Starting a House Cleaning Business
by Reader Contributors
We get advice for starting a house cleaning service from others in the industry on everything from what rates to charge to advertising ideas.
Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I would like to start cleaning houses a couple days a week while my 4 year old is in preschool. After she starts school I can add more.
I have no idea where to begin to be effective What supplies do I need? What should I charge? What types of ads should I run? If anyone has suggestions or thoughts I would love the advice. I am a stay-at-home mom of 3.
Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I wanted to know the cost of starting a cleaning business. Also, does anyone have advice on the best way to get started?
Tips for Starting a Cleaning Business
We have several readers who have or have had their own cleaning business. They were more than happy to offer up advice for others just starting out. Read on for their helpful tips and advice.
I Highly Recommend Jeff Campbell
Pick up the book by Jeff Campbell on his website TheCleanTeam.com. He has written a book about starting your own cleaning business as well as several other books, including Speed Cleaning which has helped me cut down my cleaning time tremendously. He is the owner of one of the largest house/commercial cleaning companies in San Francisco.
House Cleaning Ads That Have Worked
After starting a fairly successful business and residential cleaning business several years ago, here are a few advertising tips that really worked.
- Advertise in Your Local Paper on Local Online Websites: A simple text ad under the ‘Services Offered’ in your local paper or weekly freebie paper is a good start. Make it short and simple. Something like ‘Housecleaning, please call Jane at 555-5555’. Then see what they will charge to run an ad on the online versions of these papers.
- Flyers: If you’d like to clean offices or businesses, although generally that would be for early mornings, nights, or weekends, print up a flyer, it can even be hand-written, just make sure it is neat. By folding it in half and taping it closed, you can send it to local businesses or homes through the mail. Using the yellow pages for business addresses, and either the white pages or a reverse directory for residential addresses. Depending on your area, you might even be able to go door to door in neighborhoods you’d like to work in and pass out your flyers. You cannot put them in mailboxes, but depending on your local laws, you can personally hand them to the homeowner or put them on or in the front door. You can also hang them on public bulletin boards.
- Business Cards: If you’d like, you can print your own or there are several online sites as well as office supply stores where you can get simple business cards printed inexpensively. Have some printed with your name, what type of cleaning jobs you are looking for and a phone number.
- References and Referrals: Make sure that you have a few people who are willing to give you a good reference, even if at first they are friends you’ve known for a while. In any advertisement you create, make sure to mention that you have references and give them to any prospective customers who ask. As you start cleaning one or two houses, ask those customers if you can use them as references also. I used to give customers a free cleaning if they referred a friend. You can even advertise that in your flyers or business cards.
Start living better for less.
Subscribe to get money-saving content by email that can help you stretch your dollars further.
Twice each week you'll receive articles and tips that can help you free up and keep more of your hard-earned money, even on the tightest of budgets.
Subscribers receive a free copy of our eBook Little Luxuries: 130 Ways to Live Better for Less.
We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at any time.
Homework Before Starting a Cleaning Business
Starting a cleaning business is an interesting idea! If you are going brick and mortar, you’re going to need a loan. You are also going to need to do your homework. Start with the Small Business Administration. They will give you tips and tutoring on how to get started.
If you are going to start small, with just a few clients and maybe one or two people (count yourself), get the book Small Business For Dummies by Eric Tyson and start your homework there. No one can tell you how much money you are going to need to get started. Only you can estimate that figure.
Words of Experience
I started a house cleaning service way back in 1988 but I am sure many of these things still hold true.
Bid by the job, not by the hour and stick with the basics of general cleaning until you get used to it. Normally a 3/2 bath should run around $65-$80 each time you do it. I would recommend putting the new clients on an every week or every other week schedule. Bring your own supplies and use their vacuum. Extra like ovens, stoves etc., charge $10 – $15 more.
Also you want to be paid upon completion of each job. Don’t forget to get a business license and keep a calendar to do your taxes for IRS/state. Be sure to keep all you receipts and gas mileage.
My Experience With a Cleaning Business
From past experience from having my own cleaning business, I have a few things to share. I put myself through college, and in my later years, put food on my table with my cleaning business.
Give an estimate before accepting a job. Figure out how long it could take and don’t underestimate yourself. I used to say the first few times was a trial period in case it did not work out for either party.
At the first meeting, write down what the people are looking for and the type of cleaning they want or need. Make a general list of household rooms and place columns for dusting, garbage pick up, vacuuming, and areas that need special care. Add a note area for things to remember like not letting the cat out. For example, does cleaning the kitchen mean cleaning the counters and their dirty dishes? Or just the floors and general wiping up? Write it all down to protect yourself and them. It makes everything clear.
Make up an agreement/contract. It should have the tasks to be done and payment arrangements. Is payment due at each visit? What forms of payment are accepted? I suggest that you stick with cash.
Use the cleaning products that the person provides as everyone has preferences and possible allergies. If you agree to pick items up, save the receipts to get reimbursed. Also, keep in mind that the products you choose better be right for the job. You don’t want problems with ruining their furniture!
Depending where you live, you may have to be insured. Check it out before you start up.
Be sure to wear protective clothing, such as gloves. Also, read up on what type of products are best in various areas (kitchen, bath etc.) to kill germs and bacteria. Organic cleaners work great if you use the proper cleaner.
Judy M. in Hudson Valley, NY
“Clean Up” with Allergy Specific Cleaning Business
Green cleaning is good, but if you can do allergy cleaning in a population center, you can “clean up.” This will require completely unscented products, being a nonsmoker, undyed natural cotton uniform, wet dusting with water, emissions-free vacuum, possibly dust-precipitation sprays if your clients can handle them, and tailoring the cleaning job to the individual.
Allergists and health-food stores can give you referrals, you can charge premium prices, and maybe even be reimbursed by Medicare/Medicaid (you’ll need to check this).
House Cleaning Advertising Ideas
Ways to advertise include:
- Printing up flyer-ads to hang on doorknobs with stapled-on rubber band
- Putting ad in Services section of newspaper for a month or just the weekends of a month
- Sending out post card ‘discount’ or ‘coupon’ ads to select addresses. Of these methods, I found the last one doesn’t seem to work as well as the others. At any rate, expect only about a 2-5% return, i.e. a one-month ad might bring you one or two customers. But if you do a good job, they might become permanent and schedule you for regular times.
There’s once only, once a month, bi-weekly, once weekly, and on-call (a real pain if you already have a schedule filled up). Cold-call real estate companies, construction companies, property management, landlords, etc. Assume that you’ll have to supply the tools but never volunteer to do it and ask that they do it but assume they won’t have the right tools and be prepared to use your own anyway. I’m not shocked any more at how many people don’t own a mop or broom or bottle of Windex. Their ignorance is why they call you. I’ve taught otherwise intelligent people how to clean their ovens, etc., many a time.
Research cleaning tips online; you’ll learn timesaving tips like how to put a damp rag in the microwave for 3 minutes to soften caked-on food. Speediness impresses customers. You can never be fast enough or strong enough (they often want you to move heavy furniture to clean under), but don’t overdo and injure yourself, in fact don’t move heavy furniture unless you really like them or they help you. Rush the first time if you must to get the client, then just get real good and go at normal speed. Bottom line is they can’t be bothered and they’d rather let you do it for the money, so don’t kill yourself. Call around or look online and see what others charge – maybe even have someone come over and do your place just to see what they do.
There are no benefits unless you provide them, like medical insurance, retirement, etc. I do recommend getting licensed. It’s the law and usually cheap and easy. Bonding and insurance is optional and may not be necessary if you feel your customers will treat you with trust and fairness. If I break something I replace it or pay the value (or work it off) immediately. It’s all tax-deductible, as are expenses for supplies and mileage, advertising, etc. You are responsible for reporting your income and paying your taxes; they are not.
Consider Going “Green”
One thing I don’t see much of is “green” cleaners. I would love to see someone who advertises as cleaning “green” as much as possible. Vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice are cheap! (See 7 Frugal Homemade Cleanser Recipes.)
Also I would call around to some companies and find out what they charge. If they charge $50 for one hour of cleaning and that includes floors, dusting, and a bathroom, see if you can get by just slightly undercutting them (say $45). Or throw in a free hour of cleaning for each nine hours of booked and paid time. Lots of businesses do that where I am (central Indiana) and seem to have success with it. Right now I do it with both my car company for oil changes (every 5th one is free) and my hairdresser (every 6th cut is free).
I agree that you need to have a plan written out, and that you need to be bonded, etc., but your supply inventory should be mostly from stuff at home and try to use things that you can use over and over again, like rags. In the long run, it’ll be cheaper to wash those (especially if you hang them to dry) than to go through scads of paper towels.
My parents are self-employed and they’ve found the best way to grow is through word-of-mouth, so be honest, do a good job, and ask your clients to recommend you when they feel comfortable doing so. Lots of smaller, local newspapers have cheaper want ad space and you can post your services for free on websites like CraigsList.com, but use caution! There are some scary people out there, so use common sense to keep yourself safe.
If Using Your Own Cleaning Tools
You probably don’t need much more than you have already, but I would make plans for replacing your vacuum, unless you expect your clients to supply their own. The heavy use might decrease its lifecycle. Actually, it’s probably a good idea to set aside some of your cleaning income for replacements since you’ll eventually have to replace cleaning solutions, mop heads, etc.
Suggestions to Consider
My sister-in-law owns her own cleaning business, and she does exactly what this reader wants. She works only when her son is in preschool half days, 2 days each week. She’s been cleaning since college, and has gone from full-time with 30 clients a week down to about four clients now.
If the reader has never done this before, some suggestions:
Don’t underprice. The major cleaning companies charge approximately $30-$40 an hour per person. Do some research by having other cleaning companies come and do estimates to clean your home. Get a feel for the market, and then charge just slightly less (maybe 5%) than the big companies. Charge by the job, not by the hour, if you can. If a client knows they have to pay $50, they don’t care if you take 1 hour or 5. But if they know they’re paying you $20 an hour, they might hover.
Many potential clients are worried about having a stranger in their home, potentially stealing their stuff. To allay fears, get bonded. This is like being insured.
Spread word-of-mouth. Do local churches or schools have “service auctions”, where people donate a particular service (tutoring, babysitting, tax work, cleaning) and someone else bids on it, with the money going to the church or school? While you’re giving your services away, it’s for a good cause and you are networking.
Reviewed March 2021
Subscribe to The Dollar Stretcher, our free twice-weekly newsletter aimed at helping you live better for less on the money you already have!
Subscribers get a copy of our ebook Little Luxuries: 130 Ways to Live Better...For Less for FREE!
- 7 Habits of Highly Frugal People
- 5 Simple Budget Cuts That Can Save $200 a Month
- How to Track Down Unclaimed Funds Owed You
- 32 Ways to Save Money on Your Utility Bills
- Do You Need Credit Life Insurance When Buying a New Car?
- How to Maximize Profits When Selling Online
- Staying Motivated to Continue Digging Yourself Out of Debt
- 9 Things You Need to Do Before You Retire
- You Didn’t Save Enough for Retirement and You’re 55+
- When Empty Nesters Reorganize and Declutter Their Home
- Reinventing Your Career in Your 50s or 60s
- What Mature Homeowners Should Know about Reverse Mortgages
- 2 Reasons to Collect Social Security Benefits As Soon As Possible