Candice is a freelance writer, jeweler, and digital marketing hybrid.
How to Start a Cleaning Business
12 min. read
Updated November 13, 2023
So, you’re in the market to start a cleaning business? You have the skills. There aren’t that many hurdles or license requirements compared to other operations. And you can get started fast and affordably.
The thing is, you’re not quite sure what, exactly, is involved in starting a cleaning a business.
In this guide, you’ll get a better sense of the industry, what skills you should develop in order to be successful in it, and how to go about starting your own operation.
You will also find information provided by two people currently involved in the industry: Matthew Mercuri, Digital Marketing Manager at Dupray, and Simon Brooks, the founder of Squiffy Clean, who was just recently featured by NBC. Simon is testimony to the fact that yes, anyone really can start a cleaning business.
1. Overview of the industry
The cleaning services industry is comprised of janitors and cleaners, maids and housekeeping cleaners, first-line supervisors of housekeeping and janitorial workers, and building cleaning workers.
As of May 2014, there were 2,137,730 janitors and cleaners in the U.S.; 929,540 maids and housekeeping cleaners; 168,960 first-line supervisors of housekeeping and janitorial workers; and 15,620 building cleaning workers.
According to data from PayScale’s salary questionnaire, house cleaners, nationwide, earned an average of $15.09 per hour for pay. Most were women who claimed a high level of job satisfaction. However, fewer than one in twenty had medical and dental plans, and zero had vision insurance.
Products that sold best, and that were used most by the commercial cleaning industry, included brands such as Pine Sol, Fabuloso, and Clorox Clean Up. Cleaning managers cited high quality and effectiveness of the products, as well as a low price point as key to adding value.
2. Skills you need to start this business
Cleaning other people’s houses and offices is a dirty job—pun intended! More than that, it’s an intensely personal job as you will be entering someone’s home, or a private office space that may contain confidential data.
The people that hire you are taking you into their trust.
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To be successful in this industry, you will need a number of skills and select character traits. If you do hire employees, they will also need these characteristics:
- Diligence, or the ability to get a job done
- An eye for detail
- The ability to focus
- Excellent timekeeping and time management skills
- Physical stamina and strength
- A polite and professional manner
While it’s important to develop and maintain a positive relationship with your clients, you are not entering a house or office to socialize. A professional manner should be adhered to at all times. This will count greatly in your favor if the client ever has friends who ask for a referral.
If you want to learn more about your own strengths and weaknesses, you can conduct a SWOT analysis on yourself (as well as your company), or you can take this quiz that will help you determine where your strengths lie.
3. Market research and business idea validation
It’s not hard to see why starting a cleaning business is such a popular option: It requires little upfront investment and is not a highly skilled business (in the simplest understanding of that concept) with many barriers to entry. Just about anyone can start doing it.
Of course, while many people may be able to start a cleaning business, not everyone can turn it into a thriving business. To do really well, you need business smarts and you need to stand out from the crowd.
This is where market research comes in.
Don’t skip your market research
Because you’ll be entering an already-saturated market, you will need to figure out a way to differentiate your service offerings. Sometimes this is referred to as figuring out your unique selling proposition, or USP.
Getting a handle on what you specialize in and how you operate—different to your competitors—will come in handy later on. It will help you find customers, and craft the right marketing messages so that they choose you!
Here are some things you might want to think about:
- How far are you willing to travel? 10 miles, 20 miles, 50 miles?
- Will you offer domestic, or commercial cleaning services? Will you offer both?
- Will you charge by the hour, by the room, or in some other way?
- Will you work weekdays and weekends?
- Will you serve everyone, or a select group, perhaps targeted by income bracket, age group, or something else?
- Will you do everything yourself or hire employees?
- What will your role be? Worker or manager?
- What will you pay yourself? And your employees?
If you’re not quite sure how to answer the above questions, you could take a look at the cleaning businesses in your area. Look at what they charge, how they charge, and who they seem to be targeting.
Pricing your services
Once you’ve figured out who your ideal target audience is, where they’re located, and what type of cleaning services you’re going to offer, you’ll have a much easier time pricing your services.
If you’re going to go down the route of creating estimates for every new contract, you might want to consider a few things.
Factors to consider when pricing your services:
- The size of the house or office (how many rooms?)
- How often you will be cleaning
- When you will be cleaning
- Special requirements such as cleaning ovens, windows, and so on
- Your own experience
- How many people will be involved in cleaning (just your or your team?)
- How you want to charge—by the hour or by the job
Don’t go down the route of charging too little for your services. Not only will you lose money, but people looking to hire you might not think you offer a great service. By that same token, don’t overprice. Take a look at what other companies are charging and be prepared to negotiate.
According to Care.com, in metropolitan areas, individual housekeepers usually charge about $100 per cleaning. By comparison, national cleaning chain companies charge around $175 per cleaning. And, in less populated cities or town, housekeepers charge around $75 per clean.
Naturally, you’re going to need to figure out what your target audience is willing to pay. If you’re going into the eco cleaning business and choosing only eco-friendly brands, you can probably charge more.
Here are some additional strategic ways to price your services. And, you can always start by first determining your own hourly rate: Use Craigslist to get a feel for what others are charging and look at plenty of other websites.
Validating your idea
So, you’re at a stage now where you know some important things:
- You’ve documented your key assumptions about your business
- You’ve spoken to your customers
- You’ve got a sense of what people are willing to pay
- You know what your startup costs are and what you have to purchase to start
You know enough to validate your idea. At Palo Alto Software, we use a lean planning process to determine whether or not an idea is likely to succeed or to fail. It’s exactly why we created the one-page pitch. You can use our feature in LivePlan, or do the business validation on your own using this guide.
Either way, by the end of the process, which should only take a couple of hours, you’ll have a much better handle on who you are, what your competitive advantage is, and who your customers are.
You can learn more about validating your idea in our guide.
4. Getting funded and writing a business plan
If you’re going to need an injection of capital in order to get your business going, you’re more than likely thinking of getting a bank loan. If this is the case, you will need a business plan.
Typically, domestic cleaning business operations need very little upfront investment and as such, can bootstrap their business idea, or get started as a part-time operation.
If, however, you are considering a large operation, perhaps a commercial cleaning service, you may want to invest in equipment and more expensive commercial supplies. In this case, you’ll likely need some startup capital.
If you’re considering opting into a franchise, you will need to meet a different set of requirements. You’ll need enough money to buy into one, a good credit history, management experience and skills, and to remember that you’re not the only one in control of the business.
For help on figuring out whether a franchise is right for you, see the FTC’s consumer guide to buying a franchise.
If you do need funding before you can start, there are a few options for you. Let’s review them:
- Bootstrap your business with a side business
- Take out a loan
- Ask friends and family for help
- Seek alternative funding sources
If taking out a loan is an option you’re interested in, speak with the SBA. You can find a local office using their search, and then get help figuring out which loan best suits your needs. To learn more about SBA loans, see our Complete Guide to SBA Loans.
Simon says, “I’ve been homeless for two years, but six months ago started a commercial cleaning business that is doing well and already is creating real living wage jobs at $17 per hour. Our mission is to ‘clean up the cleaning industry,’ which is known for its low pay and culture of fear. Additionally, PBS Frontline exposed the industry with their documentary called ‘Rape on the Night Shift.’ Our business model fixes them all. Technically I’m still homeless, although now have an office in which to be homeless in.” While Simon is paying employees a wage in his startup phase, he isn’t paying himself a salary.
Simon says, “I started this business with zero money in my pocket. Six months later we’d moved into our own Palo Alto office and are a viable business. Ours is a good story that shows you only need an idea and tenacity to get going.”
You can read more about Simon’s story on his Kiva Zip funding page.
Writing a business plan to get funded
If you are going to go down the route of asking a bank to fund you, you’re definitely going to need a business plan. Lenders will want to see you’ve thought everything through and will pay special attention to the financial section of your plan. Make sure you understand this section.
It also helps to go in knowing how much money you want. In general, it’s better to ask for less, enough to get you started and going, and then to ask for an additional loan later. This is because a bank will be much more likely to give you another loan if you’ve made good on your last one and can show you’re running a profitable operation. It also minimizes your own risk.
Below you will find a selection of sample business plans. Start with a one-hour business plan (something you probably did when you were doing market research), then move to the traditional plan.
Free cleaning business sample plans
On Bplans, you have access to a library of over 550 free sample business plans. Within the services industry, there are a few different cleaning business plans. You can use these plans to get a better sense of how to write your own.
- Cleaning service business plan
- Janitorial service business plan
- Cleaning products business plan
- Carpet and upholstery cleaning services business plan
5. Making it legal
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our business startup checklist. This includes all the things you’ll need to do before you can be considered a legal entity, from choosing a business name through registering for an employer identification ID.
Be sure to register a name that is uniquely your own. It will make it easier for others to remember, will give you a better chance of competing for online real-estate that you can own (a domain name and social media profiles), and will mean you don’t inadvertently send business your competitors’ way.
Some of the key things you’ll need to start with include:
- Registering a business name
- Applying for a federal tax ID number
- Choosing a business structure
- Setting up payment systems, if you’re not just taking cash
6. Opening your business and marketing it
As a service business, you will rely heavily on your customers for further business. Ensuring you have a process in place to receive reviews, comments, and feedback right from the start will go a long way toward helping you build a reputation.
Ideally, your existing customers will refer acquaintances, friends, and family to your service, so be sure to uphold your values and the things you stand for.
Before you open your business, consider marketing a promotional offer:
Is there some discount or benefit you can provide anyone willing to give your business a try? Maybe you can offer a free additional cleaning service if someone signs up for two services. Or you could offer a free hour of cleaning, or discounted hour of cleaning in exchange for a referral.
Sites like Postcardmania, offer excellent deals on postcards you can send out to prospects via mail.
7. Resources for cleaning businesses
Cleaning business associations and forums:
- International Cleaning and Restoration Association
- Building Service Contractors Association International
- International Executive Housekeeper’s Association
- ISSA: The International Sanitary Supply Association
- Cleaning Business Owner Forums
Cleaning supply websites:
- Grainger Industrial Supply
- Cleaning Service Business Plan
- Office Depot Cleaning Supplies
- Amazon’s Janitorial Supplies
Interesting articles and blogs on the topic:
CleanGuru YouTube Channel: A YouTube channel that covers everything you could want to know about the industry.
The Janitorial Store: Learn everything from bidding and estimating through marketing your business.