House cleaning estimates & hiring cleaning staff

I love spilling the secrets of what it's REALLY like running a cleaning company, and I'm here to dish the details (some are dirtier than others).

As someone with zero background in cleaning but some skills in marketing and web design, I fearlessly launched my own cleaning biz back in 2008. I had no idea how hard it would be, but also how rewarding.

So pour yourself a glass of wine (you're not alone, wink wink) and read on for some of my off-the-top-of-my-head insights and confessions *gulp*.

Why did you start a cleaning company?
I was bored to death but also terrified of getting fired at my corporate communications job. I desperately wanted my organization to embrace digital marketing, and despite making a lot of headway, I was getting nowhere and figured it would likely never change. I also felt an ulcer coming on because the director of our department was firing people, including my amazing boss, and I would have died of humiliation if it happened to me.

But why a cleaning company?
Because isn't that what anyone who's looking for a business but doesn't have any money does?

  • everyone needs a cleaner (seriously, who doesn't need HELP?!)
  • everyone knows how to clean (how hard can it be, seriously!)
  • it's super cheap to buy supplies (this is true and luckily I knew how to make a website)
  • you can go to appointments anytime (perfect for someone who still had a "real" job)

How did you go about hiring staff?
So in the beginning, it was me and a friend, who was a much better cleaner than I was. After we'd built up some clientele, we each hired an assistant and split up, each of us in charge of a team of two. Once those two were the best darn cleaners on the planet, we hired them each an assistant and they became the team managers.16

And then you just kept growing? Happily ever after?
HECK no. I mean, yes, we grew every month in SALES, but not in workforce. I believe it took 3 years of suffering to get to the point where we had 3 decent teams of 2. I fired countless employees, had one actual theft with police involvement, and dropped everything at any point during the day to go clean because someone quit or disappeared. One of my most memorable moments was being on a patio (this is precious in northern Canada) on my birthday and having to LEAVE mid-meal in order to go clean a condo for a client we had a HUGE contract with (cleaning furnished long-stay accommodations). That client still owes us money, but that's another story for another day.

How did you estimate jobs?
My biz partner said she could estimate no problem, but definitely underestimated jobs our first summer. I didn't eat or drink or get any breaks because I never seemed to have enough time allotted to the jobs. And don't even get me started on travel time (weather, construction, accidents). Always always add in more time than you think you need.

How should *I* estimate jobs?
You don't need any software, calculators, or fancy algorithms. Here's my trick: whatever the number of bathrooms a house has, take that number and that's how long it will take two people to clean a home the first time. After that, 90% of homes will take 1.5 hours biweekly (condos, duplexes, bungalows), and 2 hours bi-weekly (two-storey). Add another 30 - 60 minutes if they have a finished basement, and ALWAYS give a range (add an additional hour to any first-cleaning quote) in case you need it.


  • condo 800 square feet with 1.5 bathrooms: first cleaning is 2 hours, bi-weekly is 1.5 hours
  • bungalow 1200 square feet with 2 bathrooms: first cleaning is 2 - 3 hours, bi-weekly is 1.5 hours
  • two-storey 2100 square feet wtih 2.5 bathrooms: first cleaning is 2.5 - 3.5 hours, bi-weekly is 2 hours

Sure your big houses might end up taking more time than you estimated. That's okay, you can take extra time without having to charge them, because you'll also have other clients who take less time than quoted but who will pay you the quoted amount. I never charged more than quoted, but also never charged less than quoted.

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