7 reasons you should book a bi-weekly cleaning appointment

#1: One Million Skin Cells Shed Daily

Get ready for a staggering fact. You lose almost a million skin cells over a 24 hour period. While most of your exfoliated cells get washed down the drain when you’re bathing, some portion of these float off and mingle with other particles to become dust. Kind of makes you want to break out the feather duster and go to town, right? Once you get on a recurring cleaning schedule, you’ll never have to think about this fact ever again.

#2 Dust

Speaking of dust, dusting once a month just isn’t going to cut it. Every time you open a window or walk through the door, you stir up these small airborne particles that eventually settle all over your things. Besides human skin cells, some common sources of dust pollutants are dirt, sand, insect waste, flour, and animal dander. Dust seems to collect most visibly on electronic equipment, and can cause these products to fail if not dusted frequently. Keep the dust in your home under control for a healthier and cleaner environment.

#3 Pets

Your furry friends can exacerbate your dust problem and also leave their hair all over your home. Sometimes you may even wonder how your animal still has so much hair attached to it when it seems like they shed their entire coat over the course of a week. Stay on top of all the pet mess with frequent cleaning, otherwise you may find yourself swimming in pet hair.

#4 Kids

If you have kids, you’re probably not even reading this article because it’s very clear to you why a bi-weekly or weekly cleaning service is essential. You’re exhausted at the end of the day from managing your kids and working a demanding job, and the last thing you want to add to your to-do list is house cleaning. By booking a frequent cleaning service, you’ll have the comfort of knowing that the chaos in your home will be organized and cleaned twice or more a month. You’ll look forward to those cleaning dates on your calendar as a light at the end of the tunnel.

#5 Soot

City dwellers know what I’m talking about. You have a closed window, but somehow the black grime sneaks its way in and dirties up the areas around your window sill. One study of soot in Midtown Manhattan found that it contained 52% diesel exhaust (from buses, trucks, and construction vehicles), and the remaining 48% was a mix of everything from ground-up car tires to sea salt. This air pollutant finds its way inside your apartment and smudges your otherwise clean space without you even being home. Since the city isn’t going to stop running buses or trucks by your window anytime soon, it’s best to get frequent cleaning to wipe the soot away.

#6 The Kitchen

If you’re like me, your kitchen is the gathering spot of for friends and family, the real heart of your home. This high-traffic area deserves to get a professional cleaning at least twice a month for aesthetic, health, and safety reasons. The kitchen is one place in your home where high heat, water, electricity, and sharp objects all co-mingle closely, and the best way to maintain a safe environment is to keep it clean and organized. Also, this is the place where you prepare your food, and the best way to prevent foodborne illness is to keep your kitchen sparkling clean. I recommend using green cleaning products throughout the home, but especially in the kitchen where forks sitting on countertops may soon enter your mouth with delicious steaming payloads of pasta.

#7 The Bathroom

It goes without saying that the bathroom is the germiest place in the house. Your toilet should be cleaned at least once a week for obvious reasons. Hire a cleaning service to take care of the bathroom floors and solid surfaces in the room like the shower, bathtub, sink, and countertops. This will ensure that mold does not grow on any of these surfaces and will keep this room under control.

That’s it! If you realize what a good investment a clean home is and want to get started right away, book a recurring cleaning service now. Share this article with friends and family to subtly tell your friends or siblings that they might want to clean up their act as well!

Hungover? Place a wreck? The Morning After Maids are here to help

Cat and Bex of Morning After Maids

Great ideas are born out of necessity… or desperation. Catherine Ashurst and Rebecca Foley (or as they prefer to be known, Cat and Bex) came up with the idea for a “morning after” cleaning service after one particularly painful morning in their Auckland, New Zealand flat. “Bex was hungover one morning, and it was her turn to clean the house….the rest is history,” said Cat as we chatted via Skype.

I spoke with Cat as she left her day job as a fire safety instructor where she maintains fire safety protocols for commercial buildings in Auckland. That flammable hazard training comes in handy, because word has spread like wildfire about the service. The two launched their business just over three months ago and business is booming. A few weeks ago the pair just hired their first helpers, but up until then they were fielding all emergency calls by themselves.

The Morning After Maids can be booked ahead of time if you’re a savvy party planner or can be booked with an “emergency call out” up until noon on the weekends. The crew arrives with breakfast in hand (usually McDonalds or something equally hangover-friendly), then gets to work setting the party pad back in order.

The Morning After Maids at work

I asked Cat if they had a special hangover cure that they brought for suffering clients. “Puppies,” she said. “And the fact that no one has to lift a finger to deal with the gross-ness.” Cat’s and Bex’s dogs come along for each session to provide support for everyone.

While they’ve only been at this for a few months, they’ve already seen their share of insanity. “Last weekend’s party was all-out. We turned up with our helpers and the party goers had just cracked open another bottle of bubbles. It was a carnival-themed party, with a candy floss machine, bubble machines, popcorn machines, real life traffic lights set up, and a full bar. It was crazy, and it was all still going when we got there,” said Cat. This was a group of friends in their 40s who knew how to party and who were smart enough to book the Morning After Maids! Next time, perhaps they’ll adjust their cleaning start time to a bit later to accommodate the party.

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The before and after pics that they post are simply incredible!

The one tool that Cat can’t live without? She didn’t hesitate– a mop. “We go through so many replacement foam heads,” she laughed, saying that they needed to get a mop sponsor ASAP.

Like most cleaning service owners, one of the best things Cat likes about the job is the feeling of satisfaction and appreciation from customers. The Morning After Maids swoop in like superheroes and save the day, taking a messy, sticky house and returning it to normal.

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Serving up clean homes… and McDonalds breakfast!

Cleaning has always been in her blood. Cat mentioned in a previous interview that she would always clean the silverware before using it when she stayed in hotels, calling herself a “clean freak.”

With summer approaching (hello Southern Hemisphere!), they expect jobs to start coming in fast and furious, and the plan is to spread throughout New Zealand, eventually launching franchises in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Hopefully they make it to the U.S. soon… we’re in desperate need of this type of service!

Top 5 disturbing things hotel cleaning crews see (Warning: NSFW)

Recently there was a popular thread on Reddit focused on spilling the details of all the disturbing things that have been seen by housekeepers cleaning up hotel rooms. I put on my rubber gloves, adjusted my safety goggles, and held my nose before jumping into the 5300 comments so that I could present you with the TL;DR version of that thread.

So what disgusting things do the hotel cleaning staff have to deal with on a frequent basis? Put on your hazmat suit to read on.

#1 Shit.

Human waste (and sometimes dog and cat waste) was the most commonly reported thing that cleanup crews see. And not just a well placed turd on the nightstand, but feces smeared all over the rooms, walls, ceilings. It’s not possible to read the entire Reddit thread without seriously questioning what is wrong with humanity. Seriously, I could have made items 1 through 5 all about shit, but I’m collapsing them all into this single topic.

#2 Blood.

Blood is another very common sight that disturbs the hardiest of cleaning staff. Sometimes it’s the innocent blood of a woman unexpectedly getting her period, or a guy having a massive nocturnal nosebleed. Or sometimes it’s the grisly aftermath of a fight (or murder… see item 5). Regardless, the story of bloody tampons stashed in the bed is one that will leave your stomach a bit queasy.

#3 Vomit.

Hotel rooms are notoriously good places to throw a party, and with massive consumption of alcohol comes massive expulsion of vomit for some people. One cleaner quit her job when she entered a particularly trashed bathroom that somehow had vomit on the ceiling as well. Non-hotel maids chimed in with stories of their own about how they would go to a client’s home to clean and be faced with day-old vomit that wasn’t cleaned up because they knew the maid was coming the next day. Aren’t people awesome?

#4 Sexual fluids.

One of the other common uses for hotel rooms is to do the dirty deed— either alone, with one partner, or with many. One courteous gentleman told his hotel cleaner that he left her a tip on the mirror… which ended up being covered in semen. There were lots of stories about used condoms littered throughout the rooms, and one tale of inadvertently walking in on an orgy porn shoot.

#5 Dead bodies.

Sadly, hotel rooms are also frequently used as a spot to off oneself, and hotel cleaning crews are the ones to find the suicides and clean up the aftermath. There’s also the occasional murder, and one gruesome discovery of ten severed heads (although that guy was supposedly just defrosting them for the next day’s dissection at a cadaver lab). And sometimes older people check into hotels in order to attend crucial doctor’s appointments that they miss when they die in their sleep.

Other notable mentions

In addition to all the dying, pooping, bleeding, vomiting, and sex people are having in hotels, there were a number of other strange tales that caught our attention because of their sheer weirdness. Some of our favorites:

  • Entire room covered in paper towels. “Everything was covered. The bed, the chairs, the floor. Not horrific, but weird.”
  • Two men so distraught that the hotel maid turned down their generous offer to have sex that they smashed up boxes of Cheez-its and ground them into the carpet.
  • A manila folder with print-outs from DeviantArt of celebrities with their noses morphed to be really large, [and] a single wingtip shoe with tons of cum inside.”
  • Four women in Anchorage gutting a seal in their room
  • A prosthetic leg left behind in an armoire

The posters who were hotel staff mentioned that they enjoyed all the beer, wine, and alcohol that guests leave behind, but they really enjoy cash tips more than anything. After reading this thread and questioning the basic humanity of the world, I’m convinced more than ever that we need to treat these service workers with the utmost respect and kindness. Tip your housekeepers, and don’t do anything in a hotel room that you wouldn’t do at home.

Guns under the pillow, drugs in the closet, and starting a business on Craigslist

“Get back to what you love,” says the Lolli Maids crew

When I first spoke with the founder of Houston-area Lolli Maids, Chris Robin, he was stuck in traffic. This isn’t surprising, since Houston has some of the worst traffic congestion in the U.S. “I’m either stuck in traffic, training staff, or cleaning,” Chris said of his daily routine. Despite the hours spent in his car, he loves running his own business. “It feels wonderful to be an entrepreneur. I wake up and feel like I have a piece of clay that I’m molding. You’re always sculpting, shaping your destiny,” he said.

After a decade in the corporate world working for companies like Dell and Compaq, Chris was laid off during a downturn. When he found his savings dwindling and unable to find another corporate gig, he posted an ad on Craigslist listing his services as a house cleaner. He was surprised by the response, and found himself back on Craigslist looking for someone to do the actual cleaning. There he found Almita, a maid with 20 years experience who he hooked by saying that his (as yet non-existent) cleaning business was overbooked and looking for someone to do an extra job. She agreed to the cleaning and once it was complete Chris paid her. From there, Chris kept putting up listings and got a few more jobs that he hired Almita for. He realized that he couldn’t make money with this plan unless he started doing the cleaning, so he sent himself to the next job. “I didn’t know what I was doing or what I was supposed to clean. I stayed in the bathroom, cleaning, for two hours. That must have been the cleanest bathroom I’ve ever seen. But I was trying to stall because the customer was home and I didn’t know what to clean next,” he said.

He spent six hours on that first house and then repeated this process ten more times, each time getting a better idea of customer expectations and needs. As business grew, he reached out to Almita again for help and gave her a few jobs each day. After a few months, she gave up the regular houses she’d been cleaning on her own and hitched her wagon to Lolli Maids. When there was enough work to hire a few more people, Chris stepped back and started focusing on the business side of things. He focuses on providing a quality service, and not over-scheduling his cleaners so that they have enough time to do a final review of the house when it’s done. “If you give it an extra 15% once the cleaning is done, that job will be perfect,” Chris said.

Lolli Maids hard at work

Business is booming, but the bottleneck preventing more growth is his ability to hire people. “We could grow the business faster if I wasn’t picky about the people I hire. I do a full background check, interview them, see how they work with other people, and see how they clean. I make sure they’re trained properly and work with them myself. The only reason we haven’t grown another 35% is because I can’t hire enough good people. I’d rather grow slow with a focus on quality and a good reputation than to grow fast and end up with nothing.”

One of the ways that he tests potential employees is by putting cleaning supplies in front of them and seeing how they react. If the cleaners grab the products and head for the kitchen or bathroom, they’re on the right track. If they look like they aren’t quite sure what to do with the supplies, they’ll probably be weeded out quickly.

On the job, Chris likes to walk the property with the client before the team gets started. There are several benefits to the initial walk-through, like discovering damage that might be blamed on the cleaners, or pointing out issues that may be too tough to tackle in one session. The biggest advantage of the pre-cleaning walk-through is that Chris gets a feel for what’s important to the client and is able to focus on accomplishing that.

Houston-based Lolli Maids makes kitchens sparkle

While every customer’s house is different, Chris notes that you can sum up a house’s main issue quickly once you walk in. The issue might be dust, clutter, pet hair, or any combination of those. His approach is to eliminate the big issue first to be able to see the extent of what remains. The team will clear up clutter, placing cushions on the couch, picking up clothes and toys off the floor, placing shoes in the closet, before they see what else needs to be done.

Despite all these precautions, the team sometimes finds surprises. One of his maids called during the middle of a job to let him know that she had just found a cache of semi-automatic weapons in the house along with stacks of cocaine bricks and guns under the pillows. “It wasn’t the first time we found a gun under the pillow. We’re in Texas and we’ve got a lot of gun-happy people here.” For this particular house, Chris put a note in the client’s file to remind himself not to accept another booking, penciling “semi-automatic weapons” by their name.

Chris loves all the challenges he encounters, saying it’s his favorite part of the job. He also loves dealing with customers, and has discovered that he talks a whole lot more than he used to. “I probably talk too much, but before I started this company I didn’t talk so much. I’m a people person. Dealing with so many things all the time, I find myself talking all the time. I don’t know how to shut myself up!” All that talking also has led to some television appearances for the Lolli Maids crew—they’ve been on MTV’s “Grossbusters” and SpikeTV’s “Bar Rescue.”

Working long days all week long, Chris considered the benefits of getting a hobby. “I might take up stamp collecting,” he joked. In reality, he’s working seven days a week—while the team takes Sundays off, he’s working on payroll and creating the schedule for the next day.

With his solid work ethic, it’s not surprising that he considers a role model “anybody who started from the bottom and worked their way up. My dad taught me to work hard, to do it yourself and not rely on other people to give it to you. If you want something out of life, go get it.”

His previous corporate background helps him relate well to customers and anticipate their needs. “They’re busy, they make a lot of money and want to spend time with their family. Cleaning is the last thing anyone wants to do. We’re doing a good thing by providing a service that lets families spend time together. We say, ‘Get back to what you love.’ ”

From bong water out of carpet to how to clean your sex toys – a review of Jolie Kerr’s book

Jolie Kerr, author of My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag
Jolie Kerr, author of My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag…

 

 

Jolie Kerr has been telling people how to clean up their disgusting messes for the past five years in a column called Ask a Clean Person. I stumbled across her advice in a recent issue of Lenny, the weekly newsletter from Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner; don’t be fooled by the celebrity email newsletter—nothing like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, it actually contains amazing writing and interviews and stories.

Kerr’s column spawned a book titled My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag… and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha which is just as irreverent and funny as it sounds. Cleaning nerds who love a pinch of snark and fun should rush right out and acquire a copy by whatever means necessary (I found it at the library). It covers everything from getting bong water out of the carpet to how to clean your sex toys.

Overall it has a super-upbeat tone, lots of helpful charts on what tools and products to use in various situations. I found it a bit heavy on the chipper-ness, perhaps a bit bloated with enthusiastic words, but her notes on cleaning are spot on. She continues to beat the drum (rightfully so) of cautioning you not to mix bleach with ammonia (toxic gas ensues!), and admonishes you to use proper gloves and safety equipment and ventilation if you use the conventional cleaning supplies that she loves.

She starts by outlining the various types of cleaning you should wreak on your kitchen: the daily clean, the hard clean, and the full monty hard clean. Daily you should be doing the maintenance on your space so that it doesn’t appear that you live in a pig sty, like washing your dishes, putting away food, throwing garbage away, mopping up spills immediately. For the hard clean, she suggests tackling things you need to do once a month, like wiping down cabinets, cleaning walls and backsplashes, countertops, appliances, then the floor. The sink comes at the end so you can continue to dump the disgusting dirty water that you’re creating while cleaning the rest of the kitchen.

The kitchen chapter is filled with tips for every imaginable situation, from defrosting your freezer to using common food items to solve cleaning situations (tabasco can clean copper! And use olive oil to revitalize your dried up cutting board!). The full monty clean has you pulling out everything in your cabinets, tossing, cleaning, organizing. She channels Marie Kondo, saying “Remind your things that they’re special” and then you realize that she’s talking about cans of tomatoes or beans.

She gets fairly comfortable recommending some toxic solutions like trisodium phosphate and its slightly friendlier cousin, the phosphate-free version. While she does warn you that it’s a dangerous chemical, it seemed a bit blasé, like just opening a window would solve everything!

I got my first taste of her dislike of us eco-friendly green cleaners when she mentioned that “some people are opposed to serious chemicals, which is weird but okay, I guess, and those people can mix up a vinegar solution instead.” Yes, vinegar is your friend! Later she calls us filthy hippies for wanting to save the environment instead of bleaching away to our heart’s content, but she does give green alternatives with the caveat that you’ll have to expend a lot more elbow grease using non-toxic cleaners.

Once we get to cleaning the bathroom, Kerr unleashes a lot of Magic Bubbles, but thankfully knows the value of baking soda and vinegar, especially calling it out as a way to prevent slow drains (“hit your pipes with a half cup of baking soda followed by a half cup of vinegar once every month”).  

Several of her cleaning tasks come with a warning that they will make you want to kill yourself, like cleaning the forced heat radiators and washing your floors on hands and knees. Oh, and she giddily mentions a tip for cleaning ceiling fans with a pillowcase that I previously found on the Reddit thread about cleaning (use a damp pillowcase wrapped around the blade and pull toward you– all the dust goes in the pillowcase!).

Not sure what to do about those dirty rags and whether you should toss them in with the rest of your laundry? Never fear, Kerr has ideas for this as well. Pre-wash the rags to remove most of the gunk and gross stuff before adding them in with the rest of your load.  

One of my favorite tips was using denture tablets dropped into the bottom of a vase to get the gross build-up off spots that your brush can’t reach. And sweat stains can be tackled with lemon juice with salt gently rubbed into the fabric then letting it sit for half an hour, then rinse with white vinegar before a final rinse with warm water. She gets into specifics around protein stains (and how bleach is not their friend), these are basically stains that are from bodily fluids of all sorts. On the topic of stains, she says the best thing you’re going to learn from her is that almost every single stain (except ink and mud) will benefit from being flushed with cold water. “Hold the stained area taut under a running faucet and let the water pressure do a lot of the work for you.” Grease stain? WD-40 “is the thing for bike grease stains” and she suggests you hit up their website for over 2,000 other uses for the product.

She ends the book with the top hits from her column, including that boyfriend who puked in the purse. This last chapter was somewhat entertaining, but the real meat and potatoes of cleaning wisdom is hashed out in the earlier chapters.

Southern belles, foaming volcanoes, and front flips on trampolines – a chat with Atlanta’s La Femme De M’enage

 

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Nichelle Brannon, of La Femme De M’enage

Self-proclaimed “Georgia peach” Nichelle Brannon was born and raised in the Atlanta area. When she’s not antiquing with her best friend or turning front flips on the trampoline with her daughter, Nichelle runs her own cleaning company in Atlanta, La Femme De M’enage, which is French for “The Cleaning Lady.” She does not yet speak French fluently, but it’s on her to-do list, along with a trip to France in the next year or so. Actually the trampoline flips were a one-time thing. “It scared me half to death,” she said.

Nichelle has been running her cleaning business for five years now, and caters to her clients’ needs, expanding her business to include landscaping and light construction work—like painting— in addition to cleaning homes. “Once I get into a client’s house to talk about cleaning, I get a rapport going and mention that I do painting and landscaping work as well,” she said.

After getting laid off from her job at Metro PCS, Nichelle decided to start her own cleaning business because it was something she was good at. “And as a single mom, I needed flexibility as well as an opportunity to decide how much money I wanted to make,” she said.

Unique challenges

Nichelle works on a door frame

Running her own business has presented some unique challenges. When she first expanded into landscaping and construction work she was hired by a mobile home community that had a payment schedule of thirty days after the work was completed. She was managing a large crew who would turn the whole house around, handling everything from demolition and trash clean out to laying new carpet, fixing holes and cleaning. With the thirty day payment policy, Nichelle found it difficult to cover the costs of paying her crew while waiting for the client to pay according to their schedule. While it was great money, she was unable to keep working with that company. She’s since hired a general contractor to manage that part of her business so she can focus on cleaning.

As part of her cleaning service to remove trash, she’s seen people leave behind nearly their entire lives. One family left everything except their large pieces of furniture, leaving behind a family tree of people since the 1800s and old pictures. “I’m amazed by the things people leave behind when they have to leave in a hurry,” she said.

A family that cleans together stays together

While none of her family members are full time employees, Nichelle’s father helps out when she needs an extra pair of hands and she enlists her sons (aged 10 and 13) and daughter (age 16) on weekends and in the summer. “Even if they don’t desire to go into my business, they get good experience helping out. $5 goes a long way with them, plus ice cream.”

Her clients have become a bit like family as well. There are some people she’s been cleaning for over the last four years who have gotten to see her children grow up. “We’ve formed this bond of friendship that’s beyond just ‘that’s the cleaning lady,’ “ said Nichelle.

Getting by with help from friends

Nichelle has a handful of friends and family that she considers role models. She’s been working part time for a fashion designer for the past fifteen years who she’s “seen do miraculous things… Anything she touches turns to gold.” Besides learning from this entrepreneur, she watched her aunt transition from corporate life to running her own business for the past thirteen years, helping nonprofits grow their business. An ex-boyfriend helped Nichelle with the nitty gritty details of getting set up as a business such as obtaining a business license and EIN number. “All of their stories inspire me,” she said.

Southern belle customers

Delta Burke as Suzanne Sugarbaker

When I asked Nichelle if she had a favorite customer, she laughed and said, “Yes! She is a Southern belle to the core, like Suzanne Sugarbaker from Designing Women. Everything has its place, everything smells good and must be coordinated. She doesn’t mind paying for quality service.” This client frequently has classic movies playing at her home and Nichelle enjoys listening to them and singing along with Gene Kelly to Singing In the Rain when it’s on. She’s also invited Nichelle’s daughter to come over for tea and “to talk about the old days when ladies were ladies.” When Nichelle was going through a divorce, this client took her under her wing and made sure she was taken care of.

Helping other entrepreneurs

Nichelle knows the value of her service, that it makes her clients’ lives easier. “They have a whole to-do list and cleaning is probably not #1 on that list. It’s amazing to come home to a clean home after working long hours and taking care of children or elderly parents. They don’t have to worry about dirty dishes or wonder when the last time they dusted. I make it easier for them so they can be more productive parents. Even if they’re entrepreneurs themselves, they don’t have to worry about cleaning,” she said. And speaking of knowing the value of her service, it’s one of the top things she recommends to anyone who might be starting their own cleaning business. “Know your worth, and know what you will and won’t do. Calculate how many hours it will take to do something and how much you want to earn per hour plus supplies and gas. You’ve got to know those numbers right off the bat,” Nichelle said.

Foaming “volcano” cleaning trick

Nichelle was trying to figure out how to get gum off a frosted sliding glass door and stumbled onto a recipe that brought back memories of elementary school. “In 6th grade, we did the volcano thing, and [my internet search] said to mix ammonia and baking soda with Dial soap, and it worked wonders. It’s just a little foam action, no explosives.” She shares this technique with customers to make her life easier when she’s back at their house to clean. “I don’t have to scrub as much!”

Meet Maurice Moore, Founder of Chicago based RTS Cleaning Services

Maurice Moore, of RTS Cleaning Services
Maurice Moore, of RTS Cleaning Services

If you own a business, chances are that you’re running around taking care of a million things at once. I was lucky to catch up with Maurice Moore, who launched Chicago’s RTS Cleaning Services, during one of his brief breaks between running the business. He’s been at it for the last five years, deciding at the tender age of 22 that he wanted to work for himself.

Work for yourself

“I had a vision of working for myself but I didn’t know what I really wanted to do, so I sat down and came up with a bunch of ideas. I made a list, and the top two items were starting a cleaning company and starting a moving service. So I went out and bought a cargo van that I could use in either business. I put both businesses out at the same time and the cleaning service really took off, so I started putting more of my time and money into the cleaning business,” he said.

While he was getting his business off the ground, Maurice continued to work full-time as a cook at a local public school, a job he’d held since he was 18 years old. As his cleaning business picked up, he was able to quit the kitchen gig and focus on growing RTS Cleaning. “You can only get so far working under someone. The sky’s the limit when I’m working for myself. It’s one of the best parts of working for myself, that you get out of it what you put into it.”

Make mistakes, then learn from them

Like most new business owners, he made lots of mistakes as he got started. On his first cleaning job, he made the mistake of wildly underestimating how much time it would take to clean the client’s home. “I was an immature business owner, excited to get my first job. I went over to the lady’s house, and she was a hoarder. I acted like I knew what was going on, but when I saw all those clothes, my eyes popped out, I thought, ‘What am I going to charge this lady?’ It was a $3,000 job, but I charged her $280. I asked one of my friends to help, told him I’d pay him $100. We worked from 8 in the morning until 11 at night clearing out that place. As we were leaving, she asked if we could clean out her garage, too. I was so tired, I didn’t even look in the garage before I said yes. The next day I came back, and the garage was worse than the house. She’d been storing stuff in there for thirty years. It was unreal,” he said.

On a positive note, the client gave him everything that was in the garage, and Maurice was able to resell the lawn equipment to recoup some of the costs of the job. “It was a real learning experience. Welcome to the cleaning industry! Now I know to tally up the hours, the supplies, manpower, gas before quoting a job.” Every day brings an unanticipated challenge or surprise. “The one thing I can tell you about being a cleaner is that you never know what to expect.”

The challenges of family and staffing

Another lesson Maurice learned early on was that his family wasn’t as dedicated to cleaning as the outsiders he hired to help. Part of the problem was the difficulty in bossing around his mother when he was such a young whippersnapper. “I was 24 years old. How am I going to tell my mom what to do?”

Once he decided to beef up his workforce with non-family members, it was smooth sailing. He’s now up to nine people working with him, and recently hired a supervisor to take some of the load off of him so he can focus on growing the business and advertising.

Maurice says that one of the secrets to retaining quality help is to “pay them what they’re worth, even if you have to take a loss as a business owner. I’ve been in situations when I worked super hard and wasn’t being paid what I was worth, so I tell my workers they’ll get paid well when they work hard. I couldn’t ask for a better crew. They all go above and beyond the call of duty.” When one client called on a Sunday to complain that a move-out clean wasn’t done to her satisfaction, Maurice called the cleaner and asked what she knew about the stove not being cleaned properly. The cleaner immediately jumped in the car to go remedy the situation. “That’s the type of people you want around you, they know they’re appreciated and they don’t mind getting up and driving ten miles to go and clean a stove.”

Homes, businesses, churches, data centers

While RTS Cleaning gets most of its business from residential cleaning, they’re branching out into different areas. “A priest just called me to get an estimate for cleaning his church twice a year,” said Maurice. They’ve also cleaned various offices and provided the ultra-light cleaning necessary for data centers. “It’s all electrical equipment, so it’s light cleaning, no water.”

5,000 flyers and counting

When Maurice was first getting started, he would dedicate his weekends to passing out hundreds of flyers by going door to door across Chicago. He kept this up for five months, passing out over 1,000 flyers a month. “I knew I couldn’t trust anyone to pass out the flyers, and you have to be dedicated and know that the flyers are getting to the homes and not just ending up in the garbage.”

Best part of the job

From Maurice’s previous comments, I expected to have him answer that the best part of his job was working for himself. Instead, he takes tremendous pride in seeing something that was previously filthy turned into something clean, and knowing that the client is going to be very happy with the change because they know how dirty it was when he started. “When I do something, I want to be the best at it,” said Maurice.

This obsession with cleanliness feeds into his advice for anyone thinking about starting their own cleaning business: “If you’re not a clean or neat person, it’s really not the job for you. If you’re going to be a cleaning business owner, you have to love it.”

5 tips for green cleaning your kitchen

The most important place in the home is the kitchen. This is the nucleus of the house, where the essential work of preparing and feeding the body is done, along with the equally necessary socialization. When I have a dinner party, all my friends gather into my tiny kitchen, arms reaching over one another to help chop or to help themselves to refreshment, the chatter of the group happily filling my ears as I move down my list of tasks. Even when I have dinner alone, I find the kitchen to be a sacred space, a place where I can lovingly prepare a healthy and delicious meal that will delight me. For these reasons, it is absolutely crucial that you pay close attention to the cleaning products used in the kitchen, and why I’m a vocal proponent of green cleaning.

Conventional cleaning products have warning labels telling you not to ingest or even get too close to (hello rubber gloves!). Think about the effect of using some of these toxic substances to clean your countertops, and then think about the food that perches precariously close to those surfaces. To be safe, even if you don’t clean any other part of your home with green cleaning products (here’s a quick primer on how to green clean your bathroom), you should definitely make an effort to use non-toxic green cleaners in the kitchen. Your health depends on this.

What you’ll need:

  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Lemon
  • Water
  • Dish soap
  • Rag

#1: Sink and stovetops

Open up your cabinet and pull out ½ cup baking soda to make a paste with warm water. Then slather the paste onto a brush or sponge to scrub the sink or stovetop clean. This mixture replaces the more conventional cleaners like Ajax that have toxic ingredients that cause respiratory issues, skin sensitivity, and more. Read the EWG’s report on the dangers of Ajax here.

#2: Microwave

I don’t have a microwave in my kitchen, but I’ve seen how disgusting they get when I’ve encountered them in various office environments over the years. Squeeze a lemon into a bowl of water and microwave on high for four minutes. Then let the bowl sit for two more minutes while the steam loosens all the gunk on the walls and ceiling of the device. Use an oven mitt to remove the hot bowl of water and then sponge off the inside. Your kitchen will smell fresh and the caked on food will wipe away easily.

#3: Countertops

Vinegar and baking soda are really your best friends when it comes to green cleaning. Whip up a batch of all-purpose cleaner by mixing 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon liquid dish soap, and ¼ cup of vinegar. If you have a leftover spray bottle from when you finished off your conventional cleaning products, clean it well and then fill the bottle with this mixture. Spray to your heart’s content and know that you are not endangering your loved ones with this eco-friendly and human-friendly cleaning solution.

#4 Garbage disposal

Take the leftover lemon rind from when you squeezed out lemon juice for the microwave cleaner and grind it up in the disposal while you run a bit of hot water. Fresh smelling and a good second use of the lemon!

#5 Floors

One of my favorite tips comes from a Reddit thread on cleaning that I recapped recently. Take a mix of equal parts vinegar and water and pour into a spray bottle. Then load a rag into your Swiffer stick (you don’t want to buy those expensive cloths, do you?) and spray the floor then wipe clean with the Swiffer-rag. Easy peasy! If the vinegar smell is too strong, try adding some essential oils to the mixture to give it a different fragrance.

Enjoy this article? Share it with friends and family. And tell us some of your green cleaning tips in the comments!

 

Myth or fact? Taking shoes off helps keep your house clean

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I get asked this question a lot: If I don’t wear shoes in the house, does it help to keep the house clean? My answer depends on one factor— do you ever leave your house? If you do, when you return, it absolutely helps to remove your shoes before entering your home. While you’re out walking around in the world, you pick up all sorts of goo, dirt, grime, and unmentionables on your shoes.

I live in a city where it’s a veritable minefield of disgusting things on the sidewalk to carefully navigate around, and no matter how diligent I am, I’m sure I step in things that I’m unaware of. It’s not only for peace of mind that I kick off my kicks when I return home— it’s also proven that 60% of the particles that make up the dust in your home come from soil that we track in on our shoes or from outdoor air particles that whoosh in when we open and close the door. So to keep things manageable, I immediately slip out of my shoes when get home.

As to whether you need to take this a step further and become one of those people who insist that their guests also take their shoes off at the door, I leave that up to you. For years before I became a convert to the shoes-off mindset, I was always panicked when I reached a dinner party where the host smilingly forced my shoes off— what kind of silly socks was I wearing? Did they have any visible holes? Or sockless, were my toenails ready for the spotlight? To save your guests this unexpected anxiety, you might consider pausing your ban on shoes for the night and be extra vigilant when you clean up the house in the morning.

Let us know in the comments— are you a shoes-off kind of person? Or are you an unbeliever? Tell us why!

From Hoarders TV show to shutting down billion dollar power plants—Meet Bri Dinan of Philly Maid Green

The team cleaned Hoarders TV show house, West Philadelphia, August 2015

Bri Dinan became a warrior for the green cause when she was studying for her English degree at the University of Delaware. When she discovered that the university was trying to build a natural gas power plant on campus and that they had already signed a billion dollar contract with a 75-year lease, she, along with many students and community members, spearheaded a protest campaign around campus. They recognized that the power plant would have been terrible for the air quality of residents of the town and future students at the university, so they orchestrated public protests, notified the TV news, and garnered thousands of petition signatures. “We made a real PR mess for them,” Bri said. The group was successful, and the university backed out of the deal. “Everyone told us we couldn’t do it, but we totally did. That’s when I knew that I wanted to keep fighting for a more sustainable future.”

Believing in the power of green

After graduating and moving to Philadelphia, Bri became active in environmental journalism, attended anti-fracking protests, and had been researching the impact of chemicals on the environment. It’s no surprise that less than a year later, she would launch her own eco-friendly business, Philly Maid Green. “I knew that the best way to make the world sustainable was through business—you set an example, employ people, and have a positive impact,” she said. Philly Maid Green has been active for just over a year now, with a team of five cleaners and with a roster of seventy regular clients.

$10 at the Dollar store

At first it wasn’t clear what business she was going to launch. After graduation, she moved to Philadelphia to find job opportunities but found herself hustling for work and barely scraping by with tutoring and freelance writing gigs. When this work dried up and she wasn’t sure where her next meal was coming from, she went with her stomach rumbling to the dollar store to spend her last $10 on materials to make cleaning supplies with–vinegar, baking soda, and spray bottles—and started cleaning houses. At that point, something clicked. “I had learned all this stuff about chemicals when I was working as an environmental journalist, how they make you sick. I was surprised that no one knew this. With cleaning, it’s great to be able to show people how easy it is to become green and sustainable. Learning to be green starts in the home,” said Bri.

 

Bri and Casey at the 15th anniversary of the Sustainable Business Network
Bri and Casey at the 15th anniversary of the Sustainable Business Network

Greening the community

Even in those early days of building up a client-base of customers whose houses she cleaned, Bri had a vision for the future. “I created Philly Maid Green as a way to make Philly more green,” she said. In addition to creating her own eco-friendly cleaning products, she also leads educational DIY workshops to teach people about the dangers of the chemicals that exist in conventional cleaning products and show people how to make their own. She also organizes community cleanups where the group attacks the trash at a local park. “I wanted to incorporate education, advocacy, and affordable yet high quality cleaning service to make this city more sustainable.”

The educational component is what Bri likes best about the job. “I love seeing the progress made in making people understand. I just posted on Instagram about Obama signing the update to the Toxic Substances Act, and got so many likes, I couldn’t believe people cared.” She does education around the clock, even at friends and family’s houses. “I’ll see that they have Comet under the sink and let them know that it contains known carcinogens and that we have something better they can use. People are shocked. I learned that the air in your house is 500 times more polluted than the outside of your house due to chemicals in everyday products like cleaners. It blew my mind. It causes asthma, allergies, developmental problems, and learning disabilities.”

Running a cleaning company by public bus

Philly Maid Green’s commitment to the environment extends to their mode of transport as well. “Since we’re green, we use public transportation most of the time. I’ve never had a car, so I was taking buses and carrying vacuums on buses from one end of the city to the other all last summer, for nine hours a day. I’m not going to not hire someone just because they don’t have a car. We give the team portable vacuums to make it a bit easier on them.”

Finding and retaining reliable help

Bri and Casey of Philly Maid Green
Bri and Casey of Philly Maid Green

Like many other cleaning services I’ve spoken with, hiring and retaining employees remains the biggest challenge. Also like several companies, she has found success in hiring people close to her, like her boyfriend Casey, who researches and develops their line of organic cleaning products and helps clean. Bri considers herself fortunate to have a partner that understands the pressures of running a business and her nonstop 24/7 schedule. 

She got a double whammy recently when, on the day of a surgery scheduled for Casey that would put him out of service for a few weeks, she got a call from one of her cleaners who had to quit that day due to a family issue. Suddenly she was down two full time team members and needed to quickly backfill. She has not yet found the magic answer for finding and keeping people, but wants to pay her team as fairly as possible. “It’s hard work and I want them to feel appreciated. We’re trying to formulate benefits, like, go six weeks without a complaint and get paid for six extra hours, or refer a cleaner who stays eight weeks and you get a cash bonus. I’m still figuring it out.”

Hoarders TV show

A few months after launching the business, she got a call from the Hoarders TV show requesting her help cleaning up a house they were filming in West Philadelphia. She wasn’t sure what to expect. “I kept calling the producers and asking questions, like ‘Am I going to need a power hose or a body suit?’ They said no, there were no animals. It ended up just being an arts and crafts hoarder, which is my type of hoarder,” Bri laughed. “We got there and the house was mostly empty by that time, so we cleaned around them and followed behind as they tried to declutter more stuff. Our job was to make it spotless for the big reveal.” Philly Maid Green has “about a millisecond” on camera if you catch that episode.

The Hoarders gig wasn’t her most memorable cleaning experience—that came a few weeks ago when she and a few trainees showed up on a boiling hot summer day to clean a client’s home that had no electricity. “I had just sent an email to clients asking them to leave their A/C on because it’s going to be really hot while we’re cleaning. But we get there and there’s no electricity, no A/C. They had just moved in that day and didn’t realize that the power was off. It was super hot—it felt like 115 degrees. So I took the top floor, the attic, so that the other cleaners were more comfortable down below with windows open and a bit of shade…. I like cleaning, it’s therapeutic to me. And it’s like a steam sauna when you’re doing it in 115 degree heat.”

Entrepreneur freedom and energy

Bri always knew she wanted to work for herself and not other people. During college she got a job working from home and she was hooked. “I’m never NOT working from home ever again,” she said. Since there aren’t a lot of jobs that allow you that freedom, she started her own company.

When she was just getting started, she went to as many community and neighborhood meetings as possible, introducing herself and her company at events around the city. She highly recommends this strategy for people just starting out. “Be confident, go to a lot of networking events, and give out your card. Start by meeting people face-to-face.”

Bri finds inspiration from other female entrepreneurs. Her partner, Casey, took her to try out for Shark Tank, where she started learning about Barbara Corcoran, the real estate investor. “Women in business are the future. Women are creating more businesses and more jobs for other women, other mothers, other community members,” said Bri. They learned a lot from the Shark Tank experience and got to practice the business pitch while learning quite a bit about the cleaning business and how green cleaning is continuing to grow year over year.

To take advantage of an eco-friendly cleaning service in the Philadelphia area, book a clean with Philly Maid Green.

NYC-based DJ, artist, entrepreneur– Meet Tashan of Perfect Lady Cleaning

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Tashan Barclay’s Perfect Lady Cleaning combines aromatherapy with cleaning

I spoke with Tashan Barclay on the Fourth of July, and she laughed at how appropriate it was that she was sending in her application for U.S. citizenship on America’s birthday. Originally from Jamaica, Tashan followed her mother and grandmother to New York City over twenty years ago. She’s bursting with creativity, blowing off steam by drawing, deejaying, and practicing her guitar. That creativity comes through in her business as well—she makes her own cleaning products to delight the clients of Perfect Lady Cleaning, a business she started in 2014 that offers aromatherapy and steam cleaning as well as more traditional cleaning services. Like other NYC-based cleaning companies, she used the subway to get to jobs when she first got started but she now has a vehicle that she frequently uses to pick up and drop off her helpers.

Tashan was drawn to cleaning after she noticed that the cleaning services she hired to clean her apartment weren’t doing a good job. “My apartment would basically be about the same state of clean as before the cleaners arrived,” she said. The idea for starting her own business percolated slowly. First she tried to convince her mother, who cleans hotels, to start her own cleaning company, but her mother wasn’t interested. When Tashan started working in real estate, she found that she had some extra time to start working on her own business, so she launched Perfect Lady Cleaning.

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Perfect Lady homemade cleaning products

After a few sessions with traditional cleaning products, Tashan realized that she needed to go green. “I didn’t like how I felt after using those products. My eyes and nose would be watery, like something wasn’t right with what I was using,” she said. Turning to some of the green cleaning products on the market, she quickly decided to tap her creative streak and make her own eco-friendly products. “The green cleaning products on the market just weren’t up to par—they would build up in the bathroom and make it messier, faster.” After doing some research, Tashan began making her own cleaning products and experimenting with various essential oils like rose, lavender, lemon, eucalyptus, grapefruit, and citronella. How do her clients react? “They always say, ‘It smells so good!’”

Right now it’s mostly Tashan working alongside one other person to handle the cleanings, but she knows she needs to train others to use her cleaning products so that she can send more employees out on their own. “When I give people the products to use, they don’t understand how it works, so I need to explain how to use these.”

Besides handling all of her clients’ cleaning needs, Tashan gets excited about tweaking her cleaning products to make them great for every surface. “I’ve been trying to figure out why some floors got really slippery and other floors did not when I was using essential oils in the floor cleaner. Then I realized, ‘Duh! Oils are not going to be absorbed by wax floors so they’ll be slippery.’”

Tashan is a big believer in steam cleaning as a powerful eco-friendly cleaner. “With steam cleaning, you’re going to get a deeper clean than just cleaning with chemicals. I cleaned my mom’s kitchen and she’s a professional cleaner who cleans hotels. When I cleaned her kitchen, I realized she doesn’t really clean, she just wipes it clean. I think that’s part of the training for people who clean hotels—they just clean surfaces because they have a time constraint, like 20 minutes per room. So when I started steam cleaning her oven, there was a lot of junk coming off the walls.” She also stresses that the steam cleaning will keep dirt and grime away for about a month.

She admits that in a very few cases, some people don’t need help cleaning. “I went to one person’s apartment and told her, ‘You don’t really need a cleaning service.’ Her hand was broken so she wanted someone to come in and clean, but when I was finished, the bathroom was just as clean as it was when I started.“ Tashan prefers to clean rooms that really need her attention. “I love it when the bathroom or kitchen is dirty because when I’m done cleaning it people say ‘Yeah, that’s so great!’”

Tips on cleaning

Tashan recommends cleaning clockwise, doing one thing at a time and focusing. “And also move things. Most people don’t. They spend the same amount of time going around the thing they’re avoiding than it would take to pick it up and clean under it.” She also suggests having a daily routine, cleaning up after you cook, and putting things back into place once you’re done with them. Her favorite tip is to use a Swiffer mop with a microfiber cloth to clean things that you wouldn’t want to touch with your hands, or to clean high up on walls.

To experience the benefits of an aromatherapy clean, book an appointment with Perfect Lady Cleaning today!