How did housework become the biggest social media trend of 2019? Just ask Mrs Hinch – the ultimate queen of clean – whose passion for polishing began as a way to beat crippling anxiety and transformed her into a (very shiny) goldmine.
No one likes cleaning, do they? Wrong! Millions of people like cleaning. In fact, it’s pretty much the most fashionable thing you could be doing right now. A new wave of Instagram cleaning influencers – ‘cleanfluencers’, if you will – has arrived to show us the way to a happier, brighter life. And reigning over them all is Mrs Hinch – aka 29-year-old Sophie Hinchliffe from Essex.
Two years ago, she was a part-time hairdresser in the tiny town of Maldon; now she’s a social-media superstar with more than two million followers, who only has to pick up a Vileda spray mop or Minky antibacterial pad for it to sell out in practically every shop in the country. She’s the figurehead of a cleaning craze that has swept all before it. Her photos of ‘karate-chopped’ cushions and gleaming floors receive hundreds of thousands of likes and everyone’s joining in. Search #mrshinch on Instagram and prepare to be dazzled by shining surfaces and pristine interiors. She’s funny, too, and says memorable little things, such as how she’d be happy to wear Flash Bathroom as a perfume.
Sophie has singlehandedly rebranded cleaning as ‘Hinching’, while her followers, the Hinch Army, are referred to as ‘my Hinchers’. Her additions to the language have made it into the online Urban Dictionary and are probably heading for the OED. Now the cleaning phenomenon herself is sitting opposite me – not renowned for my cleaning prowess; in fact, something of a stain on the name of cleaning – in a studio in East London, spooning tomato soup into a red- lipsticked mouth. She’s five months pregnant and tired after a long photo shoot, but ready to ‘crack on’.
Her look could be described as Essex glam, all tumbling highlighted locks and plucked, pencilled brows, but she’s changed out of the outfit she was wearing into a grey wool vest and trousers, and laughs about what her followers might make of her in a yellow suit. Everyone who follows Mrs Hinch knows her predilection for grey and white. Does she think they’d be shocked if she suddenly embraced colour? ‘Gosh, yeah, they’d be, like, “Mrs Hinch, what’s going on? There’s pink on your cushion.” I’d be, like, “Guys, it’s going off.”’
She’s tall but slight and delicate-looking, though this wasn’t always the case. There was a powerful response in January when she posted a picture of her 19-year-old self alongside a current photo in response to the popular #10YearChallenge on social media. She has lost eight stone in the intervening years. ‘I think it surprised people,’ she says, adding that they seem to be able to relate to her more knowing that she’s ‘not this perfect cleaner with a perfect setup. I wanted to let them know that, because people have such pressure on themselves to have a perfect life. I went through a hell of a lot, which is why my confidence isn’t great even now.’
She put on weight in her late teens, after leaving home. ‘I’d just passed my driving test, so I was able to go out in the car and get takeaways at McDonald’s Drive-Thrus. Before I knew it, I was eating for what felt like eating’s sake. I was getting pizzas and deliveries. I love food, even now.’ Shopping became a struggle (‘I tried to wear baggy clothes as much as I could, just to blend in’) and she found herself making excuses when her friends wanted to go out. She talks about the day she couldn’t squeeze into the seat of a fairground ride: ‘It hit me… the stares, the way people look at you.’
She decided to take drastic action. At 21, she took out a bank loan of £6,000 to have a gastric band fitted. Two years later, she was admitted to hospital when the band slipped and became wedged in her oesophagus. She was in agony and had to have an emergency operation to move the band back up. It is now unclipped, she says, which means it’s not working, although it has not been removed, and she regrets having it. ‘The surgery works for some people. But for me, if I had known the complications and the risks, I wouldn’t have done it.’
It wasn’t the end of her difficulties. Her dramatic weight loss led to excess skin on her arms, and a 2016 operation to remove it led to a serious infection. She thought she was going to lose her left arm until antibiotics got the infection under control. As a result of her experiences, she says, ‘body shaming angers me, because even if you lose the weight you never forget the comments. I’m still not 100 per cent confident with my body but I’m getting there.’
She wasn’t officially Mrs Hinchliffe until she married Jamie last year – he’s known as Mr Hinch to her followers – but she decided she could get away with it when she set up her account in March 2017. She initially saw it simply as a keepsake album of the house they’d scrimped and saved to buy together in July 2016.
They’ve been together for five years, and met when they worked in sales for a Central London job-search company, before Sophie left to train as a hairdresser. She still colours hair for family and friends, but since problems emerged with a hereditary blood disorder – she has a protein deficiency and Factor VLeiden, which causes an increased risk of blood clots (leading to another health scare when she developed a clot in her leg) – she’s not able to stand up for hours. ‘Though deep down, I’m still a hairdresser,’ she says.
She describes being an Instagram influencer as ‘a hobby’, but it can certainly be very lucrative. The business side of Sophie’s success is now managed by one of the most prominent agencies in the digital world, who will be working to maximise her market potential. Major brands often use influencers to promote their products, and for those with more than a million followers the rewards can be exceptional, with fees in the tens of thousands for a single post. Sophie insists that it’s not about money – ‘I was living my best life before it, and I could do it again’ – and declines to put a rough figure on her earnings, although she says, ‘It’s not like Instagram has made me a millionaire.’
She tells me how – when she first started and had about 1,000 followers – she was sent some Ava May Aromas wax melts and thought, ‘My God, I’m a brand rep.’ But since her account has grown, she says Ava May proprietor Hannah Chapman, who started the business in 2018 ‘working in her bedroom’, now has a team of employees. ‘People assume I’m paid a load of money by her; I’m not. I get free wax melts, which I love, but her life has changed. It made me realise I’ve helped passions become businesses, which I still find odd.’
The trickle-down effect is profound. Sophie’s friend Tracy-Lou, for instance, who runs Tracy-Lou’s Nails (46k followers) does her elaborately manicured fingernails, which feature regularly in her stories. Followers will be familiar, too, with the rose tattoo on her wrist, often seen while polishing a door handle or unloading a ‘Hinch haul’ – otherwise known as a shopping bag of products (especially pleasurable if it contains bargains – ‘bargs’). ‘Everyone recognises me from that,’ she laughs. It covers up a tattoo of her name, which she had done aged 18. After five years of hearing the same joke – ‘Is that in case you forget?’ – she’d had enough, although she notes, ‘My middle name is Rose, my nan’s name is Rose; I’ve got roses on my thighs as well. I’m basically a walking rose bush.’
People sometimes assume she suffers from OCD, she says, ‘but I don’t. Today I didn’t even make my bed and my pyjamas are on the floor; honestly, I’m gonna go home to it but it hasn’t been on my mind. I don’t think people who have OCD need to be ashamed of it either,’ she adds. She does suffer from anxiety, though, and cleaning helps her to feel calm and control her panic attacks. She worries about things some people wouldn’t even think twice about, she says, ‘like going out to a little caff and sitting there on my own, having some lunch. When I’m at home, and I start to feel a bit of panic in my chest, I will grab a mop or a cloth and put on some good music. It really helps me relax.’
People have created Spotify playlists of the tracks featured in her stories. She receives lots of positive feedback, but the odd mean remark, too. In her new book, Hinch Yourself Happy: All The Best Cleaning Tips To Shine Your Sink And Soothe Your Soul, she reveals how she used to shake when she read the negative comments. ‘I’ve had to grow a thicker skin,’ she tells me. She recalls being called ‘Essex scum’ after she appeared on ITV’s This Morning. She admits that she even thought about closing her account, but says, ‘I’m not hurting anybody. I’m at home shining my sink. If me and my followers enjoy doing that there’s a lot worse going on out there.’
She’s not the only cleanfluencer, by any means. There’s a panoply of them: several Clean Queens and a Queen of Clean; a Clean Mama and an Organised Mum; although none has anything like the following that Mrs Hinch does. She follows her ‘rivals’, picks up tips, loves Little Miss Mops (103k followers), who does ‘end-of-tenancy cleans, the real strong before and afters – I do a bit of what’s called “pretty cleaning” – she’s amazing’. She dislikes the idea that cleanfluencing could become competitive. ‘I don’t see how any animosity can come from cleaning, because we can all do it.’
This might be her secret. She’s down-to-earth, good-hearted and live-and-let-live. She thinks the reason cleaning has become such a thing is that ‘we’ve all got a bed we need to make, a toilet that needs to be cleaned’. But she admits she’s still ‘in shock, because it’s never been looked at as anything other than a chore and boring. Now we’re, like, “I’m spending my weekend cleaning…”’
She was ‘very untidy’ as a child, she tells me, swiftly disabusing me of one of my longest-held get-outs – that you’re either a tidy person or an untidy person. She also seems to keep her home pristine with the minimum of effort. ‘I don’t do too much. All my Hinchers know I’ll either be going to the shops looking for more products or walking the dog or going round to my mum’s. I like to do a little bit of a Hinch every day, whether it be a 30-minute clean or something from my little checklist book.’
Some people feel that what she and the other (mostly female) influencers are doing reinforces the idea that cleaning is women’s work. ‘I’ve never given anyone reason to think that I believe this is just for women. I get some of my best tips and hints from the male accounts out there.’
Does she think there’s a gender divide when it comes to cleaning? ‘No! I’ve got so many male Hinchers and they’re amazing. People assume it’s always the women that clean – it’s not, the men are just as good. I also get messages saying, “Mrs Hinch, you’ve helped my marriage. We’re enjoying keeping our home the way that it is together.” Now, don’t get me wrong. I shout at Mr Hinch – I’m, like, “Your pants are on the floor, mate,” but who doesn’t step out of their pants sometimes?’
Mrs Hinch may be a retailer’s dream, but some of her product choices, in their reliance on bleach and phosphates, make her vulnerable to a charge of ignoring the impact on our water supply and our health. Does she worry about it? ‘I’ll be honest, before I watched the Blue Planet documentary, I didn’t realise how bad it was,’ she says. David Attenborough’s 2017 follow-up to the 2001 series highlighted the effect of our lifestyles on the oceans, and is credited with bringing about a change in attitudes towards plastic. She says she’s been working with larger brands, wanting ‘to know how they’re planning on becoming more environmentally conscious’.
So far, she’s turned down TV offers and says she doesn’t want to give up her present lifestyle, especially with a baby on the way. Is she aware of the theory that exposure to a bit of dirt is good for children as their immune systems develop? She laughs. ‘I think my kid’s gonna be like I was, going outside, rolling round in the dirt. People think I have some sort of fear of mess. I don’t – my dog has muddy paws, he comes through the house.’ Ah, Henry Hinch, her three-year-old cocker spaniel and Instagram co-star. ‘I live for him some mornings. I wake up and he’s there. He makes me smile.’
Henry’s going to have to get used to sharing her attention, though. ‘As a first-time mum, it’s all gonna be brand new to me, but I’m really looking forward to the challenge. I’ll have my little secret Hinch-up maybe when the baby’s sleeping.’
Hinch Yourself Happy: All The Best Cleaning Tips To Shine Your Sink And Soothe Your Soul will be published on 4 April (Michael Joseph, £12.99).