Finding Quarantine Joy Through "Cleaning TikTok"
It started as a conversation with a friend over Slack about our weekend plans. I use the term “plans” loosely, since the ongoing pandemic continues to render anything beyond grocery store trips and carryout dining pickups more or less obsolete in my household.
I told her I was staring down the barrel of yet another weekend spent indoors and that I’d probably just deep clean a few rooms of our house. That’s when she told me about the Go Clean Co Instagram account, and my journey down the rabbit hole of cleaning-themed social media began.
Amid all the chaos of this year, I know I’m lucky to still have a job and have been a full-time remote employee since joining my company last fall. But whether it was seeing tufts of our dog’s fur on the hardwood floors in new afternoon light or running out of shows to binge on Netflix, six months into sheltering in place has officially converted me into an evangelist of the deep-quaranclean.
Currently, a Google search for the term “quaranclean” returns more than 19,000 results, including an Urban Dictionary definition added on March 20, 2020, an eponymous certified professional cleaning service in Central Florida, and a brand of hand soap.
The topic of cleaning has been in the news cycle’s spotlight for months. It’s why, as new studies and CDC guidelines consistently rolled out with updated suggestions for the most effective ways to disinfect your space and stay healthy when (or if) you’re out and about, grocery stores are still often sold out of things like hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes, and bleach.
So perhaps it’s unsurprising that cleaning-themed social media has blown up since shelter-in-place orders took hold. Texas-based house cleaner Vanesa Amaros, who I discovered on TikTok, has exploded to 1.7 million followers in the few months since she joined the app. Her videos show viewers how to fold your towels “like in a spa,” ways to tackle the most neglected spots in your kitchen, and tips for cleaning antiques. (On TikTok, videos sporting the #cleaningtiktok hashtag have more than 184 million combined views.)
Go Clean Co boasts more than 1.2 million Instagram followers (dubbed the #cleaningarmy) and nearly 41,000 on TikTok. The Canada-based professional house cleaning service’s videos have founder Sarah McAllister breaking down everything from “laundry stripping” and product recommendations to guides for cleaning the filters in your washing machine. Her company sells a virtual handbook with cleaning how-tos for every room in your house that you can download for $13.99.
The online community of cleaning enthusiasts is nothing new, of course. For proof, look no further than the meteoric success of Marie Kondo. Since her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, came out in 2011, the Japanese organizing consultant parlayed her signature techniques into three more books, a Netflix series, and a line of ostensibly joy-sparking products such as apparel, aromatherapy, garden accessories and a $75 tuning fork and rose quartz crystal set. (More recently, this niche is being filled by Netflix’s new celeb-filled organization series The Home Edit.)
There’s a psychological reason behind why cleaning and organizing feels so good, like shedding an old skin. “The pandemic, systemic racism, the upcoming election: all of this stuff is a sea of unknowns, and there’s nothing that you can really do to [solve] that,” explains Jessi Gold, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis. “Breaking things into little tasks and actually accomplishing them is a resiliency thing. It gives you confidence and self-competence because you feel like you’re actually doing something instead of sitting there and wallowing.” She adds that these bite-size, tangible tasks give us a semblance of control and a feeling of accomplishment that can help motivate us to take on bigger goals.
Plus, studies show having a decluttered space calms our minds and makes it easier to focus. But what do you do once you’ve pared down your closet and mastered folding a fitted sheet?
That’s where cleaning influencers come in. I tapped through Go Clean Co’s Story Highlights on Instagram over and over, screenshotting their step-by-step instructions for deep-cleaning your oven. I was thrilled to see that, after a few hours of letting the chemical-filled foam they recommended sit on my oven door’s glass window, months of grease and grime wiped off and it shined like new. Suddenly, I understood why those “before and after” videos — like the ones creator Brandon Pleshek posts on his account Clean That Up! — were so popular: they are satisfying as hell.
Pleshek is a third-generation janitor who now owns his grandfather’s cleaning business. His posts of zen garden-like carpet cleaning, couch cushion deodorizing, and the best ways to clean face masks have garnered him more than 7.4 million likes on TikTok. He began posting content in earnest when his business shut down for two months at the beginning of the pandemic. “I had time on my hands and a lot of anxiety because our business wasn’t running,” he says, “so I took to making cleaning videos and tried to help share my family’s cleaning hacks that we’ve learned over 40 years of being in the industry with the world.”
Pleshek says the community he’s amassed is super positive and engaged — they make content requests and even share tips he’s never heard of himself. “There are things I’ve known how to clean because my family’s been in cleaning my whole life, but not a lot of people know those best practices or techniques, so the audience is super hungry for that content,” he adds.
Of course, I couldn’t stop at the oven door. Once I’d used a similar technique to restore the glass cooktop to its former non-burnt glory and vacuumed out the oven, I convinced my husband to actually move the entire stove away from the wall so I could clean behind it and wipe down the exterior (an idea sparked by Amaros’ account).
I watched a YouTube video to figure out how to remove the dusty air vent from our bathroom ceiling so I could clean it, despite the fact that I’d previously never really noticed it existed. This was the first item on the Go Clean Go handbook’s bathroom checklist (yes, of course I bought the handbook). Later, I spent the better part of a Sunday completely dismantling our dishwasher in order to clean out the filter, which had been putting off a smell.
With so much hanging in the balance this year, tiny victories and easy wins are particularly appealing (the New York Times recently referred to this as “low-stakes productivity”). We can’t guarantee our donations and votes will result in the outcomes we want, but we can see tangible improvement immediately after a good scrubbing with Go Clean Co.’s signature mix of hot water, bleach, and Tide. Both of these things are true: the world is a terrifying mess, and my baseboards have never looked better.