These videos of people power-cleaning old grime will also clean your mind
Everything is collapsing. The senators are insider trading. The algorithm is relentlessly selling the most tepid, flavorless version of your life back to you. The last remaining industries are meal delivery apps, “cloud software,” and threadbare money laundering schemes. Your account has been deducted a fee and you’re just now hearing about it for the first time. We fluctuate between rage and limp nihilism and back again, and while this column won’t fix that, it will provide you with a small good thing to appreciate, a recognition of something weird and valuable and beautiful, despite it all.
I saw this video the other day of a man cleaning a disgusting car seat and have passed it around to loved ones the way you would share a video of a peak-steroid Barry Bonds home run, or someone BASE jumping off a cliff. The car seat is dirty in a specific, fossilized sort of way, like the Styrofoam ceiling tiles in a bar that once allowed smoking indoors, or the curtains in a cheap motel — it is stained but more than that it is defeated. It is post-stain, a shade of brown that feels fundamental to the fabric’s identity.
The man in the video is holding a clear plastic drum of unlabeled pink liquid, spraying the seats with it, then he’s scrubbing them with a bristle attachment fastened to a cordless drill till it works a froth to the surface that looks almost like espresso foam. Then with two hands he drags a screaming vacuum nozzle down the fabric in steady, precise lines. Then 35 seconds later the car seat is pristine, assembly-line gray again, the brown is gone. Magic. That’s the entire video. No preface, no dialogue.
You might be familiar with this type of content, something I have begun to refer to as “grime videos,” though you may know it as gunk, crud, dirt, mung, sludge, anything that can be instantly blasted or scrubbed or vacuumed by devices with astonishing torque and suction. I watch them all the time. Old stuffed animals, car seats, toilets. A guy spraying the almighty shit out of a floor mat with a cleanser one might sanitize nuclear reactor zones with to resurrect its once-new and exuberant self. Here is a before and after so hypnotic and unbelievable you’ll want to text your family about it.
What we’re looking for, it turns out? Black bathroom mildew buffed from white tile grout.
Every day the algorithm’s intricate mathematics identifies some vague spiritual yearning and curiosity in our habits and delivers that back to us as something specific, a solution. What we’re looking for, it turns out? Black bathroom mildew buffed from white tile grout. Videos of some guy in Scotland power washing sludge off a fuse breaker box at high velocity, edited to have the intense theater of Led Zeppelin concert footage from the 70s. There are remixes of remixes of Jack Harlow songs set to sped-up clips of guys vacuuming yellow-brown seafoam-looking lather from what appears to be the carpeted hallway outside a dentist’s office. A guy from Oakland Park, Florida engaged in vigorous combat with the bench seat of a sedan. The pleasing sound of rocks and gravel and potato chips clattering up a plastic vacuum tube to reveal a fresh black car mat, lush as a golf fairway. Couch cleaners in Istanbul.
There is no vlogger narrative in any of these videos, none of the call-back anecdotes of the vlogger cinematic universe and no influencers in the scene. There is no filler, no nutrients, no preamble, just heavy cream scraped off the top of Content and ladled into a bowl for you to enjoy.
What’s the appeal of all this? Why are we watching, exactly? Each video tells the same story: Grime, and its resounding, spectacular defeat by Machine, Chemicals, and the diligent hands of some guy in a strip mall in suburban Florida. Grime has never won, it’s the worst team in the league. If one of these videos makes its way into your feed, just know that Grime is going to take an absolute beatdown. Grime’s coach is going to be in the postgame with a rumpled shirt, devastated, questioning his team’s effort. Grime seemed at the beginning of the match like it could be a formidable opponent — 25 ounces of red wine soaked into a peanut butter brown car seat — but it was obliterated in less than 30 seconds, sent away in shame, disappearing in a torrent up a clear plastic nozzle and into a tub of other Beaten Grimes. And this will not only not repulse us, it will make us feel a kind of mild, satisfying high. You are the undisputed Champion every time you log on, your upholstery is gorgeous and perfect and fresh again. This is why we’re in this infinitely scrolling arena.
Our problems in life otherwise are either enormous or complex or both, but in these videos they all vanish in 40 seconds or less. No one is thinking about metaphors watching them, the abstract and literal grimes we’re all caked in every day of our lives and our aching desire to be purged of them, but I think there is a universal thrill in watching something dead and hopeless revived.
There is a man in Poland who takes antique rugs covered in dense layers of black dirt and power blasts them to reveal magnificent floral and geometric patterns; he posts YouTube videos with titles like “Washing a RUG FROM OGRE CAVE” and “MUDDY RIVERS OF BROWN GOO.” In the comments people cheer triumphantly, as if an exotic animal has been rehabilitated after a lifetime in a traveling circus. Below one of them, someone wrote, “It looked so tired & worn when you started and bright & alive when done.”