For people trying to find the right commercial cleaning service for their building, the most common refrain we hear is “It’s pretty simple, we just want our building to be clean.” These prospective customers we talked to have tried multiple cleaning vendors and/or have tried using an in-house team that continue to give them frustrating results.

While cleaning a building is not overly complex, keeping a facility looking and feeling clean on a consistent basis for a prolonged period requires sound processes, diligence, oversight, and collaboration. 


What is “clean”?

But there is a bigger issue here – “what is clean?”.  Ask 10 people this question and you will get 10 different answers. It’s a bit like asking “what is beautiful?” It all depends on who you ask. Hence, the problem with “clean.” Clean is hard to define, and the definition of clean varies from person to person. If you or your team are tasked with keeping your facilities looking and feeling clean, you are likely (painfully) aware of this problem.

To compound the issue, companies and organizations are typically not looking to allocate more budget dollars to the commercial cleaning service budget.  

So, in summary, here’s the challenge. With a limited amount of money, companies are trying to achieve a goal (“clean”) that is both difficult to define and highly subjective.

The purpose of this article is to provide some insight on this problem of cleanliness and offer some solutions for those attempting to solve this dilemma.


Commercial Cleaning Service Formula

Because the budget for cleaning your building is likely flat to slightly declining, the first step in solving this problem is to understand “Commercial Cleaning Service Formula.”   Whether you use an in-house team or outsource this function, it is important to understand the total cost of cleaning.  Use the following formula to calculate total cost:

      Labor Costs (Wages)

+   Labor Related Costs (taxes, insurance, background checks, workers comp, uniforms)

+   Cleaning/Janitorial Supply Costs (chemicals, mop heads, cleaning cloths, gloves)

+   Equipment Costs (acquisition costs, maintenance, repairs)

=   Total Direct Costs

+   Indirect/Overhead Costs (supervision/oversight)

=   Total Direct and Indirect Costs

+   Markup (add this cost if you outsource your custodial services) **


=   Total Cost to Clean your Facilities

** IMPORTANT NOTE: While you must pay an outsourced vendor a mark-up, most organizations save money by outsourcing. This is due to the elevated cost of labor and labor related items associated with an in-house team.

While all the items in the formula must be considered, it is Labor and Labor Related costs that account for nearly 75% of the total budget for cleaning a facility.  Calculating labor cost is a rather straightforward formula: 

Total Hours Required to Clean Your Facility X Average Rate of Pay for Cleaners and Supervision

Seems straightforward, but there’s a hitch.  Determining the hours required to clean your facility requires some thought and expertise. For example, the hours needed to clean your facility is based upon the size of your building, the number of people using your building (e.g., employees, visitors, students, patients), the type/segment of your business (e.g. medical, public venue, educational, manufacturing, call center), and your expectation level of cleanliness (the subjective item). The best methodology for developing an accurate measure of the number work hours is the use of production rates.


Production Rates – The Key to Unlocking Work Hours Required

From contractors to landscapers, every service industry uses some form of production rates. In the janitorial industry, there are two methodologies employed. The first is a simple cleaning production rate based on the type of facility. For example, a company might use a production rate of 4,500 sq. ft. per hour as a basis for determining how long it will take to clean an office space. Using this example–if a company has a cleanable area of 80,000 sq. ft.–it should take approximately 18 work hours to clean.

While this methodology is helpful for providing a “ballpark” estimate, a detailed production rate analysis provides a more accurate measure of work hours. Consider for a moment the difference between cleaning restrooms in a manufacturing facility vs. restrooms in corporate setting. A production rate for a corporate restroom might be 2.5 minutes per fixture, while a manufacturing facility might require 3.5 minutes per fixture because it is simply more difficult to clean. While 1 minute per fixture seems small, consider a facility with 10 restrooms with 6 fixtures in each restroom – that is one extra hour of labor per day.

Using production rates for specific tasks, and then considering the type of business and number of people in a building, will produce a more accurate measure of how long it will take to serve your facility.


What About the Subjective Part?

Let’s suppose that you have gone through the exercise of estimating the number of work hours required to clean your facility and you have developed a good understanding of market wages. Then you should have a pretty good handle on how much it is going to cost to keep your building looking and feeling clean. Not so fast……you still have the “problem with clean.” What can be done? Read below for some helpful steps.

Step #1 – Conduct some research

Walk around and look at how your building is used. As you are performing your research, consider areas that are used less frequently that could be cleaned with less frequency. Also consider tasks that could be performed with less frequency (e.g. in many office spaces, trash can be collected and removed less frequently than daily). Likewise, consider spaces that might need a bit more care. This research will help you design a scope of work that meets your unique circumstances.

Step #2 – Develop a scope of work based on your research

Having a detailed scope of work will help your cleaning team know (1) what tasks should be completed, and (2) the frequency of those tasks. Each type of space should be labeled and have an appropriate scope of work. The scope of work should detail the frequency of items (e.g. daily; three times per shift; weekly; monthly; M,W,F; quarterly).

Step #3 – Find someone you trust to estimate work hours

Find a trusted outsourced vendor to provide a work hour estimate based on your scope of work. This is especially importantly if you are using an in-house team. An outsourced vendor can provide an unbiased estimate of how long it should take to service your facility. Outsourced vendors are motivated to complete work with high quality (to keep business) and high efficiency (to increase profitability).

Step #4 – Consider your budget and adjust your scope of work as needed

There is no better way to describe this step than by using an example. Let’s assume that you have a budget of $100,000 for all janitorial duties. You should subtract 5% from that number to allow for project work (i.e. cleaning windows, restoring tile floors, carpet cleaning), leaving $95,000 for normal daily, weekly, and monthly services. If your building is cleaned 5 days per week, you have allocated roughly $365 per day to servicing your facility ($95,000 divided by 5 x 52). If your hourly blended rate (all costs included) for cleaning is $17.00/hr., you can afford roughly 21.5 janitorial work hours per day. Compare this to the number in Step #3. If your work hours estimate from Step #3 is greater than 21.5 hours, you need to alter the scope of work accordingly (i.e. reduce the frequency of some tasks) or ask for more budget dollars (cue the laughter!).

Step #5 – Share this information internally

Finally, here is how you solve the problem with “clean”. Talk to managers and other leaders in your organization. Let them know that you have a limited budget. And as such, a limited budget that only “buys” a certain amount of cleaning hours per day. Let them know that you have considered production rates and how you have used that to develop your scope of work. When shared in this manner, you are helping your internal team to understand how you are making the best use of the janitorial dollars.

And finally, talk with your team about expectations. Discuss this “problem with clean”, helping them to understand that keeping your building looking and feeling clean is a challenging task that requires team work from each individual team member and the cleaning team. Ask them to share the scope of work with their team so that they understand how often certain tasks will be completed.

Achieving “clean” is possible when budget and service expectations are in sync, and with a trusted cleaning team/vendor that understands the problem with clean.