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The ketchup challenge is stirring up controversy by testing men’s cleaning abilities

“You’re telling me there are hundreds of grown men who find cleaning up a glob of ketchup so challenging, it’s a challenge?”
@debbiekval via Tiktok

There’s a saucy new way to test your partner on TikTok — and at least one expert thinks it’s problematic.

Many women on the video-sharing app have been assessing the cleaning abilities of the men in their lives by squirting ketchup directly onto the kitchen counter. Called the “ketchup challenge,” the trend is going viral, with its hashtag racking up over 150 million views.

What is the ketchup challenge?

Here’s how it works: While recording, a woman squirts a glob of ketchup on her kitchen counter, then asks her male partner to clean it up. That’s the test. If the video goes viral, it’s usually because he completes the task in some kind of shocking way.

“Asking my husband to clean up ketchup off the counter,” reads the text on a TikTok by @brooklynandbailey with 1.3 million views. After squeezing out the condiment on their counter, the TikToker asks her confused husband to clean it up for her — and he does so with his hand.

“Nah he’s valid for that paper towels are expensive,” one person commented.

Other viral videos show men failing the test miserably, doing it strangely, side-eyeing the person testing them, bickering about who actually made the mess and complaining about wasted ketchup.

In one of these videos, @debbiekval’s boyfriend smears the ketchup around on the counter using a dry paper towel, then throws the used paper towel back down and smears it around some more. It’s such a fail that many in the comments section assumed it’s a skit or parody.

But there are some successful tests: In one video, @jadeswildparty shows her partner passing with flying colors, wiping off the counter thoroughly using paper towels, then spraying the counter with cleaning solution.

“I think this is the first guy I’ve seen actually use spray and wipe after wiping the sauce up,” one person commented.

Even Heinz got in on the fun — after all, it is the ketchup brand that has been most commonly dumped onto countertops in these videos. In the brand’s take on the trend, the man heads to the grocery store, comes home, makes french fries, and enjoys them using the ketchup on the counter.

The video that seems to have inspired the trend, posted on Dec. 26, shows TikToker @katherinee_310 spreading a different condiment — hot sauce — on her counter, watching her fiancé fail at cleaning it up effectively.

“He Stresses Me Out, This Is Why I Do The Cleaning 😂😂,” she captioned her video which has garnered 33.5 million views.

“He rubbed that sauce in like it was an all purpose cleaner,” one person commented.

In the comments sections of these videos, many users say that the men failing this test are demonstrating weaponized incompetence, which HuffPost describes as “the act of feigning incompetence at any one task (though usually an unpleasant one) to get out of doing it.”

“my little brothers do this to my mom when she asked them to do chores they play brain dead so she never asked again lol don’t let him fool u,” one person commented.

In a video titled “Unpacking the Patriarchy: The Ketchup ‘Challenge,’” TikToker @jamiesoneileen puts on a skit of one woman explaining the trend to another woman.

“You’re telling me there are hundreds of grown men who find cleaning up a glob of ketchup so challenging, it’s a challenge?” the first woman asks the second. “It’s goofy, silly, fun that men don’t know how to clean a counter?”

Later, the first woman asks the second, “Why aren’t we praising these women for having a basic domestic labor skill?”

“Because it’s not a challenge for us, it’s just expected,” answers the second.

A relationship expert on the ketchup challenge

“What I dislike most about this challenge is that it does put one person in a one-up position instead of in a partnership,” Rebecca Coopersmith, a licensed clinical social worker and certified sexuality educator at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, tells “For me, it’s just a way to engender resentment.”

Coopersmith cites “The New Rules of Marriage” by Terrence Real, a therapist who says in the second chapter of his book that one losing strategy for a successful relationship is “needing to be right” and another is “controlling your partner,” two things that the ketchup test is sort of doing, she says.

“I don’t love the power dynamics that are happening. I think it kind of speaks to one person being a little controlling of the other that the cleaning has to be done in a certain way,” Coopersmith says. “Truthfully, if we want our partners’ help, we need to accept that they might do things differently than we would have and that needs to be OK.”

Some TikTok creators have also pointed out the problematic nature of the latest viral relationship test.

“If there is spilled ketchup on the counter and your boyfriend doesn’t know how to clean it up, is he dumb? Or are you a jerk for intentionally making a mess and trying to see how he can fix it?” asks journalist Jareen Imam in a TikTok video criticizing the trend.

“I think what the ketchup test proves is that cleaning is work and that work should not be minimized,” Imam continues. “I think these tests can be fun if you don’t take them too seriously. Because sometimes your partner might not get it right. But it doesn’t mean they’re a bad person.”