The Capitel * Apr. 7 2002
Spring has sprung, and that can only mean one thing: it's time to come clean
Don't worry, though. Cleaners won't reveal your dirty little secrets.
by Theresa Winslow, Staff Writer
It was the "house from hell." Ed Wright still shudders when he thinks about it. In less than a year, a family of four transformed a new $300,000 Laurel home into a Superfund site -- and Mr. Wright had to clean it. Or at least try.
"They'd never cleaned the counters or wiped down the stove," he said. "The kids had
Magic-Markered the kitchen cabinets. You could stick a fork in it. It was done!" And that wasn't
the worst of it. The kids also made a mess of an entirely different kind in the "toilet area" of the
bathroom. "I usually don't wear gloves, but this one time I put gloves on," Mr. Wright said. Still,
he called in all his employees and persevered. It took about four hours to scrub the house down. He
never went back.
Most of his customers are far, far neater, but these are the kind of worst-case scenarios house cleaners occasionally run into. Mr. Wright runs the Gambrills-based Spouses Cleaning Houses with his wife, Rebecca, and has about 15 employees.
It's just one of a host of house cleaning services -- both independent and franchised -- in the
country. Now that spring cleaning season is upon us, they're getting busier.
"You can pretty much spot (the slobs)," said Marquetta Sullivan of MLS Cleaning Service in Riva. "It's people's appearance. When they open the door and their clothes are covered with dog hair," you know it's going to be bad.
Mr. Wright, though, said appearances can sometimes be deceiving. He recalled a prim and proper pharmacist whose home was far from a prescription for cleanliness. "You think they're presentable, but when they get home, they let it all hang out," he said with a chuckle. "I know their dirty little secrets."
DON'T CALL THEM MAIDS
Cleaning services are all run a little differently, charge differently -- from less than $50 to more than $200 a visit, generally depending on the number of visits per month and size of the home -- and tackle different task. But they all seem to have one thing in common. They don't like to be called maids. Even a business that has maid in the title, like the new MaidPro of Annapolis, doesn't favor the term. Owner Jacqueline Barton, who has "chief neat freak" printed on her business card, prefers "service professional." Mr. Wright prefers house cleaner. Ms. Sullivan just prefers her name. No title. All found the term "maid," demeaning and felt it denoted servitude rather than service. In some people's eyes, (maid) connotes dirty work," Ms. Barton said. "We do hard work."
Ms. Barton's office has only been open since March and she currently has just two employees, but more are on the way. Until her staff is up to full strength, the former management consultant will roll up her own sleeves. She got into the business because she was looking or a change. MaidPro was one of her consulting clients, and she figured it was a natural fit. She hasn't found house cleaning to be too much of an eye-opener since she had to do it when she underwent training to run the business. And, of course, she did it as an "amateur" in her own home. Still, there were challenges. Like the people who immediately dirtied the areas she just cleaned.
"It was a good experience," Ms. Barton said. "I have (no regrets). The work I did consulting was in organizational development. I helped people be happier at work. Now I help people be happier at home."
ROOMS FOR IMPROVEMENT
This shouldn't come as too much of a shock, but kitchens and bathrooms are the two biggest problem areas house cleaners encounter. Hard water stains are typically among the toughest to get out. But then there are the special cases. Ms. Sullivan, who has been cleaning houses for 5 years, remembers a rental home that she tackled after the residents moved out. "It wasn't very big, but it took six of us 25 hours (to clean)," she said. "The kitchen, it was unbelievable! There were mice inside the cabinets that had died." The ceramic tile on the kitchen floor was so caked with grime that Ms. Sullivan just poured straight bleach on it, let it soak in, and then tackled it with a stiff boat brush.
For more "standard" messes, house cleaners all have their own strategies. But Mr. Wright said people have to be realistic about what to expect. "They want miracles to be performed and sometimes we can't get it," he said. He tries awfully hard, though. His particular pet peeve is window streaks, which he won't give up on until they're gone. "I love my business and I love my customers," he said, "It's a personal thing I take it personal."
He's not alone. It was evident all the house cleaners take great pride in their work. "If there's something you don't like to clean, then the job isn't for you," said Sharae McLaurin of Glen Burnie, a "service professional" at MaidPro.
CLEANING TIPS FROM THE PROS
Here are a few tips from the professionals at MaidPro. If you choose to tackle spring cleaning on your own.