Scrubbing up on social media: is the rise of 'cleanfluencers' healthy or harmful?

Instagram’s newest set of influencers have swapped their make-up brushes for mops and brooms

Social media crazes come and go: 2014 gave us the no-make-up selfie, while 2016 was all about the mannequin challenge. This year's latest Instagram trend, however, is far removed from the hilarity of filters or the nostalgia of the #tenyearchallenge. In fact, it borders on the mundane, seeing as it involves housecleaning.

The rise of the "cleanfluencer" has been bubbling under for some time now, but what was once the indulgence of a small, rubber-gloved corner of the internet, has now spilled out of the disinfectant bucket and into the mainstream. Instagram’s newest set of influencers have swapped their make-up brushes for brooms, and they are here to clean up all of our acts.

They have won a legion of fans by sharing images of their pristine homes, their tried-and-tested cleaning hacks, and the products they swear by. But how, for a generation at its most progressive, has it all come back down to housework?

It could be that in a world filled with Trump and Brexit, people are turning their attention back to the simpler things in life. Or maybe people are sick of their social media feeds becoming clogged up with perfectly polished pictures from exotic lands, getting further and further away from their own realities.

Cleanliness: something that's actually within reach

Like it or not, cleaning is something we can all relate to. Pride in one's home is within tangible reach for most, and it’s this collective want that seems to have united a rapidly growing community. And it’s not just online. Around the world, cleanfluencers are topping book charts, starring in Netflix documentaries, and creating their own household products, thus turning their love of tidying into an affluent business.

At the top of the cleanfluencer food chain is Marie Kondo, master tidier-upper who has managed to convince the best part of a generation to rid themselves of most of their worldly belongings. While that may be a slight exaggeration, her now-famous Konmari method, made famous by her book and television series, encourages us to part ways with anything in our space that does not "spark joy", leading to charity shops and thrift stores around the world seeing a Kondo-related surge in donations.

The revolution Kondo started is catching on. She has paved the way for cleaners - not just their kitchens - to shine online. Lynsey "Queen of Clean" Crombie, was one of the first to turn her compulsion into a successful online empire. The mum-of-two had previously featured on UK TV show Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners before turning her attention online.

“I started my Instagram page to keep an eye on my daughters when they joined," Lynsey explains. “I started off just posting family stuff, and then in November 2016 I posted a cleaning product and received a lot of likes.”

That peaked her attention. After noticing how fashion influencers were making money from their accounts and “receiving freebies”, she identified her niche. "I thought I should do the same with cleaning tips and advice,” she says. “I was the only cleaning account at the time, and I feel so proud that people have followed in my footsteps and now tell me they enjoy cleaning as much as I do.”

Crombie's ever-growing Queen of Clean account now has 142,000 followers, features regular sponsored product posts, and promotes her book How to Clean Your House and Tidy Up Your Life. Crombie can earn up to thousands of dirhams per Instagram post. For something that this, by her own accounts, "obsessive" cleaner would be doing anyway, that's a pretty tidy set up, if you'll pardon the pun.

2.5 million followers in 12 months - by talking about cleaning 

And she's far from the only one benefiting from this new cleanfluencer era. Sophie Hinch, who just last year was a humble hairdresser from Essex, is now a Times best-selling author and the proud leader of her "Hinch army". Mrs Hinch, as she's known online, is the people's hero when it comes to cleaning.

In 12 months, she has amassed more than 2.5 million Instagram followers and is single-handedly responsible for the rocketing sales of disinfectant Zoflora around the world (according to Hinch, it leaves your house smelling amazing).

"I don't know about you guys, but I used to see a lot of make-up, diets, hair, squats, [and] designerwear on my Insta feed daily, but now not so much," Hinch told her followers when launching her book Hinch Yourself Happy.

“If you’re anything like me (as much as I love lashes hair and make-up), my home comes first, and now I feel like this community of just loving the simple things in life has grown at a phenomenal rate on Instagram and I’m so grateful to be a part of this huge Insta family.”

Hinch is said to be earning up to £5,000 (Dh23,311) per Instagram post, and that’s before you take into account her book sales.

A step backwards for women? 

However, with the rising popularity of the cleanfluencer comes the ever-growing chimes of the critics. The sudden resurgence of interest in cleaning and tidying, some say, is a step backwards for women. With the overwhelming majority of online influencers in this genre being female, it's easy to see how comparisons have been drawn with suppressed housewives of years gone by.

Socks and tights are seen arranged in a drawer in small boxes at a home in Washington, DC, as recommended by Japanese tidying expert Marie Kondo, creator of the "KonMari" method, on January 18, 2019. Marie Kondo is small of stature, but her tidying philosophy has reached stratospheric heights. Her book, "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up," has earned a cult following since its publication in the US in 2014 -- but it is the 34-year-old's new Netflix show, "Tidying up with Marie Kondo" that has everyone talking. / AFP / Sara KAMOUNI / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Sara KAMOUNI, "Japanese tidying guru sparks joy with cluttered Americans"

But, with many of these women now running hugely successful businesses from their love of cleaning, is that really a fair comparison? Journalist Amita Joshi put it perfectly on Twitter: “I hate all this stuff about ‘cleanfluencers’ undoing all the work against patriarchy by encouraging women to clean. What if you find tips helpful as you live alone, don’t hire a cleaner and genuinely find cleaning quite stress-relieving? Isn’t feminism about being able to choose?”

For Hinch, Crombie, and many other cleaning fans out there, it is not just a need for house pride that led them to cleaning.

“[Cleanfluencers] are a new trend,” says Crombie, “but cleaning is actually a form of therapy, and my pages help people daily who are struggling with their mental health, which is amazing.”

Crombie’s own love for cleaning spurs from a dark period in her life due to the breakdown of her marriage and the premature birth of her twin girls. For her, cleaning was a way to “scrub away” what had happened, and became a way for her to clear her mind and regain control.

Hinch talks of similar struggles. Having suffered with anxiety, the 29-year-old says cleaning helps her to feel as though she has achieved something even when she is at her weakest. "There’s so much pressure out there these days. So to be scrolling through Instragram and find something where you think ‘I can achieve that, that’s not too far in the distance’, it brings everyone together,” she said during her first television interview last year.

And it’s not just them. Cleaning has been scientifically proven to have a positive impact on our mental health. A recent study by the University of California tested cortisol levels in 30 couples, and found that those who described their homes as messy or chaotic had a higher presence of stress hormones.

Whatever your opinion on influencer culture, this new wave of online stars is certainly bringing something a little more relatable to our timelines, and their shine shows no signs of waning.

“I am now doing a job I absolutely love and interacting with like-minded people who have also turned to cleaning after a negative spell in their life,” says Crombie. “To share my love for being clean and tidy on a daily basis really is a dream come true.”