House cleaning is a line of work with a low bar to entry and that offers great flexibility, making it an attractive option for a student or simply someone who doesn’t want to commit to a regular work schedule. If you’re able-bodied, energetic, organized, and attentive to detail, it could be a great fit for you.
I worked as a house cleaner for a few years. Initially I got into it because I wasn’t legally permitted to work while attending college in Canada, and I loved how easy it was to work around my busy student schedule.
I had moved abroad with $40,000 in savings, but it went astonishingly quickly. Food in Canada is a lot more expensive than in the U.S., and buying things cheaply online with free shipping was simply not an option. Before I knew it, my checking account was dwindling. I found myself in the frightening predicament of being out of funds and yet not allowed to apply to a single job, while being in a foreign country with two years of schooling left. Having also moved there with my now ex-boyfriend from the U.S., moving back would have meant essentially ending my relationship and relinquishing my efforts of getting into a top Canadian university, as well as the insanely expensive international student tuition I had already paid.
For a time, I found a job as a babysitter through Craigslist, but after several months the family no longer needed my assistance. Fortunately, I lived in a family-oriented neighborhood with a mailing list in which members of the community would communicate news, yard sales, concerns, and everything in-between. One individual posted they were looking for someone to help with cleaning their home, and despite not having any experience as a house cleaner, I took them on as a twice-per week client. It worked out so well that I posted an advertisement for my cleaning services in the mailing list. The responses were overwhelming—I got around 10–15 replies, mostly from busy mothers, and had to turn many down because I couldn’t take on so much work.
Before I knew it, I was the neighborhood house cleaner, and would clean one house for a couple hours, then move onto another two-hour job, several days a week. Some days I worked for six hours straight, which was incredibly tiring. I was paid $15 per hour at first, but I raised my rate to $17.50 after several months, which all of my clients accepted. I was making about $1,400–$1,750 per month, working typically between 20–25 hours per week. It was under the table (if I were to go back into it today I would do taxes, but it wasn’t even an option when I started given that it was illegal to work).
Each cleaning was scheduled tentatively within a day or several before, so I wasn’t ever sure how much work I’d have. At some points, families would email and said they wouldn’t need my help for a while. I didn’t have any savings, so the unpredictability was daunting. It goes without saying that anyone self-employed with erratic work should have several months’ expenses to fall back on in cases like that.
On the job, I learned several important lessons about the right and wrong ways to go about being a house cleaner.
Everyone has different preferences. Some wanted every nook and cranny of their home spotless, while others were disappointed to find out that I did deep cleaning. For this reason, you should establish a clear understanding of their desires before starting work; find out what their priorities are.
Having an order and system to your cleaning is essential for efficiency. I was normally tasked with cleaning a whole house in two hours, though in that time it was not feasible to do a thorough job on everything. Further, I found that cleaning some areas before others made things far easier. I found that generally the best order in which to clean was:
1. Vacuum the bathroom to remove all hair. Not tracking it all over and having it stick to things makes cleaning easier and less gross (having pubes stuck to the bottom of your feet is not pleasant).
2. Clean the bathroom toilet, sink, and shower.
3. Vacuum the rest of the house.
4. Clean the kitchen surfaces. Only the exteriors—I wouldn’t clean the inside of the fridge or cupboards unless requested to do so.
5. Give tables and dusty mantelpieces, etc., a quick wipedown.
The cleaning tools used also make a world of difference.
Since I didn’t have a car, I could only bring a bag of cleaning solutions, gloves, and rags, but I had to work with whatever appliances clients already had. Some clients only had a broom or a vacuum that barely worked, and it took significantly longer and was less thorough. Having clumps of hair and dirt stuck to the bottom of a crappy broom is a real pain!
Bringing at least two sets of completely dry rubber gloves to each job is essential. Squeezing out filthy rags and cleaning toilets with bare hands is awful, plus you should keep harsh cleaning solutions off your hands. I say at least two sets because you should not be using the same ones for the bathroom as in the kitchen. Further, you should be washing the gloves between jobs; I’d throw mine in the laundry along with dirty rags between each cleaning. It’s always a good idea to bring a third pair, because eventually they get holes. This happened to me a few times, and piping hot water and dirt getting through the openings put a real damper on things.
Having the right rags/cleaning cloths makes a huge difference! For toilets, you should bring at least one full roll of paper towel to each job. Wiping poo, pee, and pubic hair onto a rag that you’re going to then wring out and use throughout the rest of the house is not only very icky, but it could endanger your client’s health. Further, it is a real challenge to remove hair from a rag, especially the soft/fluffy kind. For mirrors, you should bring several cloths (it’s better to have more) made specifically for glass. Paper towel is the second best thing for mirrors, but it leaves pieces of lint behind and is more costly. For the rest of the house, you should have at least five rags that aren’t overly fluffy. I suggest buying at least 10; having several means you don’t have to return to the sink to wring the dirt out as frequently.
Some mops are far easier to operate and more effective than others. Wring mops are the worst! My favorite kind was a mop with a detachable microfiber cloth and a lever you can pull to spray solution from a built-in refillable container, which is currently sold on Amazon.
Finally, regarding pay, while I only made between $15 and $17.50 CAD while working abroad, I could have probably made more. With some experience, I’d say you should expect to make around $25 per hour in the U.S., especially if you live in a city with a high cost of living.
I’m just recounting my experiences in this post, so I won’t go into the tax requirements, but you should certainly look into that if you’re interested. I’ll put together a how-to post with more complete details on doing house cleaning in the U.S. at some point.
Have you worked as a house cleaner, or would you consider doing it? If you have been a house cleaner, how was your experience, and do you have any advice to others interested in the line of work?