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TikTok Says The Pink Stuff Is a Miracle Cleaner. We Found It's Not. – The New York Times

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The Pink Stuff is marketed as a miracle cleaner capable of tackling messes in every room of the house. But does it really work? We tested it to find out. In most cases, The Pink Stuff is a good cleaner—but it’s not the wonder worker TikTok would have you believe. It did outperform the competition in a few circumstances, but this product fell short a few times, too. The Pink Stuff surprised us with its cleaning power, but it isn’t the only hard-working cleaner on the market. And though there were aspects of The Pink Stuff we really liked, there were also things we’d change about it.
 
The bubblegum-pink paste from the UK’s Star Brands dominates TikTok’s #CleanTok algorithm. And as TikTokers use it to scrub new life into everything from gnarly ovens and grease-stained saucepans to soap-scum-encrusted ceramic tiles and grimy grout, the mildly abrasive, non-toxic cleaner has gone viral for its purported versatility. With more than 250 million views on TikTok, The Pink Stuff has undoubtedly mesmerized casual and professional cleaners alike.
We dove into the deep end of #CleanTok to find out whether The Pink Stuff works as well as everyone claims. We spoke with a handful of professionals, including the lead environmental scientist at Green Seal and the owner of a Wisconsin-based residential and commercial cleaning company. We pulled together a testing panel of Wirecutter staffers, enthusiast cleaners, and the folks at the University of Massachusetts’s cleaning laboratory, the Toxics Use Reduction Institute. And since someone had to do it (and absolutely not because the algorithm made us), we spent hours watching TikTokers use The Pink Stuff to scrub down every corner of their homes. Here’s what we learned.
Star Brands offers a whole line of The Pink Stuff cleaning products—including a multipurpose cleaner, a bathroom foam cleaner, a disinfectant cleaner, a window cleaner, and laundry detergent. But for this article, we took a closer look only at TikTok’s viral breakout star—The Pink Stuff cleaning paste.
Like other mildly abrasive cleaners, The Pink Stuff is intended to remove heavy-duty dirt and grime buildup with relatively little effort. Abrasive cleaners come in a few forms, the most common being powder, liquid, and paste. No one form is better than any other because each has advantages, and each works differently on varying surfaces, according to Brandon Pleshek, a Wisconsin-based CleanTok content creator and owner of a professional cleaning company. (Pleshek has sponsorships with and makes affiliate revenue from cleaning products. However, he has no financial tie to The Pink Stuff.) For instance, The Pink Stuff’s tacky, toothpaste-like consistency makes it a good choice for cleaning vertical surfaces, such as the sides of an oven or shower tiles.
“You want a cleaner to really stick on the surface so the soap can do its thing,” Pleshek said. “There’s no cleaner I’ve ever found that you can spray on a surface and simply wipe the dirt away. That’s not realistic. You’ve got to give it time to let it do its thing to loosen the dirt and grime.”
As the name suggests, The Pink Stuff is indeed a bright, cotton-candy pink, which is odd for a household cleaning product—typically, professional cleaners steer clear of products treated with dye. “Dyes mean staining,” said Pleshek. “You see something that’s obnoxiously pink, and you think you shouldn’t use it on things that are white, which can stain easily.” The Pink Stuff, however, doesn’t stain. In fact, it’s quite good at restoring white sneakers to their former glory and wiping baseboards clean.
We asked the Cleaning Lab specialists at UMass Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute to use the cleaning paste on different surfaces soiled with a variety of contaminants. TURI collaborates with businesses, community organizations, and government agencies to reduce the use of toxic chemicals while protecting public health and the environment. The Cleaning Lab in particular uses standardized test procedures to compare the effectiveness of cleaning products—which is exactly what cleaning laboratory specialist Alicia McCarthy, laboratory technician Nicole Kebler, and research assistant Zoe Lawson did.
We also spoke with Hailey Becnel, a Florida-based cleaning-content creator who runs @thecleaningchannel on Instagram. Becnel used The Pink Stuff to clean multiple areas of her home, including a scorched frying pan and a hard-water-spotted shower door.
Wirecutter staff member and cleaning enthusiast James Austin, who has written about the proper way to clean a toilet and bathroom tile, tested The Pink Stuff around his New York apartment. He focused mainly on his oven’s grimy door, which he guesses had probably never been cleaned. I also put The Pink Stuff to work throughout my house in Colorado, testing its versatility by cleaning two pairs of shoes, a greasy oven, a limescale-covered faucet, and dirty shower tiles and grout.
The results: It’s easy to use, effective, and fast-acting.
I’d seen so many TikTokers restoring beat-up sneakers to their former glory that I had to scrub down my Vans the moment The Pink Stuff showed up on my doorstep. The under-$10 cleaner came with easy-to-follow instructions, but I wish they’d included how long you should let the paste sit before rinsing it off. The scent was faint and pleasantly floral. Using an OXO Good Grips Deep Clean brush, I smeared a layer of The Pink Stuff onto the once-white, scuffed rubber soles of my sneakers. I tried to keep the paste away from the canvas and suede (because I wasn’t positive it wouldn’t stain my shoes pink). Even though I wasn’t entirely successful, The Pink Stuff was easy to wipe off and left behind no trace.
I gave The Pink Stuff about 15 minutes to work its magic. Then I scrubbed the paste into the rubber soles and rinsed it away with warm water. This cleaner worked just as well as I’d hoped it would, restoring the soles of my Vans to the bright, clean white they were when I first bought them, two years ago. Excited, I repeated the experiment with my partner’s dingy Nikes, leaving The Pink Stuff to soak for 15 minutes before scrubbing it off. Again, all the dirt that had clung to the sneakers washed away effortlessly, requiring very little elbow grease.
To test The Pink Stuff’s ability to lift dirt, the Cleaning Lab folks used Hucker’s soil (a mixture of creamy peanut butter, salted butter, wheat gluten, egg yolk, evaporated milk, deionized water, printer’s ink with boiled linseed oil, India ink, and saline solution) to dirty ceramic, plastic, stainless steel, and painted metal surfaces. Then they soaked the items in a small amount of The Pink Stuff and water for 30 seconds before rinsing them clean. The Pink Stuff did a nearly flawless job of removing soil from ceramic and painted metal, clearing away 99% of the grime, and it removed 95% of dirt from plastic surfaces. It was less effective on stainless steel, though, removing only 83% of the grime. For comparison, the lab performed this same test with a similar cleaner, Soft Scrub All Purpose Cleanser. Overall, the Soft Scrub worked better than The Pink Stuff, effectively cleaning away 99% of the soil from every surface.
The results: The Pink Stuff cuts grease well, but cleanup can take a while.
James split his greasy oven door into quadrants and used four different cleaners: The Pink Stuff, a mix of baking soda and water, a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, and a wet sponge with no cleaner. He found that each cleaning method was effective, but the time it took to clean varied. Using the scrubby side of a wet Scotch-Brite sponge with no cleaner worked eventually, but it took a significant amount of time and effort. The Magic Eraser performed similarly, struggling to cut through the grease. The Pink Stuff, on the other hand, worked well, finishing the job in about four minutes, but James found it difficult to wipe away. “Cleaning up the paste was a bit of a pain, as it’s gloopy texture made it easy to get into small crevices.” It also didn’t mop up as effectively as the water–and–baking soda solution, which James said worked in under three minutes.
To mimic the greasy mess you’d likely find in a kitchen, the folks at the Cleaning Lab used a mix of lard, vegetable oil, and shortening to soil ceramic, plastic, and stainless steel surfaces. They used a small amount of The Pink Stuff and water on each surface, let the cleaner sit for 30 seconds, and then proceeded to rinse the material. For comparison, they also performed the same experiment with Soft Scrub All Purpose Cleanser. The Pink Stuff just barely outperformed its competition, effectively removing 97% of the grime on almost every surface. The Soft Scrub removed around 93% of the greasy mess from ceramic and stainless steel, and it worked a bit better than The Pink Stuff on plastic.
The results: The Pink Stuff tackled the job, but not without a little hard work.
The bottom of my oven was a charred disaster. The night before The Pink Stuff arrived, I tried to clean the mess with Easy-Off Oven Cleaner. That did an okay job, removing the top layer of filth, but my oven was far from clean. Rather than use another round of Easy-Off, I waited until I had The Pink Stuff and used the paste on the remaining mess. It effectively removed the remaining gunk from the bottom of my oven, leaving only small specks of scorched remnants behind. But I did have to scrub harder than I had when using the Easy-Off.
In my experience, Easy-Off and The Pink Stuff both worked similarly, and the folks at the Cleaning Lab had similar results. They also tested Easy-Off Oven Cleaner on the food mixture they’d baked onto a stainless steel surface, and they found it was as effective at cleaning the mess as The Pink Stuff.
Becnel used The Pink Stuff to clean the scorched bottom of a frying pan (a mess that’s similar to a dirty oven caked with grime, grease, and burnt debris). Using a non-scratch sponge, she scrubbed the cleaner onto the bottom of the rust-colored pan and let it sit for five minutes. After rinsing it away, she found The Pink Stuff had lifted most of the grime, leaving the pan noticeably cleaner.
The results: This cleaner isn’t the greatest on grout or plastic, but it makes chrome and glass shine.
The Pink Stuff barely made a difference on my shower tile grout. I smeared the pink goop into the crevices, scrubbing with my OXO brush and letting it sit for about a half-hour. It was difficult to wipe the paste from the crevices, and the grout looked just as dirty as it had before I cleaned. The Pink Stuff also didn’t work on the limescale buildup around my chrome bathroom faucet. I left the paste to sit for nearly an hour, but it made no difference. It did, however, make the chrome gleam.
When cleaning her glass shower door, Becnel had more luck. It was covered in hard-water stains before she applied The Pink Stuff with a non-scratch sponge. After massaging the cleaner into the door and leaving it to sit for 10 minutes, she rinsed it away and found that it had removed the water stains and buildup, leaving the glass shiny and clean.
The Cleaning Lab had more luck. To re-create a dirty bathroom, they used a mix of all-in-one shampoo, dry-skin lotion, liquid soap, liquid body wash, and deodorant bar soap to soil ceramic, plastic, and chrome surfaces. They found The Pink Stuff and Lysol Power Bathroom Cleaner to be equally effective at removing bathroom grime, though certain cleaners worked better on different surfaces. For instance, The Pink Stuff was the least effective on plastic, and the Lysol spray was the most effective.
The folks at the Cleaning Lab also wanted to see how The Pink Stuff fared on glass, chrome, and mirrored surfaces, so they dirtied those with a mix of hair gel, toothpaste, shaving cream, hair spray, and spray deodorant. The Pink Stuff did well, as did Soft Scrub All Purpose Cleanser: Both were about 99% effective on glass and chrome, but the Soft Scrub cleaned the mirror just a tiny bit better than The Pink Stuff.
The Pink Stuff is an effective cleaner, no matter the surface it’s smeared across or the mess it’s tackling. The folks at the Cleaning Lab found it performed well on almost all of the surfaces they cleaned with it. And, for the most part, The Pink Stuff worked as well as similar cleaners did on these same surfaces. The Pink Stuff outperformed its competition in a few circumstances, but it fell short a few times, too. This stuff wowed us, but so did some of the other cleaners we used. There were definitely upsides to The Pink Stuff. The paste is formulated without harsh chemicals, it smells pleasant, and it sticks well to surfaces. But it’s also hard to get your hands on because few storefronts in the US carry it. Also, The Pink Stuff can be difficult to rinse out of crevices, and it doesn’t always yield the best results (depending on the surface and contaminant it’s up against).
Most of the ingredients in The Pink Stuff are naturally occurring or can be derived from naturally occurring starting materials, according to Nina Hwang, lead environmental scientist at Green Seal, a nonprofit environmental certification program in the US. Green Seal evaluates products, and it awards a certification to those that meet rigorous health, environmental, and performance standards set by the organization.
The Pink Stuff has not been certified by Green Seal because Star Brands hasn’t submitted its cleaning paste for review. Because of this, Hwang can’t speak to the product’s performance. But she did explain what each ingredient in The Pink Stuff is likely used for:
Star Brands boasts of its product’s “natural formulation,” which provides “high performance without the need for harsh chemicals.” The company has said it follows the charter for sustainable cleaning, which regulates more-sustainable cleaning practices. “We strive to make sure that our cleaning products do not cause heavy environmental impact,” the company’s FAQ page reads.
It’s important to keep in mind that natural ingredients aren’t automatically safer than synthetic ingredients, Hwang said.
“Even when manufacturers do their best to be transparent about what’s in their products, it can still be difficult to identify safer products just by looking at the label ingredients,” she said. “For example, fragrance can include chemicals that are allergens, and yet the ingredients used to make the fragrance are rarely ever disclosed on the product label.”
Likewise, the phrase “nontoxic” might not be as straightforward as most folks are led to believe. “‘Nontoxic’ is an unregulated marketing claim, and there is no universal definition,” Hwang said, “so product producers should always be able to explain what they mean by nontoxic.”
Wirecutter reached out to Star Brands for comment but received no reply.
The Pink Stuff is a good cleaner, but it’s not the miracle worker that #CleanTok would have you believe. It’s important to keep in mind that what you see on TikTok is edited to make an hour’s worth of hard work look like an easy 10 seconds.
Cleaning is subjective, and Pleshek added that many factors can affect the way The Pink Stuff—or any cleaner, for that matter—works. He used two dirty cookie sheets as an example: One sheet might be 10 years old and covered in scorched, baked-on food bits, while the other could be six months old and look just as dirty. The older pan with more caked-on grime is going to take more elbow grease to properly clean, whereas the newer pan is probably going to be a little easier to wipe clean.
There’s also a possibility that The Pink Stuff could work differently on similar types of surfaces and grime depending on where you’re located. “There are different types of dirt and soil across the entire US,” Pleshek explained. “Some soaps that work really well in Wisconsin don’t work in Arizona because the dirt is more like clay.” Mineral deposits that build up in your shower and on your faucets also make a difference: In some areas, The Pink Stuff works great on grout and glass doors; in others, hard-water buildup requires a more-aggressive cleaner.
The same goes for the type of tool you’re using to scrub The Pink Stuff into surfaces. Some folks find scrub brushes work well. Others use regular kitchen sponges. And some swear by the Scrub Daddy. If you’re having trouble getting The Pink Stuff to work, swap the type of sponge or rag you’re using before completely writing off the cleaner.
All that said, The Pink Stuff is a versatile tool that earns its spot in a cleaning kit. Because it requires a bit more elbow grease than other aggressive cleaners, the paste shouldn’t replace your other mildly abrasive cleaners completely. Pleshek thinks it works best for maintaining cleanliness in your home after a deep clean, rather than for tackling the big, caked-on messes.
Elissa Sanci
Senior Staff Writer
Elissa Sanci is a senior staff writer for Wirecutter’s discovery team based in Denver. Her byline has appeared in The New York Times, Woman’s Day, Marie Claire, and Good Housekeeping. When she’s not testing TikTok-famous products or writing about car garbage cans, you can find her hiking somewhere in the Rockies or lying on the couch with a bowl of chips balanced on her chest. There is no in-between.
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