Confessions Of A...Former Cleaner

Characterised repeatedly in film and on television (Jennifer Lopez in Maid in Manhattan, Jennifer Aniston in Friends with Money, Octavia Spencer in The Help, Kate Bosworth in Blue Crush, to name but a few), the role of the housekeeper, maid or cleaner is an old favourite for a good ‘rags to riches’ story.
But it’s not that Downton Abbey to have a cleaner these days; millennials living in big house shares are not averse to clubbing together to pay for a once-weekly professional spruce-up.
Being a cleaner isn’t what it once was, either; apps like Mopp allow part-timers to decide the hours they work, fitting shifts around university courses or looking after their kids. But what’s the relationship like between cleaner and client, and, more importantly, how well (or not) does it pay? One ex-cleaner dishes the dirt on the ups and downs of her previous day job.
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How long did you work as a cleaner?
Cleaner? Domestic engineer, if you please.
What were the worst parts of the job?
Cleaning the men's toilets, especially on Mondays (after they'd been on the beer all weekend).
Weirdest parts of the job?
The discovery that some men eat food while they are on the toilet, after finding half-eaten pies in the gents’ cubicles. I mean, who eats on the toilet?
Did you ever have a horrible boss?
No. I refuse to work with horrible bosses.
How was the pay?
We're going back a bit but I think I got paid about £60 a week.
What were the working hours like?
I worked four hours daily, starting at 4pm.
Did you clean domestic or commercial spaces? I cleaned the toilets, offices and canteen in a busy warehouse.
Worst (cleaning-related) memory?
Probably the first time I pushed open the door of the gents’ toilets. The stench that came from that room was strong enough to strip paint off walls. I dry-heaved into a duster and my dinner was about to do an encore when I spotted a can of air freshener. After that, I armed myself with two cans of pine fresh (one in each hand) and blasted both simultaneously on entering the room.
Are women really cleaner than men, in your experience?
Put it this way: Cleaning the ladies' loos involved a 10-minute spruce-up. Cleaning the gents accounted for almost half an hour of my allotted four hours. Five minutes of which were taken up with detangling the roller towel, which was usually soaked in water (and probably wee) on the floor.
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What's the grossest thing you had to deal with at work?
On one occasion I prodded a cubicle door open in the gents (with my mop) and saw a vending machine cup on the floor. Next to it was a copy of The Sun, open at page three. On closer inspection, the cup was about a third full of some transparent liquid, with what looked like a pubic hair floating in it.
Did you have a uniform? If so, what was it?
I wore an unflattering (but practical) tabard, as my request for a decontamination suit was declined. However, my supervisor did provide me with extra pine fresh and thick rubber gloves.
Did you feel that your hard work was appreciated?
The majority of the people who worked in the warehouse were under 25 and male. As with my teenage sons, there was no acknowledgement of my cleaning efforts but they were relatively pleasant to me. The office staff and management, however, were more appreciative and commented on a "job well done".
Were there more female than men cleaners or about the same?
I was the only cleaner but I took the job over from a man.
Did you ever think about quitting?
Honestly, every time I entered the gents’ toilets!
Best things about the job?
Working alone and having that satisfied feeling of turning a shithole into something more presentable.
Were you ever flirted with at work?
Well, I did come across some graffiti on the gents’ loo wall that said "I'd shag the cleaner". And then there was this one occasion where a man burst into the toilets and proceeded to take a pee in the urinals. I leaned on my mop and said: "Didn't you see the ‘Do Not Enter’ sign on the door?" He just winked at me and said: "Yeah, I saw it, but I'm bursting for a wee and I don't mind if you don't." So that’s probably more of a flashing than flirting story?
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What’s the first thing you would do after getting home from work?
I finished work at 8pm. After scrubbing shit-stained toilets and chipping off exploded baked beans from the inside of a microwave oven, all I wanted to do was open a bottle of wine and put my feet up.
Is your own home super clean?
You could probably eat your tea off my bathroom floor without dying of something nasty but I wouldn't advise it!
Any cleaning horror stories?
The day the gents' toilets got blocked, requiring a plunger, four litres of disinfectant and two cans of pine fresh. Oh, and two sets of rubber gloves. I shan’t elaborate further.
Did you end up quitting?
I did such a great job of cleaning the warehouse that the manager offered me a full-time job working for them. Who says hard work doesn't pay off?
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