Career Guide for Building Cleaners

Building cleaners work in office buildings, hospital, and retail outlets to keep them clean and sanitary. There are a lot of jobs available in this profession as turnover is high and little training is required.

In this free career guide, you will learn how to have a successful career as a building cleaner.

Building Cleaner Summary

  • Entry-level workers need no formal education and learn on the job.
  • Most job openings result from the need to replace the many workers who leave this very large occupation.
  • Job prospects are expected to be good.

Working as a Building Cleaner

Building cleaning workers keep office buildings, hospitals, stores, apartment houses, hotels, and residences clean, sanitary, and in good condition. Some do only cleaning, while others have a wide range of duties.

Janitors and cleaners perform a variety of heavy cleaning duties, such as cleaning floors, shampooing rugs, washing walls and glass, and removing trash. They may fix leaky faucets, empty trash cans, do painting and carpentry, replenish bathroom supplies, mow lawns, and see that heating and air-conditioning equipment works properly. On a typical day, janitors may wet- or dry-mop floors, clean bathrooms, vacuum carpets, dust furniture, make minor repairs, and exterminate insects and rodents. They may also clean snow or debris from sidewalks in front of buildings and notify management of the need for major repairs. While janitors typically perform most of the duties mentioned, cleaners tend to work for companies that specialize in one type of cleaning activity, such as washing windows.

Maids and housekeeping cleaners perform any combination of light cleaning duties to keep private households or commercial establishments, such as hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and nursing homes, clean and orderly. In private households, they dust and polish furniture; sweep, mop, and wax floors; vacuum; and clean ovens, refrigerators, and bathrooms. They also may wash dishes, polish silver, and change and make beds. Some wash, fold, and iron clothes; a few wash windows. General houseworkers also may take clothes and laundry to the cleaners, buy groceries, and perform other errands. In hotels, aside from cleaning and maintaining the premises, maids and housekeeping cleaners may deliver ironing boards, cribs, and rollaway beds to guests’ rooms. In hospitals, they also may wash bed frames, make beds, and disinfect and sanitize equipment and supplies with germicides. Janitors, maids, and cleaners use many kinds of equipment, tools, and cleaning materials. For one job, they may need standard cleaning implements; another may require an electric floor polishing machine and a special cleaning solution. Improved building materials, chemical cleaners, and power equipment have made many tasks easier and less time consuming, but cleaning workers must learn the proper use of equipment and cleaners to avoid harming floors, fixtures, building occupants, and themselves.

Cleaning supervisors coordinate, schedule, and supervise the activities of janitors and cleaners. They assign tasks and inspect building areas to see that work has been done properly; they also issue supplies and equipment and inventory stocks to ensure that supplies on hand are adequate. They may be expected to screen and hire job applicants; train new and experienced employees; and recommend promotions, transfers, or dismissals. Supervisors may prepare reports concerning the occupancy of rooms, hours worked, and department expenses. Some also perform cleaning duties.

Building cleaning workers in large office and residential buildings, and more recently in large hotels, often work in teams consisting of workers who specialize in vacuuming, picking up trash, and cleaning restrooms, among other things. Supervisors conduct inspections to ensure that the building is cleaned properly and the team is functioning efficiently. In hotels, one member of the team is responsible for reporting electronically to the supervisor when rooms are cleaned.

Work environment. Because office buildings generally are cleaned while they are empty, many cleaning workers work evening hours. Some, however, such as school and hospital custodians, work in the daytime. When there is a need for 24-hour maintenance, janitors may be assigned to shifts. Many full-time building cleaners worked about 40 hours a week in 2008, but a substantial number worked part time. Part-time cleaners usually work in the evenings and on weekends.

Most building cleaning workers work indoors, but some work outdoors part of the time, sweeping walkways, mowing lawns, or shoveling snow. Working with machines can be noisy, and some tasks, such as cleaning bathrooms and trash rooms, can be dirty and unpleasant. Building cleaning workers experience injuries more frequently than workers in most other occupations. They may suffer cuts, bruises, and burns from machines, handtools, and chemicals. They spend most of their time on their feet, sometimes lifting or pushing heavy furniture or equipment. Many tasks, such as dusting or sweeping, require constant bending, stooping, and stretching. Lifting the increasingly heavier mattresses at nicer hotels in order to change the linens can cause back injuries and sprains.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Most building cleaning workers, except supervisors, do not need any formal education and mainly learn their skills on the job or in informal training sessions sponsored by their employers. Supervisors, though, generally have at least a high school diploma and often some college.

Education and training. No special education is required for most entry-level janitorial or cleaning jobs, but workers should be able to perform simple arithmetic and follow instructions. High school shop courses are helpful for jobs involving repair work. Most building cleaners learn their skills on the job. Beginners usually work with an experienced cleaner, doing routine cleaning. As they gain more experience, they are assigned more complicated tasks. In some cities, programs run by unions, government agencies, or employers teach janitorial skills. Students learn how to clean buildings thoroughly and efficiently; how to select and safely use various cleansing agents; and how to operate and maintain machines, such as wet-and-dry vacuums, buffers, and polishers. Students learn to plan their work, to follow safety and health regulations, to interact positively with people in the buildings they clean, and to work without supervision. Instruction in minor electrical, plumbing, and other repairs also may be given.

Supervisors of building cleaning workers usually need at least a high school diploma, but many have completed some college or earned a degree, especially those who work at places where clean rooms and well-functioning buildings are a necessity, such as in hospitals and hotels. In many establishments, they are required to take some in-service training to improve their housekeeping techniques and procedures and to enhance their supervisory skills.

Other qualifications. Employers usually look for dependable, hard-working individuals who are in good health, follow directions well, and get along with other people.

Certification and advancement. A small number of cleaning supervisors and managers are members of the International Executive Housekeepers Association, which offers two kinds of certification programs for cleaning supervisors and managers: Certified Executive Housekeeper (CEH) and Registered Executive Housekeeper (REH). The CEH designation is offered to those with a high school education, while the REH designation is offered to those who have a 4-year college degree. Both designations are earned by attending courses and passing exams and both must be renewed every 3 years to ensure that workers keep abreast of new cleaning methods. Those with the REH designation usually oversee the cleaning services of hotels, hospitals, casinos, and other large institutions that rely on well-trained experts for their cleaning needs.

Advancement opportunities for workers usually are limited in organizations where they are the only maintenance worker. Where there is a large maintenance staff, however, cleaning workers can be promoted to supervisor or to area supervisor or manager. Some janitors open their own maintenance or cleaning businesses.

Employment as a Building Cleaner

Building cleaning workers held about 4.1 million jobs in 2008. About 299,000 were self-employed.

Janitors and cleaners worked in nearly every type of establishment and held about 2.4 million jobs. Around 33 percent of janitors worked for firms supplying services to buildings and dwellings, about 20 percent were employed in educational services, and 6 percent worked in government. About 132,700 were self employed.

Maids and housekeepers held about 1.5 million jobs. Private households employed about 30 percent of these workers, while hotels, motels, and other traveler accommodations employed 29 percent. Hospitals, nursing homes, and other residential care facilities employed about 17 percent. Although cleaning jobs can be found in all cities and towns, most are located in highly populated areas where there are many office buildings, schools, apartment houses, nursing homes, and hospitals. About 106,900 maids and housekeeping cleaners were self employed in 2008.

First-line supervisors of housekeeping and janitorial workers held 251,100 jobs. Approximately 22 percent worked in firms supplying services to buildings and dwellings, while approximately 15 percent were employed in educational services. About 12 percent worked in hotels, motels, and all other traveler accommodation while about 9 percent worked in healthcare organizations. About 58,400 were self employed.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of building cleaning workers is expected to grow more slowly than average, and job opportunities are expected to be good.

Employment change. The number of building cleaning workers is expected to grow by 5 percent from 2008 and 2018, more slowly than the average for all occupations. Unlike some occupations, increased productivity is not expected to impact the employment of building cleaning workers. Despite small improvements in cleaning supplies, tools, and processes, roughly the same number of workers will be needed for any given building.

Employment of janitors and cleaners is projected to increase by 4 percent, more slowly than the average for all occupations. As the pace of construction contracts and fewer buildings are built, growth in this occupation should be relatively slow. Many new jobs are expected in healthcare, however, as this industry is expected to grow rapidly, and in administrative support firms as more claiming work is contracted out. Employment of maids and housekeeping cleaners is also expected to increase more slowly than the average, growing by 6 percent from 2008 to 2018. Many new jobs are expected in hotels as demand for accommodations increases, in private households as more people purchase residential cleaning services, and companies that supply maid services on a contract basis, as more of this work is contracted out. Employment of supervisors and managers of these workers, in addition, is projected to grow more slowly than the average, increasing by 5 percent. An increasing number of supervisors will be needed to manage the growing number of janitors, maids, and other cleaning workers.

Job prospects. Job prospects are expected to be good. Most job openings should result from the need to replace the many workers who leave this very large occupation.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Change,
2008-18
Number Percent
Building cleaning workers 4,139,000 4,343,300 204,300 5
First-line supervisors/managers of housekeeping and janitorial workers 37-1011 251,100 263,900 12,800 5
Building cleaning workers 37-2010 3,887,900 4,079,400 191,500 5
Janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners 37-2011 2,375,300 2,479,400 104,100 4
Maids and housekeeping cleaners 37-2012 1,498,200 1,583,700 85,600 6
Building cleaning workers, all other 37-2019 14,500 16,200 1,700 12
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Building Cleaners

Median hourly wages of janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners, were $10.31 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $8.42 and $13.30. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.41and the highest 10 percent earned more than $17.08. Median hourly wages in May 2008 in the industries employing the largest numbers of janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners, were as follows:

Local government $12.82
Elementary and secondary schools 12.45
General medical and surgical hospitals 11.42
Colleges, universities, and professional schools 11.90
Services to buildings and dwellings 9.31

Median hourly wages of maids and housekeeping cleaners were $9.13 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $7.92 and $11.10. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.09, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $13.72. Median hourly wages in general medical and surgical hospitals were $10.31, while median hourly wages in the traveler accommodation industry were $8.75 in May 2008.

Median hourly wages of wage-and-salary first-line supervisors and managers of housekeeping and janitorial workers were $16.34 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.82 and $21.07. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $10.33, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $26.29. Median hourly wages in May 2008 in the industries employing the largest numbers of first-line supervisors and managers of housekeeping and janitorial workers were as follows:

Local government $19.65
Elementary and secondary schools 18.84
Nursing care facilities 15.78
Services to buildings and dwellings 15.39
Traveler accommodation 14.07

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