Surely the recent ‘cleaning hack’ craze taking over social media encourages people to live in cleaner homes, and can only be a good thing for health? While there are obviously benefits to maintaining a spotless home, excessive cleaning can present some risks, as we’ll discuss with Clinical Lead Dr Daniel Atkinson.

We’re probably used to carrying out some cleaning every now and then. And for most, it is a joyless and perhaps even thankless task. But this might be changing for some people as they turn to social media for inspiration.

Instagram has an estimated one billion active users each month and is one place to go if you want to discover the latest trends. One trend that has recently taken off in the UK is that of cleaning and decluttering.

The extremely popular photo-sharing and storytelling platform has allowed some users to create a space where cleaning has become so much more than just a chore.

Top of the cleaning Instagram stars is the profile of Sophie Hinchcliffe, aka Mrs Hinch, who shot to stardom in 2018 as she started sharing tips on how she cleans her house. Her profile now boasts two million followers and it would seem that her product recommendations frequently cause particular cleaning items to fly off the supermarket shelves across the country.

With this in mind we thought we’d take a look at the potential health risks and benefits of keeping up with the Instagram cleaning trend.

What are the health benefits of keeping a clean and uncluttered house?

We spoke to our Clinical Lead, Dr Daniel Atkinson, for an expert opinion into the potential health benefits and health risks linked to cleaning.

He told us: 'Cleaning is not always a top priority for everyone but having a clean and organised home can provide a number of benefits. How you feel about the benefits may come down to your own preferences.'

  • Reduce stress and/or anxiety levels. Dr Atkinson explained: 'Cleaning on a regular basis may help to keep your stress levels down. An untidy home space can cause some people to feel anxious, therefore cleaning can be used as a way of alleviating stress. Daily purposeful activity is also said to act as a protective factor for mood. So, following the Instagram trend might provide enough of a boost to keep someone out of a stress or anxiety induced slump.'

A cluttered and messy home will not negatively impact everyone’s mental wellbeing. However, maintaining an organised home area might save you time as you are able to find things more easily and thereby make life less stressful.

  • The ‘Insta-community’. A lot of the current cleaning Instagram stars show their followers how to break tasks down into manageable chunks. 'Following online cleaning communities can also add a fun aspect to the process, as people share their newly cleaned or organised rooms. The positive feeling created by achieving a small goal, such as cleaning and organising a room, can encourage people to continue taking positive steps.'
  • Fewer hazards in the home. A decluttered home, where all items are stored safely away, can be less hazardous to navigate for children and adults alike. Fewer items in the home can also make it easier to maintain in the long run.
  • Reduce germs. Cleaning can help to reduce the number of germs and bugs we come into contact with. If combined with good personal hygiene when out of the home, including frequent hand washing, this could help lower your chances of picking up common illnesses such as colds and stomach flu.
  • At-home workout. 'Cleaning can be a physical job. It can raise your heart rate, build strength and improve stamina.' Dr Atkinson tells us. We’ve also previously written about how cleaning can be used to contribute towards your physical activity goals each week. Physical activity can benefit mental health so when it is combined with the gratification of cleaning results this could help to improve mood.

What are the health risks of cleaning too much?

Whilst not a lot is known about the specifics of cleaning products and how they might cause potential harm, it is always best to proceed with caution and read instructions thoroughly.

  • Lung damage. Potential lung damage from inhaling chemicals. Research suggests that exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in some cleaning products may lead to asthma or accelerate lung damage. Occupational cleaning has even been compared to smoking tobacco on a daily basis.

The findings of a recent study suggest prenatal chemical exposure, specifically to PFASs (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) may be associated with lung function impairment. This type of man made chemical might be found in stain removers and carpet treatments. Consumers that have concerns about exposure to PFASs should avoid using these types of products.

  • Allergies. The hygiene or allergy hypothesis refers to a lack of childhood exposure to infectious agents which then increases the likelihood of allergies developing.

Keeping germs and bugs to a minimum, especially during childhood, has long been thought to restrict the natural development of the immune system. Thus making it hypersensitive to allergens. It goes without saying that cleaning up any toxic or dangerous substances is important but overly cleaning areas could have a negative effect on health.

  • Mental health. There have been some warnings surfacing that excessive cleaning has the potential to lead to unhealthy obsessions. If your cleaning routine starts to impede on your normal day-to-day life or is beginning to affect your relationships, then you may need to reassess your priorities or seek professional medical help.

Doctors tips on cleaning safety

Dr Atkinson tells us: ‘If you feel good keeping a clean and tidy house, and doing so is not restricting you from carrying out your normal day-to-day activities, then that’s great.

Cleaning and decluttering can have therapeutic-like benefits for some people but it is important to carry them out in a safe manner.

For example; when you are cleaning, particularly for a significant amount of time, you should always pay attention to the substances you are using. It is possible that inhaling chemical fumes or coming into direct contact with some chemicals could cause some harm to your health.’

So, what should you do to stay safe when cleaning?

  1. Ventilate. Make sure you keep the area well ventilated with fresh air. This will help reduce the amount of cleaning fumes you may be exposed to. Avoid mixing chemicals as some combinations can release toxic fumes into the air. This has become especially apparent after The Organised Mum shared an Instagram post detailing how two of her followers had to seek emergency medical care when they accidentally mixed cleaners. Remember to always read the label of all the products you use.
  2. Protect your skin. Wear gloves on your hands and clothing that covers your body. Chemicals can be absorbed through the skin too.
  3. Switch products. If you are worried about using chemicals, look to use natural products instead. Distilled vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice can all provide great cleaning results without the potential health risk, and they can be kinder to the wider environment. Pregnant women and those with sensitive airways may prefer to use natural cleaners.

We don’t need to live in spotless homes in order to live a healthy life. In fact, as mentioned above, exposure to germs in early life might help to improve our immune system. However, it is possible that a good cleaning routine can benefit our health and even mental wellbeing. A quick search on the various cleaning Instagram accounts shows sometimes thousands of positive comments from people getting involved and for now the trend is continuing to grow.

Top 5 Instagram cleaning accounts

We’ve pulled together five top cleaning and organising Instagram accounts. So, if you’re not already caught up in the trend you can take a look for yourself.

The Organised Mum - Gem Bray’s account is good source of organisation inspiration as well as cleaning tips which she shares with #TeamTOMM.

Mrs Hinch - Sophie Hinchcliffe leads her #HinchArmy to cleaner homes from her spotless home in Essex.

Small Sustainable Steps - Amanda provides tips on living a simpler life as well as making at-home natural cleaning products.

Queen of Clean - with a book on the way and over 100k followers, Lynsey aka the Queen of Clean shares lots of practical and natural tips for keeping a clean home.

This Girl Can Organise - Nicola Lewis has turned her organisation skills into her own successful business and she still shares lots of tips on her very popular Instagram page.