If you’ve ever spent an evening scrolling through TikTok, you’ve probably seen at least one “CleanTok” video.
Gone are the days when we only had the Instagram sensation Mrs Hinch to tell us how to clean our homes; thousands of people are now creating viral videos showing us how to get sparkling toilets, vacuum lines and eliminate dust using top household cleaners. These videos are then influencing swathes of viewers to go out and buy the products in order to recreate the results.
Demand for cleaning products soared in response to Mrs Hinch’s influence. Then just a year or so later, they naturally increased in response to the pandemic. We no longer need sprays that smell good; we need powerful germ-fighting disinfectants for our entire home.
The dangers of CleanTok
The problematic nature of some of these videos has already been highlighted in terms of public health and pollution.
There is the serious matter of mixing chemicals that cause dangerous fumes if inhaled. Some advocate for using ‘natural’ sink cleaners such as vinegar and bicarb, which don’t actually do much yet end up in our water. Pouring Zoflora down the sink followed by boiling water smells great, but the two liquids have never been tested in a professional atmosphere. Then, some under the #cleanradiator tag are using flammable products to rid radiators of dust. These are just four dangerous topics that are frequently talked about.
All of these chemicals end up in the air we breathe or our water supplies, and it is thought that small amounts of cleaning products still end up in our rivers, oceans and ponds even after passing through treatment plants. This is no doubt having an adverse effect on aquatic life, and the greater wildlife population too. Poisoning and hormone alteration are just two serious consequences that have been observed.
Then there is the stockpiling of cleaning products that ‘cleanfluencers’ partake in, to create Instaworthy imagery. Not only is it a huge amount of single-use plastic to have all at once, but it is also overconsumption, influencing people to stock up on products that they may not even use.
This demand for products only causes manufacturers to keep up with said demand, in terms of both production and transporting the products to shops. In turn, this means more pollution, as well as brands being unlikely to want to adapt their products to be more eco-friendly.
How people (and brands) are changing the cleaning world
Of course, in response, many #ecocleaning accounts also now exist to fight this overconsumption. Eco washing up liquid, compostable sponges, reusable bottles and tablets to make up our own washing products are just some of the products used. Some encourage the use of homemade cleaning products using products like lemon skins, which are safe to use and still effective.
Manufacturers do, of course, need to make many of these non-homemade products which are available to buy. And it is a lucrative business, too. The value of the sustainable cleaning product market is expected to surge to $110 billion by 2025.
Many of the big brands are jumping on the bandwagon, with Dettol, Domestos and supermarkets such as Sainsbury's joining dedicated eco brands such as Method, Ocean Saver and Smol in the production of biodegradable wipes, plastic-free toilet cleaners and reusable bottles.
On a wider scale, the industry has also responded to both the demands for sustainable cleaning products and the high demand for them in the COVID/CleanTok era. The American Cleaning Institute’s annual meeting saw sustainability rise to the top of the agenda.
Corn ethanol, citric-acid based biodegradable cleaning wipes and carbon-negative factory production were just some of the ideas put forward by invited brands. Suzanne Carroll, Nouryon’s vice president for home and personal care, even said, “Green chemistry is growing much faster than conventional chemistry.”
Balancing sustainability with efficacy is vital in order to create trust in sustainable cleaning. Greg Smith, vice president for sales and marketing at the biosurfactant maker Locus Performance Ingredients, said: “Green is nice, but the product has to perform, has to provide the efficacy in use, or the consumer will only buy your product one time.”
This suggests that if people are to try a product that doesn’t work, they could go back to using original chemical-based products with proven success, reversing the work that the sustainability industry is carrying out.
While the industry still has a long way to go - like pretty much every other industry on the planet - waves are being made. Quality products, which are readily available in shops, and that have good word of mouth on socials, are the perfect way to influence others to get into eco-cleaning.