40% reduction in burglary since the start of the initiative.[12][13]

In 2012, SmartWater presented their crime reduction strategy to senior officers of the Metropolitan Police Service [2] who decided to test SmartWater's concept under controlled conditions. Consequently, a 'proof on concept' trial was initiated in 2013 and three companies agreed to participate, SmartWater, Stealthmark ( and an American DNA systems ( SmartWater operated in the London Borough of Brent and, following six months formal assessment, announced an 85% reduction in household burglary.[14]


SmartWater consists of a liquid containing a code, whose presence can be seen under ultraviolet light.[15] It is intended to be applied to valuable items, so that if they are stolen and later seized by police, their original owner can be determined after laboratory testing of a sample.[15] Another application is a sprinkler system that sprays a burglar with the (invisible) fluid, which cannot be washed off and lasts for months, to generate evidence that connects a suspect to a specific location.[16][17][18]

SmartWater comes in three variants, "Index Solutions", "Indsol Tracer" and "SmartWater Instant", which use different techniques to embed such a code. According to Phil Cleary, this allows "millions of chemical signatures" and is an identifier superior to genetic fingerprinting DNA.[2]

The "Index Solutions" variant is a water-based solution containing low-level additives, which are blended using a binary sequence to ensure uniqueness. The Index Solution is contained within a spray system that is activated by an intruder detection unit, similar to a burglar alarm, and marks the intruder with a unique forensic spray, which the police locate using a black (UV) light.[17][19]

The "Indsol Tracer" variant is a polymer emulsion[20] that blends different chemical agents according to a binary code allowing 10 billion different possibilities, as stated by the company.[2]

The "SmartWater Instant" variant consists mainly of a copolymer of vinyl acetate in isopropyl alcohol.[21] This fluid contains millions of tiny fragments; a unique number called "SIN" ("SmartWater identification number", registered in a national police database together with the owner's details) is encoded into each of those particles.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ How I made it: Phil Cleary, Founder Of SmartWater Rachel Bridge: The Times, October 11, 2009
  2. ^ a b c d Robert Andrews: Digital Water Marks Thieves Wired News, 15 February 2005
  3. ^ SBT. "Evidence of genius". Shropshire Business Today. 
  4. ^ "In Touch - Inserts". 
  5. ^ Barnes & Noble. "Elixir". Barnes & Noble. 
  6. ^ Schneier on Security: Smart Water February 10, 2005
  7. ^ Perpetuity Research Professor Martin Gill profile
  8. ^ Schneier on Security: SmartWater January 21, 2008
  9. ^ Ali Lwanga convicted due to SmartWater evidence BBC News 2008
  10. ^
  11. ^ SmartWater reduces burglay by 94% BBC News May 2009
  12. ^ Nottingham City: SmartWater covert operation (Windows Media). BBC1 News. 
  13. ^ Burglaries reduced in Nottingham Nottingham City Homes
  14. ^ Stephanie Harrison. "Burglaries in Brent plummet by 85 per cent thanks to SmartWater technology". London 24. 
  15. ^ a b Water used to out-smart thieves BBC News, 2 July 2005
  16. ^ 'Guilty burglars detected by glow' - BBC News, 2005-09-04
  17. ^ a b Winter Park Police Use Spray to Nab Intruders; by Ashleigh Coran []; WKMG-6; Click Orlando website; accessed 9 January 2014.
  19. ^ "SmartWater Spray system". CSI New York. 2008. 
  20. ^ IndSol Tracer Solutions - Material Safety Data Sheet SmartWater Technology Ltd, 9 February 2005
  21. ^ SmartWater Instant - Material Safety Data Sheet SmartWater Technology Ltd, 9 February 2005

External links[edit]