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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 12 December, 2018
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Cleaning Instagram: harmless craze or harmful obsession?

The latest Insta trend has become a major talking point.

“INSTAGRAMS LITERALLY ABOUT cleaning?”

That’s the incredulous response I was met with on Twitter when I put out a call for peoples’ favourite cleaning Instagram accounts. Cleaning Instas are the latest craze sweeping (sorry!) the social media site, and it’s pretty much exactly what it says on the tin – before and after photos of amazing home transformations, cleaning tips and product demonstrations. A majority of female influencers are gaining huge followings via the platform, even securing paid sponsorship gigs with big brands. 

Take Mrs. Hinch, for example.

Sophie Hinchcliffe – aka Mrs. Hinch – has almost 700k followers on Instagram. She is beloved for her immaculate home setting, her immense cleaning tutorials and her pet names for her products. Chances are if you have it, she can clean it.

View this post on Instagram

When all you can smell is flash bathroom mate 😍 #ATB ... I just want to say a huge thank you. I honestly cannot believe the love and support I have had from you all. I still can’t believe my home account has reached online newspapers today; overwhelmed doesn’t even come close! It’s all because of my amazing followers 🙏🏼 When I see a Hinch haul, narnia or even a basket on my feed 😆 I just know it’s one of the Hinch Army and I smile straight away! You’re all amazing... helping and motivating eachother... I see it 👀 and I can only assume this is how a proud mum would feel. And to all those asking... yes I would love to be a mum one day in the future... fingers crossed 🤞🏻 #minihincher #hincharmy #iloveyou (items tagged @bathboards @therangeuk @primark.home @handmadevasesbynicolax )

A post shared by @ mrshinchhome_x_ on

Speaking on This Morning, she explained how she became a cleaning idol for so many.

“I started a home account on Instagram purely to upload photos of my interiors, of my home. I didn’t want to bore my friends and family with it all,” she said.

One day I thought, ‘right, let’s clean on my Stories, but make it a little bit fun, a little bit quirky’. And from there, it’s just rocketed. I can’t quite believe it.”

Source: This Morning/YouTube

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Closer to home, there’s Ellen O’Keefe – a Wateford mother of three.

She’s currently running giveaways for cleaning products on her profile, courtesy of Mr. Price.

View this post on Instagram

There are quiet a few new faces here so I thought I would introduce myself 😊 Im Ellen, 26 and mom of three crazy boys - Aidan (4), Finn (2) and Cobh (6m) 👦🧒👶 I developed cleaning OCD when I was pregnant with Aidan and would often be found scrubbing bathrooms at 11pm for the third time that day. I would go through 2-5 bottles of bleach a day and no matter how tired and sore I was I couldn't stop cleaning! Thankfully the compulsion is gone and I just enjoy cleaning. For me it is a form of control - our oldest son Aidan has autism which means that no two days are ever the same but cleaning allows me to feel a little bit in control. That may sound crazy to some people but to others it will make perfect sense. I don't have a show home and my house is always messy, I own the dirtiest children in Ireland and my partner is unbelievably accident prone. I'm just a normal person trying to keep on top of the housework 💛

A post shared by Ellen O'Keeffe (@_ellenokeeffe) on

Describing herself as ‘cleaning crazy’, the 26 year-old told DailyEdge.ie she fell into cleaning Instagram by pure chance.

I was a parenting and lifestyle blogger and one day I casually mentioned about using vinegar when I was washing my towels and I got lots of people messaging asking why – probably the biggest response to anything I had posted in months. So I decided to share some of the other tricks I had learned along the way and it is still crazy to me how many people are interested!”

She has no idea why people have become taken with cleaning accounts, but does credit Mrs. Hinch for starting the movement.

I think cleaning is something we all have to do and by finding tips and tricks or product reviews that are from real people it makes the job a little easier. I also think Mrs Hinch probably started the whole thing – many people followed her for her quirky personality and from there maybe found enjoyment in cleaning that they didn’t have before?”

Does she see longevity in what she’s doing?

“With boys as messy as mine I have a good 18 years more of cleaning to do,” she says, jokingly.

As far as posting it online – I love helping people. I love getting messages from people saying they thought something was fit for the bin and they managed to clean it up. My family will always come first but as long as I can juggle the two then I will keep it up.”

Though reluctant to give an exact figure on how much cleaning product sales had increased as a result of the trend, Head of Marketing at Mr. Price Laura Blighe told DailyEdge.ie the retailer is “cleaning up” (pardon the pun …)

I have been inundated with queries from customers on all our social media channels and love seeing customers haul pics. It’s similar to the fidget spinner demand of last year! Now cleaning products are the ‘IT’ item and in demand! Who knew cleaning could be on trend?”

Their reasoning behind the collab with O’Keeffe? “We wanted to give back to both Ellen and her followers, so have decided to do a little giveaway of her top 5 picks to 5 lucky winners. These items are in demand so very hard to get your ”cleaning mitts” on!”

Their best-selling cleaning products include Elbow Grease – a household cleaner spray – and Stardrops The Pink Stuff – a cleaning paste similar used to remove stains and disclouration. 

s-l500 Elbow Grease all-purpose cleaning spray Source: eBay

p Source: The Pink Stuff

On the collab, O’Keeffe said: “Mr Price was where I bought 90% of my cleaning stuff and they were the first company to reach out to me about adding products that people were struggling to find Stardrops so it seemed fitting that we would team up and do some giveaways together.”

What about the environmental impact, though?

The passion/obsession often results in seemingly huge quantities of product being used. At the zealous rate the products are being purchased, the environmental impact seems to be ignored by many. Before you even get to the chemicals, cleaning agents’ packaging doesn’t tend to be recyclable. Ger Hayes, senior technician at environmental consultancy firm EcoFact, previously told the Irish Examiner: “We don’t need half the stuff we buy. Even things like bleach — if you can smell it, you are breathing it in.

People often over-clean their house too, whereas even with unpleasant odours, opening a window for fresh air is better than spraying. It’s partly about changing people’s mindset.”

Hayes also says chemicals do not affect all people equally.

Some people who are over-exposed to certain chemicals, it can cause sickness, tiredness and even chronic fatigue. We’re all different and each organism will react differently to chemicals.”

One cleaning tip given by an account boasting over 20k followers suggested bringing water to a simmer on the hob before adding fabric softener to make your home smell nice. Its ingredients include benzisothiazolinone (a registered pesticide in the US) and alpha-isomethyl ionone (a potential skin sensitiser and allergen). Meanwhile, Zoflora – a hugely popular disinfectant – is highly toxic when ingested, but is sold without a safety lid.

Is there something more sinister at play here? 

At what point does it stop being a harmless hobby and start becoming an unhealthy obsession? Many people argue that accounts like this, while having innocuous intentions, encourage, affect people on a psychological level too.

Lifestyle blogger Grace (of Abstract Aesthetics) has been vocal about her disinterest in the genre for this reason.

There are positives to the trend. I think it’s great that these accounts are motivating people to clean their homes who previously may not have had the energy or drive to do. Personally, they don’t interest me as I find them unsettling to watch.
I don’t understand the need to clean areas that haven’t been soiled or used since they were last cleaned. I think on a psychological level that they could trigger people to become obsessive about cleaning and become germaphobes.”

She says some cleaning accounts set an unrealistic standard when it comes to domestic sanitation that would be “next to impossible” to maintain day-to-day.She also criticised supermarkets for jumping on the bandwagon.

Supermarkets are totally cashing in on it. Like most things these days, it all comes back to making money for bis businesses – selling us the idea of the perfect housewife role, the perfect home. It feeds into our insecurities and makes us feel we are on top of our sh*t by bowing to them!”

It’s criticism that cleaning queen O’Keeffe acknowledges.

I totally understand and respect where they come from. The big thing that I talk about on my Instagram is that five or 10 minute bursts are all it takes to keep on top of a house. I myself developed obsessive cleaning habits with my first two pregnancies – I would go through several bottles of bleach a day but I still believed my house was never clean enough.
On my third pregnancy I knew that I couldn’t live like that with two small kids so I would time myself – allow myself 20 minutes of cleaning, then 20 minutes no cleaning. Luckily, I managed to control it much more than I had previously. And it is that idea that I use now.
Little five or 10 minute timers every day can work both ways – it means you don’t find the idea of cleaning a daunting, time consuming job but also you know that you have five or 10 minutes and then you have to stop for a while.”

She’s also taking considerations when it comes to the potential environmental impact, trialling plant-based, environmentally friendly cleaning alternatives.

Most homes have adapted cleaning ways that are centred around chemical based products. Unfortunately they are cheaper and more readily available at local supermarkets than the eco-friendly alternatives.”

Similarly, during her demo on This Morning showcasing cleaning hacks using natural ingredients such as soda crystals and white vinegar. She’s also due to speak at an event focusing on mental health later this month (in Ireland, of all places) about how she’s made cleaning fun.

While not without its flaws (let’s not even go there about that algorithm), Instagram has succeeded in uniting women via communities such as this one. In a lot of ways, cleaning Instagram could be considered more inclusive than the beauty community simply because it’s something that more people partake in.

Is there a misogynistic undertone to the criticism of cleaning Instagram? Perhaps, in the same way that there was, once again, with the beauty community – women, met with the incredulity above and labelled hysterical and obsessive for posting about something they enjoy (and sometimes getting paid for it.) 

Does that invalidate all of the arguments against it though? Certainly not, especially when it comes to environmental issues. However, with everything, it’s a minority that are enabling bad practices, while a majority look to encourage their followings to be lead by their own initiative. 

Trends come and go, as will people shilling soda crystals down their drains. But as far as her favourite thing to clean goes, it’s a tie between the kitchen sink and the bathroom for O’Keeffe: “The shine at the end is so rewarding!”

DailyEdge is on Instagram!

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