Many house cleaners to choose from

June 02, 2013|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU |

Nationwide, there’s “somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 businesses that call themselves residential cleaning companies, whether they have one employee or 50 employees,” according to Ernie Hartong, executive director of the Association of Residential Cleaning Services International.

The organization, possibly the only one of its kind in the United States, is based in Columbus, Ohio, and has about 600 member companies. Each has from one to 50 employees.

Launched 10 years ago, the association provides businesses with the latest information on such topics as “how to clean all the exotic surfaces people have in their homes right now,” Hartong said. “It’s not as easy as a simple mop and a bucket.”

In the Tri-State area, there seem to be dozens of such businesses, according to The Herald-Mail’s review of telephone and business directories, and a search online.

But it’s not clear whether all of them still are in operation. Of the 13 called by the newspaper, six either didn’t answer the phone, didn’t have an answering machine that took messages or didn’t return a reporter’s message. One other declined to comment for this story.

Most of the six business owners interviewed talked about the effects of the recession.

Some had clients who cut back on how frequently their homes — or how many rooms — were to be cleaned. Some talked of having to clean houses where there had been foreclosures or short sales.

Regardless of the economy, “there’s a fair amount of churn” in the home-cleaning industry as businesses start up and fold, Hartong said.

“They think it’s easy and once they get into it, it’s not,” he said.

During the recession, the industry seems to have been hit the hardest from 2008 to 2009, he said. By now, “most are back to or exceeding those 2009 numbers,” he said.

Through good times and bad, the public’s biggest mistake in hiring people to clean homes is failing to choose carefully to minimize risk, Hartong said.

“The most misunderstood thing is that the consumer thinks they can save money by paying someone under the table who may not have insurance,” he said. Or the consumer might be choosing a business that “may not have done background checks on their employees,” he said.

“It’s an industry that’s certainly built on trust, obviously, in access to the consumer’s home and (where), literally, a lot of times that the consumer is not home,” he said.

Hiring a cleaner

For tips about how to hire a cleaning person and answers to frequently asked questions, the Association of Cleaning Services International has created an online Q&A. To see it, go to

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