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1 May 2019updated 01 Jul 2021 12:14pm

Meet the Instagram cleaning icon making women scrub harder

By Amelia Tait

In January 2019, supermarket Morrisons announced it was rationing one of its products to two per customer. The £2.50 “Minky M Cloth Anti-Bacterial Cleaning Pad” was so popular the retailer sold 13,000 units in just five days. To the eye, it’s a kitchen sponge. To 2.3 million “Hinchers”, it’s a godsend.

Hinchers are fans of online cleaning icon Mrs Hinch. A 28-year-old hairdresser from Essex, Mrs Hinch (real name: Sophie Hinchcliffe) rose to prominence on Instagram, where she shares her cleaning tips and videos, product recommendations and glistening home with millions.

Her home is easily the cleanest in England and is eerily absent of colour: everything is either silver or white, and she enthusiastically disinfects (already clean) surfaces daily.

True to any great cult of personality, “Hinch” has become a verb, a noun and an adjective. There are “hinchers”; you can “hinch yourself”. She is, her Instagram bio declares, “hinching mad!”.

At the start of April Mrs Hinch’s debut book, Hinch Yourself Happy, became the second fastest-selling non-fiction title ever, beating Michelle Obama’s Becoming for single-week sales. Which brings me on to the inevitable criticism. While Michelle Obama is the politically minded Harvard graduate and activist we hope young women will aspire to be in 2019, Mrs Hinch is decidedly more old-fashioned. “It doesn’t get much better than this!” she declared in October 2018, when washing-up liquid brand Fairy printed her name on a personalised bottle.

Yet it is precisely because these criticisms are so obvious that we should question them. The “housework gap” means British women still do 60 per cent more housework than men. A cheap, effective, and fast-working cleaning product recommended by an influencer is arguably entirely compatible with feminism: it allows women to save their time and energy for other things.

“Cleaning used to be a chore that I would get bored doing. Mrs Hinch has made cleaning fun,” says Danielle Catherine, a 28-year-old primary school teacher from Worksop, and a keen Hincher. “Because more people are talking about it now, it’s good to share ideas, which makes it quicker and easier.”

Mrs Hinch is just one of hundreds of “cleaning influencers” who have recently risen to prominence. In January 2019, Netflix launched Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, a reality show where the Japanese superstar decluttered American homes. Within a week, charity shop donations in Washington, DC increased 66 per cent. YouTube, too, has been flooded with “decluttering” videos, while Hinch fans have created their own cleaning Instagram accounts. Hundreds follow the formula “Life at number…”, inserting their house number.

Mrs Hinch isn’t even the only cleaning Instagrammer to write a book: 40-year-old Lynsey Crombie from Peterborough (or “Lynsey Queen of Clean” to her fans) released How to Clean Your House in March. Is the trend any different from Kim and Aggie running rubber-gloved fingers over toilets on TV in 2003, or Mrs Beeton promoting the art of household management in 1861? I’d argue yes, because Mrs Hinch is firmly taking housework from the private to public sphere. Cleaning, unlike Mrs Beeton’s cooking, isn’t traditionally praised; it’s merely seen as the absence of a negative thing: dirt. Kim and Aggie’s show was founded on negativity (they sought out “the UK’s filthiest homes”), whereas Mrs Hinch is about taking pride in cleaning.

Andrea Brown, a 25-year-old customer service agent from Belfast, says Mrs Hinch’s tips allow her to make her home a welcoming place for family and friends. “My son has his own Minky cleaning pad and follows behind me cleaning, which is super cute,” she says. Brown spent £91 on a “Hinch haul” of cleaning products the day before we speak.

As well as promoting anti-bacterial cloths, cleaning influencers often further the idea that domestic tasks can help with mental-health problems. The juxtaposition of the words “shine your sink and soothe your soul” on the cover of Hinch Yourself Happy is undeniably jarring, but fans say Hinch has helped them (an entire chapter of the book is dedicated to anxiety, which Mrs Hinch suffers from).

“I suffered a family loss and started experiencing panic attacks as I couldn’t release my grief,” says Emma Crawford, a 36-year-old data analyst from St Helens, who goes as “CrazyCleaningCrawford” on Instagram. “Mrs Hinch stories have taught me how to focus my anxiety into a positive cleaning job… Every time I could feel a panic attack coming on I would start cleaning. The focus of the cleaning task stopped the panic attack.”

While Mrs Hinch promotes mental health, some have been concerned about the products she uses. In December 2018, a vet claimed that Zoflora, one of Mrs Hinch’s favourite brands, can be toxic for cats. Environmentalists condemn the harsh chemicals and disposable products Mrs Hinch sometimes promotes.

There are many criticisms of Mrs Hinch and cleaning influencers, then, but it’s hard to see them as anti-feminist. Of course, it’s troubling to think that Hinchcliffe could make domestic work too aspirational for young women (in April, a girl who looked no older than 12 burst into tears of joy upon meeting Mrs Hinch at a book signing). No pre-teen girl should idolise anyone (other than perhaps their mum) for cleaning. Yet on the whole, Mrs Hinch’s fans aren’t young; they are mums who were cleaning long before she became an Instagram star in March 2018. Mrs Hinch did not cause the housework gap; she is simply holding up a (sparkling) mirror to an existing problem.

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This article appears in the 02 May 2019 issue of the New Statesman, A very British scandal