Speaking over the dull hum of a lawn-mower engine, Brian Shain, a middle-aged man with sunburnt skin, explains to the camera that he’s about to chop down some overgrown grass. “We’re gonna turn this ugly yard into a striped machine,” he says. Next, a silent, wobbly panorama shot displaying the overgrown grass he’s about to mow consumes the screen before we get into some real-lawn mowing action. It’s not exactly scintillating content per se, yet this mowing video, along with several of Shain’s other lawn-mowing videos, have nearly 400,000 views a piece on YouTube. His corresponding channel, Top Notch Lawn Care, which features nothing but lawn-care videos, has nearly 15 million views in all.
“It’s something people can relate to,” says Shain. “Lawn care has always kind of been, you know, you go out, you mow all day, and nobody can really relate to what you’re going through except for friends in the business. Then you start seeing guys that are doing it on YouTube, and you’re like, ‘Hey, I do that, too!’ Then you actually start learning new stuff — it betters your business, and it just kind of rolls from there.”
Shain discovered the world of lawn vlogging soon after starting his own lawn care business, while researching tips on YouTube. “I found some other channels that were already doing vlog-style lawn care,” he says. “I’ve always done family movies, I’ve always played around with video editing and just making stuff for my family, and I was like, ‘Man, that seems like that could be kind of fun.’” Shain’s own “little style,” as he puts it, begins with a vlog intro, then goes into some mowing. “When I do that, I’m going to put some music behind it, and we’re going to speed it up,” he says. “We’re going to try to get some cool little shots, and then we’re going to talk some more.”
Mitch C., aka The Detail Geek, founder of his own YouTube channel with over 500,000 views providing step-by-step car-detailing videos, has a slightly different video style. “You might see me sniffing wash mitts, shooting invisible bad guys with steam, arguing with my identical twin (cloned through editing) or any number of other goofy things,” he says. “I guess you could call my video style ‘detailing entertainment.’”
But while his style is unique, Mitch’s indoctrination to the world of DIY YouTube culture is similar to Shain’s. “I created my YouTube channel at the same time I started my auto-detailing business,” he explains. “Initially I thought it would simply be a great way to showcase my process and the results that potential customers could expect — I never expected immediate traction on YouTube, that really wasn’t my goal. Now, two years later, my channel is taking off, so it’s awesome having the opportunity to build a community of people interested in detailing to share my videos with and entertain.”
Sandro Stagno, the founder of Car Craft Auto Detailing, a YouTube channel also dedicated to cleaning cars with nearly 60,000 subscribers, tells me that one of the reasons he got into DIY auto-detailing content was to promote his business. “The other reason was the potential to find like minded people to share and discuss everything detailing related,” says Stagno.
All three men agree that the community aspect is what keeps them going. “The auto-detailing community is very supportive of each other,” says Mitch. “Quite a few channels have done ‘shout-out’ type videos recently, recognizing all the great detailers on YouTube and giving them recognition for the great content they provide. I can only speak for myself, but I’m certainly not trying to compete with other channels, I’m just focused on providing quality content for my viewers.”
“A lot of us talk, and we share different ideas,” adds Shain. “If something’s working for me video-wise that I pick up on, then I share that with my friends. They share ideas with me. We all kind of help each other out.”
There’s plenty to go around, too: According to a report in Inc., the market for DIY content is expected to be worth more than $13.9 billion by 2021. “People are DIYing more than ever before, but industry leaders say we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface,” per their report.
Perhaps, then, if it’s true that hate breeds more hate, good vibes can be infectious too. Case in point: The comments sections of these DIY lawn-care and auto-detailing channels are a legitimate online cuddlefest. Sure, there’s the occasional douche suggesting that Shain shouldn’t “quit his day job,” but most are there to support the community and thank Shain for sharing his knowledge. “As someone contemplating starting a lawn care business, you gave me lots of laughs, and lots of good info! Great job!” writes Jeff Smith on Shain’s “Lawn Care Business Top 10 Must Haves” video. “I’ve got to say that this video is the best thing happening in my life right now,” writes Mario Chavez on one of Stagno’s videos. “Thanks for everything Sandro keep up the great work.”
Some fans go so far as to compare the convergence of several lawn-care YouTube personalities to a superhero movie. “Big fan of their videos, when they interact it’s like watching a Marvel crossover movie. Avengers like…. Frikin awesome,” writes one redditor. “My wife thinks I’m crazy for watching these vids…”
I have to admit, his wife isn’t the only one. As someone without a handy bone in his body, I personally struggled at first to understand how there could possibly be hundreds of channels dedicated to topics like this, each with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of views. Are there really that many people in need of lawn-maintenance advice? But as with so much to do with online culture, the actual topic is merely the surface level.
It was my colleague Ian Lecklitner who initially told me about this world of DIY cleaning channels, which he says he encountered while deep inside a YouTube wormhole. For him, it’s not the advice he enjoys so much as the meditative nature of watching something go from being dirty to clean in a matter of 30 minutes — something he describes as a sort of natural Xanax that helps put his anxiety at ease. “It’s the same as power-washing porn,” says Lecklitner. “There’s almost never any mention of anything else. No politics, no fighting, no drama, just a dude fixing a yard. It’s refreshing to watch.”
To Lecklitner’s point, Shain tells me that his most-watched videos tend to be the ones that include the biggest transformations. “It’s pretty well-known in our lawn-care community that for whatever reason, mowing tall grass, does it,” he says. “I mean, people love to see waist-high grass and a lawnmower buzzing through it!”
Mitch agrees, telling me that his most popular videos are the ones where the vehicle is really dirty. “People aren’t as interested in seeing vehicles that were just detailed last week,” he says. “They want to see the ones that haven’t been cleaned in years — vehicles where the interiors are an absolute mess, carpets are stained, there’s dirt/dust/grime everywhere.”
“If you think about it,” he continues, “the majority of people watching YouTube videos have their own vehicle and are responsible for cleaning it, so the audience for this type of content is very large. Add in the fact that people naturally love to see things get transformed and also learn how they could do it themselves, it just makes sense!”
Basically, however fleeting it may be, these videos provide viewers — some of whom don’t even have a lawn or a car they care about — with a much-needed respite from their disorderly lives. As several commenters note, the videos are “relaxing” and “inspiring,” and it’s not hard to understand why: If a lawn or a car can undergo such drastic renewal in such short order, then perhaps you — the person whose life is so dramatically untogether that you’re binge-watching lawnmower videos at 2 a.m. — can make a positive, decisive change to your own life, too.