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CLEAN CHIC

Urban India has found the perfect symbol for its lockdown purgatory: a mop

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Spin with me.
  • Manavi Kapur
By Manavi Kapur

Culture and lifestyle reporter

Urban Indians have found their lockdown messiah. It’s tall, it’s sleek, and comes with its own little home. It’s even a little fuzzy.

No, it’s not a pet. It’s the “magic mop.”

In the over 50 days since citizens have been left gallivanting within the four walls of their homes, a good number of the middle-class has discovered—or even rediscovered—this apparatus as an essential item. All the more so for those badly missing their domestic help.

Better known as the spin mop, it is essentially a long metallic handle with a flat-bottomed microfibre cleaner at the end. It comes with its own bucket, which often has wheels and separate compartments for clean and dirty water. It is a snazzy upgrade to the humble ponchha, often a piece of old and worn-out cloth, requiring the user to squat to wipe and frequently wringing out the dirt and excess water.

For traditional Indian households where such chores mostly are women’s responsibility, this device is godsend. “I think the men still know their way around the broom, but when it comes to using the ponchha, they somehow just refuse to do the awkward squat,” says Nikita Arora, a 31-year-old graphic designer in Gurugram. “Even if we don’t use it every day, this (spin) mop doesn’t break my back, yet cleans the floor properly.”

Arora isn’t alone.

Realising of late the domestic help’s value, both men and women have found in the spin mop a reliable companion. So much so that many of them, including Bollywood celebrities, have in recent days expressed appreciation for it on social media.

 

Instagram screenshot
Actor Katrina Kaif’s lockdown find: the spin mop.

These raving endorsements even seem to have translated to roaring sales of a variety of spin mops—regular, snazzy, semi-automatic.

Sweeping in the moolah

Given how long they last, mops typically are not a fast-moving item in the home care category.

Yet, on e-commerce platforms delivering essentials, spin mops have suddenly shot up in demand in recent weeks. “Since the lockdown, the daily demand for spin mops has gone up four times,” says a Snapdeal spokesperson. It became the fastest-selling household item on the e-commerce site within days of the lockdown, with stocks running out rapidly. ShopClues, too, has reported a 100% increase in demand for spin mops-with-bucket.

Besides mops and spin-buckets, wipers, dustpans, and brooms too have witnessed massive demand on Paytm Mall, according to Srinivas Mothey, senior vice-president of the e-commerce company.

And all this is despite spin-mops being fairly expensive—priced between Rs200($2.65) and Rs3,500—compared to the Rs40 woven-rope ponchha found in most Indian homes.

Snapdeal estimates that the mid-range ones—Rs600-1,000—are the most popular. “The most sold variant in this category is spin mop with bucket and wheels, with a handle to drag the bucket,” the Snapdeal spokesperson said.

Even offline grocers like Ankit Singhal of Gurugram, who stocked up well in anticipation of a surge in demand, haven’t been able to cope up. “The spin mop was always a popular product given that Gurugram is a corporate hub,” says Singhal, a supermarket owner who’s been tracking the progress of coronavirus since December. “Despite our planning, there was a shortage on the supply side.”

Most of his walk-in customers simply ask for the “magic mop,” while some do look for branded items. This desire for a magical solution goes back three decades it seems.

The miracle solution

The magic mop is, in turn, a colloquialism for the “Miracle Mop,” invented by Joy Mangano in 1990. A single mother of three from Long Island in the US, Mangano created a self-wringing mop to make her own life easier. Though there weren’t enough takers for it in the beginning, a deal with TV commerce platform, QVS, turned Miracle Mop into a household name in the US.

It is now a widely known story that Mangano’s mop sold 18,000 times within the first half-an-hour of being marketed on television. She has, so far, sold mops worth billions of dollars; her own net worth is estimated to be around $50 million. Her story later inspired the movie Joy, starring Jennifer Lawrence.

Yet, India’s lockdown magic mop isn’t exactly Miracle Mop. The latter has longer, looser fibres and a slightly different mechanism for the wringing function.

Despite the differences, a search for “magic mop” on any household item-delivery portal leads to a sizable variety in the types and brands, including Scotch-Brite, Gala, and Esquire, of these spin mops.

Whatever be their name or form, they seem to have kindled interesting dynamics in urban Indian homes.

Chore wheel

Quartz photo/itika sharma punit
Not all heroes wear capes.

When Gurpriya Bhatia’s mother caught a fever in March, the Delhi family decided to send its domestic help on a leave. “I bought the spin mop so my father would use it. Instead, he decided the floor doesn’t need mopping at all,” says the consultant with the legal corporate advisory team of a global company.

Though her mother’s health improved later and the spin mop did come in handy, Bhatia isn’t confident about letting her chartered accountant husband use it. “I fear he won’t unlock it properly and just break it. And I don’t want to end up without a mop during lockdown,” she says.

For some, though, this little innovation in their lives was brought in by the menfolk. Kriti Bajaj and her lawyer fiancé, Karan Singh, decided to not hire help for their Mumbai apartment. Singh, who was living alone before this, introduced the mop to Bajaj, an editorial manager with a Mumbai-based art gallery.

Not everyone is thrilled about this new technology, though. Some people are too set in their old ways. Bajaj’s Delhi-based mother, who bought the mop a year ago, struggled with the magic mop’s dimensions. My mother took longer to get used to it because she’s short and it was tough for her to move the long handle around,” Bajaj explains.

Domestic workers, too, typically seem to be wary of using the device. So once they begin to return to work after the lockdown, the popularity of these mops may go down in the short term. But that wariness needn’t last long.

“My domestic help took a while to figure it out, but she loves it now. The good thing is you don’t have to use your hands, or kneel while working,” says Anhiti Patnaik, a professor of literature and cultural studies in Hyderabad’s BITS Pilani. An early adopter of magic mops, Patnaik scoffs at this sudden surge in its popularity, likening it to other lockdown fads like Dalgona coffee. “I feel like I led some mop revolution before it even began,” she laughs.

For other converts like her, the soggy ponchha may well be gone forever.

Sangeeta Tanwar contributed to this report.

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