After a truly shattering discovery ripped Lynsey Crombie’s world apart, she found her therapy in housework. Now that passion for cleaning has transformed her into TV and social media star the Queen of Clean. She tells Julia Llewellyn Smith how elbow grease saved her life.
It’s impossible for Lynsey Crombie’s detached townhouse in an attractive suburb of Peterborough to look any more pristine. The windows sparkle and I can see my face reflected in the glistening kitchen countertops. I’m nervous to sit down in case I mess up her perfectly plumped cushions. ‘Shall I take my shoes off?’ I ask.
‘No need!’ Lynsey replies. ‘I’ve already cleaned the floors twice today.’ It’s only 1pm.
Known as the Queen of Clean, Lynsey, 41, is a ‘cleanfluencer’, one of the new band of women storming social media, cleaning up financially… from literally cleaning up. They share tips about dusting, toilet scrubbing and making their whites whiter.
With 179,000 Instagram followers, regular appearances on ITV’s This Morning and two books to her name, Lynsey – who first came to fame throwing hoarders’ junk into skips on Channel 4’s Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners – is, as she says, ‘in a great place career-wise’. But the passion for cleanliness that brought her here comes from a very dark place.
Lynsey’s obsession with cleaning started 17 years ago after the horrific discovery that her new husband was a paedophile. The trauma sent her into premature labour with the twins she was carrying. Overnight, she became a single mother with two babies in a special-care unit.
‘I was in shock, and then all the bleaching started,’ she says. ‘I was like a lunatic; I’d get a bottle of bleach and pour it everywhere, over anything my husband had touched, all down my arms to wash away the pain he had caused me. I felt absolutely disgusting.’
Lynsey, who was 25 at the time, had known the man she won’t name for just over a year. They’d met when she was living in Kingston, Surrey, and working in marketing. He was seven years older with an executive job for a multinational company.
‘I was young and vulnerable; he was good-looking, with an amazing career, a big house and quite a bit of money. I thought I’d landed on my feet,’ she says, sitting in her spotless living room with her cockerpoo Hetty beside her (‘She’s only allowed on the sofa because she’s just been groomed’). ‘I’d been this ambitious career girl and he took my whole life.’
Within a year of meeting, they married. At the wedding, his sister took Lynsey aside and asked, ‘Do you know about him being in prison?’ Since her new husband had told Lynsey that he’d served time for being in a nightclub fight, she replied, ‘Look, boys can be silly, everyone’s got a past, it doesn’t bother me.’ Lynsey says, ‘My sister-in-law just turned and walked away. Obviously she was trying to warn me, but she didn’t do a very good job!’
Shortly after they married, the couple moved to Newcastle for her husband’s work. ‘Looking back, he used to do strange things: I’d wake in the middle of the night and find him in his office. He’d be on his computer, and when he saw me he’d literally pull all the wires out to stop me seeing what he was doing.’
One night, when Lynsey was 28 weeks pregnant, the police knocked at the door. ‘They came in and ripped everything apart. They had a warrant for my husband’s arrest and took him away, with me saying, “What’s he done?” But they couldn’t tell me.’
Distraught, Lynsey went to his parents’ house nearby. ‘Finally, his mother told me what he’d done. I found out he’d been in prison twice. I was so shocked, I instantly went into labour.’ With no special-care unit for premature babies in Newcastle, Lynsey and her daughters, Olivia and Mollie, were flown to hospital in Edinburgh. ‘It was very touch and go. Mollie was especially poorly and on oxygen feeding tubes. She was in and out of hospital like a yo-yo. The unit was a very sterile place – you were always having to wash your hands, so that fuelled my obsession.’
After six weeks, Olivia was allowed home. Mollie followed a few weeks later, but had to go everywhere attached to an oxygen canister. Isolated and still too shaken to tell family
and friends what had happened, every day Lynsey walked to the shops to buy cleaning products, then, returning home, cleaned frantically until all the products were used up.
‘There was this aggressive scrubbing because I was in so much pain internally and I was living on the breadline, so all I could do was stay home and clean.’
Finally, she told her family what had happened and her father drove her and the girls back to the family home in Peterborough, where she spent the next few months sharing the tiny spare room with the twins and an enormous oxygen tank. ‘I was 25 and felt my life was over: my children were poorly, my marriage dead and I had no career or money.’
But soon she found a flat nearby, with her father paying the first six months’ rent to get her back on her feet. ‘Social services were always visiting and used to compliment me on how everything in the flat was perfect; how organised I was. That really inspired me and helped me start to get my confidence back.
‘I was so ashamed of what had happened to me. I had some counselling, but it did nothing – what worked for me was scrubbing. But I soon realised that I was young, a mum and I couldn’t let what had happened shape the rest of my life. I could have ended up a hoarder, living like a pig, seeing my kids grow up horrendously. But I thought, “I am not going to let what that man did define me.” In the bigger scheme of things, I had only known him for two years and there had been a lot of good in my life before that. I decided that there would be a lot more good to come.’
Lynsey found a job as a receptionist at a GP’s surgery, where she met her second husband Rob, then a medical rep, who now works for a big pharmaceuticals company. She asked him out by text, then, when he accepted, she sent another message, saying, ‘PS, I’ve got twins, I’m going through a divorce and my life’s a mess – do you still want to come?’ ‘I thought he’d say no and that would get me out of it, but he said yes again! I think I was so ashamed of what I’d been through that I just didn’t want anyone to like me.’
In the early days of their relationship, Lynsey admits, ‘I was a horrible person. I used to shout and say such nasty things to Rob; I even took him to the police station to be Criminal Record Bureau checked. I can’t believe that he stayed with me.’
But Rob stuck it out and two years later they had a son, Jake, now 14. It was when he was a baby that Lynsey, unwilling to leave him in childcare, took a cleaning job in a care home where the elderly residents enjoyed sharing their time-honoured cleaning tips with her. Soon she had clients all over the neighbourhood. ‘Cleaning is the perfect job for mums – you can pick and choose your hours and your clients. It’s good honest work and great exercise – I didn’t have to go to the gym. And I enjoyed it.’ Lynsey was also working selling advertising space for a local magazine, when one day a researcher from Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners called looking for filthy houses for the show. Lynsey explained her background and was signed up. Within weeks she was travelling all over the country transforming some of Britain’s filthiest houses for the cameras. ‘In one country house I stepped on a rug and fell through the hole it was covering right through to the floor below.’
Lynsey discovered Instagram four years ago, after her daughters begged her to let them sign up. ‘I’d never heard of it, but I let them have it on the condition that I followed them and they didn’t block me.’
On her new account, Lynsey initially posted snaps of family life. ‘But one day I’d washed the floor and it had come out really nice. I had a bottle of Zoflora disinfectant, so I put that on the floor and took a picture, more for my enjoyment than anything else, and posted it on Instagram with #cleaning – the girls had taught me how to hashtag.’
Lynsey had 40 followers but the post attracted 190 likes. ‘It just went from that,’ she says. She carried on posting cleaning shots and within six months had 7,000 followers, at which point she began contacting brands, asking to promote their wares. ‘No one else was doing cleaning on Instagram then. I was offered £100 to promote a mop, and I was, like, “Wow!”’
Today, Lynsey can command thousands of pounds for sponsored posts. ‘It’s been a whirlwind for little old me who used to put my hand down loos,’ she laughs. But when it comes to cleaning products, she tends to favour a more old-fashioned approach using lore garnered from her former job at the care home. Her favourite products are lemon juice and vinegar.
‘You really don’t even have to go down the cleaning aisle in the supermarket, there’s so much you can do with a lemon,’ she says. ‘I really like the idea of me taking people back in time to when things were much simpler.’
Now Lynsey says that her cleaning obsession has ‘calmed down’. Though it still sounds bonkers to me, with her rising every morning at 5.30am to tackle her chores. ‘By 8am today I’d hoovered and polished and done the bathrooms; in the oven there’s two pasta dishes, so we’re all prepped for later.’
She doesn’t know what happened to her ex-husband, who was sentenced to time in Durham prison. The twins, who were on the Child Protection Register until they were seven, don’t know his identity but they have studied the Child Protection Reports on the case, kept in a box in the attic. ‘They’re amazing kids – it makes me so happy their father hasn’t won.’
Meanwhile, Lynsey is proud that she has channelled her trauma into a soaring career. As well as the social media, books and television appearances, she’s launching a new vacuum and cleaning products range. She also still occasionally takes on cleaning jobs for the council. ‘You have to keep it real, because the Instagram stuff is a bubble that could burst at any moment,’ she says.
She’s so busy – has she thought about, er, employing a cleaner? ‘Never!’ cries the Queen of Clean. ‘No one will clean to my standards.’
The Queen of Clean by numbers
179,000 Instagram followers
Since starting her account in 2016, Lynsey has racked up an impressive number of devotees. She now gets recognised by fans while out shopping or walking her dog.
18 vacuum cleaners at home
The ultimate accessory for a cleanfluencer like Lynsey – she keeps all of them in her utility room. Swan is her favourite brand.
7 years old: when she first fell in love with cleaning
As a young girl Lynsey loved cleaning and fondly remembers helping her mum scrub the bath with Jif (now renamed Cif).
15 lemons for cleaning each week
This is her go-to product for tackling a dirty microwave or oven and stains on clothes.
1,000 direct messages received a day
Always in touch with her followers, Lynsey confesses she never puts her phone down as fans are constantly contacting her for advice.
The Easy Life: Quick Ways to Clean and Manage Your Home All Year Round by Lynsey Crombie will be published by Welbeck Publishing on 2 April, price £14.99. To order a copy for £11.99 (a 20 per cent discount) with free p&p until 30 April, go to mailshop.co.uk or call 01603 648155. @lynsey_queenofclean; queenofclean.blog.