Cleaning TikTok Is Absolutely Booming. Do Our Houses Know?
If you pull up any social media platform right now, it might seem like everyone is busy cleaning or organizing something. A smart hack here, a new-to-you cleaning product there. Pots are going from dingy to factory clean, rooms are getting a reset in a literal snap, and dishwasher tablets are being used in all sorts of surprising ways. According to the New York Times, the number of “clean with me” videos (where people clean things and viewers get to watch) on YouTube rose by 50 percent in 2020. Similarly, “organize with me” videos nearly doubled. Then there’s “Cleaning TikTok,” a tidy corner of the internet where top accounts include @cleaningtiktok_101 with 885.5K followers, and Vanesa Amaro, who has more than 2.7 million followers.
But are people really cleaning along, as the name of the video genre suggests? Are people watching and then putting their newly learned tips to good use? Or are they watching lazily on their phones … among the cyclical, never-ending mess that worsened as a side effect of being home more in the global pandemic? In a series of interviews with people who fall across the cleaning spectrum — from self-proclaimed slovens to certified neatniks — it seems like it’s a mix. Some have found inspiration and now manage a cleaner-than-usual pandemic home. Others have let disorder take over, the way ivy overwhelms a garden.
The videos happen to be inspiring for Tara Ciccone, a director at public relations firm Brandsway Creative. While scrolling through TikTok last summer, Ciccone came across a series of videos in which latex-clad gloved hands transformed impossibly dirty surfaces into gleaming ones. Nauseating toilet bowls and crusted-over kitchen sinks were no match for the videos’ arsenal of cleaning products and tools, which ranged from special sponges to brilliant-hued gels. Ciccone quickly felt compelled to put their teachings to use in her Manhattan studio.
“It was just so ASMR for me,” Ciccone says of the videos she found, which makes sense, because experts have said that these videos can cause the release of the same chemical — like serotonin and dopamine — that contribute to happiness and positivity. Although always relatively neat, Ciccone’s cleaning habit kicked into high gear once the videos entered her consciousness. “Now, every Saturday, I dedicate my entire day to scrubbing my apartment using different products I’ve found on Cleaning TikTok,” she says. She estimates that she even spends about $35 a month on fun, new cleaning paraphernalia. “It’s really becoming obsessive.” Ciccone hardly thinks her new hobby is just a pandemic phase. “I’m now known for having the cleanest apartment, and I really want to keep that crown,” she laughs.
Iyonna Gaines, a full-time student in Philadelphia, also finds Cleaning TikTok therapeutic. “I like the idea of seeing the end result and someone complete something,” Gaines says. “I feel motivated watching people be productive.” Since stumbling upon these videos last December, Gaines now regularly scrubs down things she never would have thought to clean. “[I’m] removing the toilet bowl seat, cleaning the drains and faucets with baking soda and vinegar, scrubbing baseboards, and folding the end of toilet paper with little origami designs. Oh, and using a blue light to make sure there’s no urine left around the toilet,” she says.
Falling down the Cleaning TikTok rabbit hole doesn’t always lead to cleaner homes, though, as this story suggests. “[It] does make me want to clean up my house, and totally exposes me to areas that need to be cleaned that I never knew I should be cleaning (yikes!), but I do find myself mindlessly scrolling through TikTok instead of making productive use of my time and actually cleaning,” says Nicole McGlauflin, a director of personal and professional development at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa. Nevertheless, McGlauflin — a new homeowner — says she’s picked up a trove of good tips that she hopes will one day serve her well. “It’s a start! Maybe eventually I’ll put that knowledge to use.”
In an unofficial survey for this story, many people (surprisingly) said they weren’t aware of these videos, while the vast majority said they’ve seen them, watched them, and just kept watching — waiting to see whatever the algorithm served them next. “They’re entertainment, not instruction manuals,” one messy and anonymous reader says.
These videos present little appeal and actually concern Mary Beth Foster, a tutor and parent to two kids in Mint Hill, North Carolina. “I think we have these unrealistic standards of what homes should look like from Instagram or TikTok videos,” Foster says. “No one’s home really looks like that on a day-to-day basis!”
And this divide between aspirational and real-life cleaning can be an emotional trigger. “People post pictures [of ultra-clean homes] on Instagram and they can really, really do a number on your self-esteem,” says Joy Hepp, a communications specialist and mother based in Los Angeles. Hepp was diagnosed with adult ADHD in 2019; she says the condition interferes with her executive functioning and makes cleaning difficult. “The pervasive feeling is [that I’m] too lazy.”
That’s partially why KC Davis, a stay-at-home mother of two in Houston, Texas, started venting her frustrations about caring for her family on TikTok last summer under the handle @domesticblisters. Her goal is to divorce cleaning from morality, she says, and the approach has clearly struck a chord: The account currently boasts 394.8K followers.
“I can make my home manageable, but I’m still messy — this is just my personality,” Davis says. The state of one’s house has no bearing on whether they’re a good parent or a decent person, she stresses. “The only motive for putting your home into functional order is that you deserve a functioning space. You don’t exist to serve your home. Your home exists to serve you.”
More and more, Charissa West, a stay-at-home-mother in Gainesville, Virginia, has found herself giving into the mess that quickly accumulates in the home she shares with her husband and four young sons — despite the growing number of cleaning videos online. “Over the past year, I’ve seen my standards fall significantly,” says West, who blogs about parenting on her site, The Wild, Wild West. Before the pandemic, keeping everything orderly was challenging enough. But with her husband working from home and three of her four children attending school online (the fourth is a toddler, born during the first wave of lockdowns) the tide of clutter and grime that builds up daily is nearly impossible to beat back. “I find myself choosing the peace and quiet and letting the mess marinate a little longer,” she says.
And you know what? Many experts will tell you that’s fine. “For those who find cleaning or maintaining a clutter-free environment stressful, letting go of the need to be clean can be very relieving,” says Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist in Santa Rosa, California. “Given the enormous stress of the pandemic, some have found it very comforting to make friends with a little (or a lot) of untidiness and clutter.” For these individuals, adopting a more relaxed attitude toward cleanliness can actually improve mental health — no matter what you see on TikTok.
How’s your cleaning routine going lately? Are you spending any time watching TikTok videos? Do you apply the learnings? Discuss in the comments below.