Confessions of a professional cleaner

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Confessions of a professional cleaner

What really goes on in your workplace after hours?

The following observations are based on the collective experiences our 200+ cleaners have accrued working in and around Brisbane and South East Queensland over the past 15 years. For the sake of privacy, we’ve given them the shared identity of ‘Doris’ …

Who is a typical cleaner?

The average age of our cleaners is around 40. About 60% are male, and most have been working in the industry for approximately five years. Other than that, it takes all sorts – some are tertiary students, others are winding down towards retirement, some work full-time elsewhere and take a second job to really smash their mortgage, while others have recently moved and are looking for a foothold in the job market.

What’s it like to be in a space designed for lots of people when it’s deserted?

This really varies from cleaner to cleaner. In the wee hours of the morning an office interior is more monotonous than anything and any outside area can be quite scary. I can’t say with certainty that no-one’s dancing with Taylor Swift blaring from their earphones while they clean, but much like anything else, the novelty of the situation tends to wear off after you’ve experienced it a few times.

Do you work alone or in groups?

It depends on the size of the site, but most of the time we work solo or in small groups of 2-3.

Have you ever bumped into someone who’s not supposed to be there?

Yes, but thankfully it is a relatively rare occurrence. I once interrupted a man sleeping on top of a boardroom table at 3am. He wasn’t just having an unplanned nap either, he had a pillow and sheets which he’d tucked in using the surrounding chairs. Startled he began mumbling an excuse so I quickly backed out and said I’d just do that room the next day. And, yes there absolutely have been occasions when I’ve interrupted people doing other things that aren’t fit to discuss here.

How do blue and white collar businesses compare?

Unsurprisingly, as a general rule blue collar workplaces are dirtier while white collar are cleaner but more particular about the way their cleaning is done. As an odd aside, a good number of blue collar businesses seem to have an addiction to company-supplied cream biscuits in their break areas. I’m aware of at least two instances of workers threatening industrial action when management tried to take their cream biscuits away.

What are the best businesses to clean at?

I’d probably say schools. Any community-oriented business like a childcare or medical centre tends to be super-friendly.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve found?

I once encountered a blocked toilet which I dutifully set to work on with a plunger. A bit of elbow grease later the blockage was revealed to be a rather expensive looking gold watch. We gave it a complimentary scrub and left it at reception – though I’m unsure whether or not anyone was game to come forward and claim it.

What do people incorrectly assume about cleaners?

1. We don’t look through your stuff. I’m sure that whatever nick nacks you leave in and around your desk are very significant to you, but to be honest, it’s either very late or very early and we just want to do what needs doing so we can get on with the rest of our lives; irrespective of how nice your novelty pen may be.
2. It’s not a quick wipe and run – we’re paid to clean things a particular way. Good cleaning companies have Quality Assurance inspections to check up on their cleaners’ performance and ours actually keeps running totals to reward the best cleaners with overseas holidays – so there’s good reason for us to do our job properly.

What’s the second strangest thing you’ve found?

I once got called in to clean out a drawer full of about 300 mouldy coffee pods. It seems that for reasons I can’t quite comprehend, one of their staff had been stashing their used coffee pods in a drawer in an unoccupied office. Apparently the suspected culprit had long since left and the drawer was not just mouldy, but a whole rainbow of different coloured moulds.

Which toilets are dirtier, the men’s or women’s?

Across the board, men’s toilets are the worst, however it is close with the ladies giving them a real run for their money sometimes. Let’s just say no-one should be proud.

What surprises you most?

It would have to be the widespread presence of snot left on toilet cubicle walls. It’s really ridiculously common and not just in blue collar workplaces – we see it just as much in high-flying professional offices. The thing is, the toilet paper is right there … why would you?!

What do you think of THAT John Farnham song?

Most of us have heard someone jokingly make a reference to Sadie the Cleaning Lady at some point, but to be frank a lot of us have never heard the actual song. Seriously, it’s nearly 50 years old now. Let it go.

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