Green is the color of money earned by We Clean Green with its focus on eco-cleaning in the Chicago area. Business quadrupled in 2015 compared to the prior year, and the growth trajectory continues this year with the first quarter double that of last. Lee Latham founded We Clean Green three years ago not solely focused on profits, but also on spreading the word about environmentally-safe cleaning methods. Eight years ago she was researching alternative cleaning products as a way to alleviate a health issue, and she discovered the magic of steam cleaning.
“What could be greener than cleaning your home with water? All you need to clean a three bedroom, two bathroom house is a gallon of water and a vapor steam cleaner,” said Latham. She services a hyper-local area of the three villages that adjoin her Chicago neighborhood, making her five mile commute eco-friendly as well.
The clean-by-steam process works by sanitizing everything with high heat (between 285-350 degrees) while it cleans with a low amount of moisture, using commercial-grade steam cleaners Latham buys from an Italian manufacturer. “I can’t attest to the truth of this, but they say that the concept came about when a barista used the steamer to clean cups at a cafe and wondered why more people didn’t use steam to clean things,” said Latham.
It’s been a challenge for Latham to get people to understand that you can truly get a clean house by simply steam cleaning everything. “Most people hear ‘steam clean’ and think of carpet and upholstery, which is a different type of steam clean. We steam clean everything–the kitchen, bathrooms, hardwood floors, walls, windows. The steamers we use are incredibly well-designed, with fifteen different attachments we can get into every nook and cranny,” she said.
Why green cleaning?
“The health aspect of cleanliness is important. If you’re pouring chemicals into your home, you’re not creating a healthy environment. Say you just cleaned your shower with Clorox and now you’re going to shower in there, or you bleach the tub and put your child in it. It’s easy not to think about those things but they have health impacts,” said Latham.
Working with family
Previously working as a financial advisor, Latham launched her business in 2013, and a year and a half later brought her husband on board to help out with the day-to-day work. Besides helping with the physical work of cleaning, Bill Erickson handles social media for the company, and was finally able to convince his wife to start using a smartphone after he joined the business. “I used to keep all my appointments in my head, with an occasional piece of paper pinned to my steering wheel,” she said. The pair also have a full-time employee and a handful of people available for on-call work.
The importance of trust
Latham enjoys working for herself and finds that the headaches she expected from running her own business have been surprisingly few. However, she recently had to let an employee go who she’d been losing trust in because of a poor work ethic. She mentioned meeting with a group of small business owners and someone commenting that “So much of what I do is about trust.” Latham looked around that room and said, “All of what we do is about trust. No matter if you’re a massage therapist or a hairdresser or a cleaner, your client must trust you.”
Surprises along the way
Latham thought that the green cleaning angle would attract clients but it hasn’t turned out that way. “It would surprise you how many of my clients didn’t initiate contact with me because of the green cleaning. They’re glad it’s there, but it’s not the primary reason they use us, which is that we do an amazing job. It’s been a huge surprise that the green part has meant so little.” She’s glad to be spreading the word about green cleaning to people who wouldn’t otherwise have been aware of its benefits.
Another surprise is that Latham started this business in the first place. “This is so fluky, who would have ever thought I would start a cleaning business. Truth be told, I wasn’t a great housekeeper before,” she laughed. “But I’m an amazing housekeeper now.” Latham admits that their home right now isn’t in the best of shape, since the last thing the couple wants to do when they get home is more cleaning. She does train her staff on using the steam cleaners in her own house, but wants to get on a more regular cleaning schedule for the home.
The surprise of having a former financial manager clean your house is another part of the magic for her clients. “I’m a different breed of housekeeper. You don’t expect a former investment advisor to come and clean your house.”
Giving back to the community
Readers know how much we love featuring stories about local businesses giving back to their communities. We Clean Green is another example of this, donating deep-cleaning services for local non-profits. “I may not have the means to donate large sums of money, but I can donate my services. I like to work with local not-for-profits like Hephzibah or the Oak Park-River Forest Day Nursery,” she told her community newspaper last year.
Tips for steam cleaning
#1: don’t burn yourself. Latham has only burned herself once, when she set the tip of the steamer on her ankle when she was down on the floor. Which leads to her second tip: If you want to get things clean, get right at the level of whatever it is you’re cleaning, either up or down, so you can clean it properly.
What’s in the car?
For today’s job, Latham packed her Toyota Corolla with three steam cleaners, filters and attachments, a step ladder, several large containers of microfiber cloths, and squeegees. She works alongside her husband, who, when they arrived, told her to take their client upstairs so they wouldn’t see all the equipment jammed into the car.
Advice for someone starting a cleaning business
Latham suggests that someone who wants to start a business think about how they want to build the business, what communities they will serve, and how to go after the opportunity. “Make a business plan, don’t just buy a mop and cleaning supplies,” she advises. You also need to figure out how to staff the business appropriately, which is one thing Latham says is holding her own business back from growing more quickly. Other things to consider are what’s going to set you apart from other cleaning businesses, whether or not you can be responsive to the consumer, and if you can be flexible. “At least two clients a week will reschedule or cancel,” Latham warns.
Book a fabulous green cleaning session with We Clean Green.