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Taking Back the Cleaning Industry’s Reputation from Unethical Players

By Stephen Lewis

March 16, 2020


Ethics seems to be at a premium in the workplace. As one survey noted, more than 56% of staffers have witnessed or experienced unethical behavior at the office. I’d like to say I’m surprised—but I’m not.


I once witnessed a woman in a commercial building vacuuming without the motor on. I was confused, so I asked why. “I make the marks, and they think I vacuum,” she replied.


Our brief interaction offered a clear case for why we need unwavering ethics in our sphere, especially at this time. Regrettably, unethical and negligent practices run rampant across the industry. However, there’s an upshot to that reality—honest operators have the opportunity to shine. They can start by putting the following practices into motion:



1. Become a certified provider. When it comes to the services you provide to customers, a certification from the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) makes all the difference. To earn this certification, have your technicians take an IICRC-approved course, such as a course for commercial carpet maintenance technicians, from an IICRC-approved school. There, they’ll learn proper procedures and processes for commercial carpet maintenance. Then, they’ll take an exam to ensure they’re versed in the lesson. Additionally, technicians will agree to uphold the ethics prescribed by the IICRC. Once you have certified techs, your firm can then apply for certification.



2. Educate customers on the products and equipment you use. Service-building contractors, or SBCs, have a responsibility to not only understand the Carpet and Rug Institute’s approved list of equipment and chemistry, but also to pass that knowledge along to customers. An educated customer is better equipped to understand why you use one item instead of another on a facility’s unique surfaces.


Prior to cleaning, the SBC should also provide warranty information on the items they clean (for example, most mills include cleaning specifications). Customers aren’t always aware of those expectations, and they’ll appreciate hearing about them from their SBCs so they can keep their carpet’s warranty intact. Besides this, SBCs can take a page from the Green Seal Standard for Commercial and Institutional Cleaning Services by providing customers with a list of products used, the contact person for all visits, and copies of product safety data sheets and labels.



3. Make time for random drop-ins. The cleaning industry operates at night with workers in unsupervised roles. Consequently, workers’ lack of motivation can lead to subpar performance from time to time. One method to counteract this issue is with unannounced inspections. Every so often, SBC employees should pop into their customers’ sites during cleaning time. These randomized checks keep personnel on their toes. Plus, drop-ins give managers the chance to acknowledge workers that do an outstanding job.


4. Arrange periodic technician tests. Every cleaning technician can benefit from occasional impromptu quizzing. Supervisors can walk workers through the shop and ask questions about equipment, dilution ratios, and other topics. Technicians can also spend a night leading an evening’s jobs with a trainer in tow.


Does this require extra time? Absolutely. But it also ensures that everyone has a full understanding of what to do (and why they should follow the guidelines). Additionally, it can highlight employees who might make great future leaders or trainers.


5. Foster a corporate culture of responsibility and transparency. Let’s say something happened to damage or enhance an SBC’s reputation. At monthly safety meetings, the supervisor should go over the experience in detail. This informs workers of ways to handle future situations while empowering them to think critically.


Over time, being transparent about mistakes—and ways to rectify them—improves the likelihood of employees talking about problems instead of burying them. When employees recognize that being honest is safe, they learn to address their work more ethically. After all, when it’s obvious the company takes pride in serving customers, employees can take pride in it, too.


It’s not up to customers to find ethical cleaning companies—it’s up to cleaning companies to structure their operations ethically and accept nothing less than conscientious practices.


Stephen Lewis is the technical director at milliCare, where he manages all equipment, methods, and products for the floor and textile cleaning company. Stephen, a certified senior carpet inspector and an IICRC master textile cleaner, has proudly served milliCare for more than 30 years.