The Strange Allure of Pool-Cleaning Videos

Some TikTok creators have become successful on the video platform by dancing, singing or performing everyday tasks.

Miles Laflin has amassed 11 million followers by cleaning pools.

Better known by his moniker, @thep00lguy, Mr. Laflin, a swimming pool engineer from Britain, posts short videos to his channel that take viewers through the often laborious process of cleaning his customers’ grime-covered swimming pools, with the most dramatic “green to clean” transformations gathering over 100 million views.

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Mr. Laflin, who has been cleaning pools for more than 11 years, is one of the newest additions to a group of online creators clustered under the umbrella term “cleanfluencers” — cleaning influencers — whose clips of humdrum tasks, including blasting the dirt from decades-old carpets and pressure-washing sidewalks, have found a surprisingly large audience.

While there are undoubtedly viewers looking for practical cleaning tips, some researchers believe the root of such videos’ popularity lies deeper in human nature.

Stephanie Alice Baker, a senior lecturer in sociology at City, University of London, said cleaning videos had a shock factor between the beginning and the end result, a well-established trick of the trade, that helped make them compelling.

“It’s long been known in the fitness industry that one of the most successful ways to build an audience is a before-and-after post,” Dr. Baker said.

She also said that a large part of the videos’ appeal was how they make viewers feel.

“Many people report a sense of satisfaction from watching a filthy pool be transformed into something beautiful and clean,” Dr. Baker said. “These videos represent a sense of accomplishment, order and mastery, which can be both calming and engaging for viewers.”

The phenomenon of content that is oddly satisfying is by no means new. The subreddit r/oddlysatisfying, created eight years ago, has more than six million followers, and accounts on YouTube have built similarly large audiences.

Yet TikTok’s emphasis on short-form video that delivers a cleaning high in a matter of seconds has propelled the video genre to new levels. Videos tagged with #oddlysatisfying on the platform have generated more than 45 billion views (beating recent TikTok trends like #bamarush or #frozenhoney many times over.)

Craig Richard, a professor in biopharmaceutical sciences at Shenandoah University, in Virginia, believes the appeal of cleaning videos lies in human evolution. For our ancestors, watching a person work with her hands would most likely teach them a skill, Dr. Richard said. That lesson has filtered down through the generations so that, even today, watching videos of people at work subconsciously flicks on that part of our brain, he said, and keeps us glued.

“We’re hard-wired to stare at hands that are showing you something or explaining something because we’re hard-wired that that might help us to survive somehow,” Dr. Richard said.

In this way, he said, the videos by Mr. Laflin and other cleanfluencers are the modern-day equivalent of watching Bob Ross on the long-running PBS series “The Joy of Painting”; people instinctively get drawn in, even if they have no intention of painting or cleaning a pool themselves.

The expert action and gentle sounds of pool cleaning videos are also similar to those in videos that produce an autonomous sensory meridian response, commonly known as A.S.M.R., said Dr. Richard, who has a website devoted to the topic.

A.S.M.R. describes the pleasurable, brain-tingling feeling that some people have when experiencing certain activities, such as hearing someone whisper or crinkle up paper or plastic packaging.

As for why some people find pool videos satisfying, Dr. Richard cited a 2018 study he worked on that found A.S.M.R. videos light up the parts of the brain involving dopamine and oxytocin, hormones associated with feeling focused, relaxed and comforted.

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Whatever the explanation, Mr. Laflin, the pool cleaner, is awed by how many people find his work a pleasure to watch.

“I didn’t expect people to enjoy it as much as they do,” he said. “If I had known that, I would have started filming years ago.”

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