Cleaning Is Not Black and White

Follow these six steps for accurate labor calculations

Cleaning Is Not Black and White

How much labor will it take to clean my buildings? For someone new to the cleaning industry, this might seem like a simple, straightforward calculation. Seasoned professionals know better. As a cleaning consultant, this is one of the questions I am asked most frequently, and even I can’t provide a black-and-white solution.

Today, we have the advantages of industry standards, such as ISSA or APPA, that can help to calculate the hours needed to clean a building, and workloading software to make calculations quicker and easier. However, a great deal of very specific information must still be collected and analyzed for each building before even the most sophisticated software can provide a clear answer to the question.

Here are six steps you must take into consideration when calculating labor hours:

  1. Accurate space inventory: Consider the room type (kitchen, office, restroom, etc.), floor type (carpet, vinyl, etc.), and square footage (the size of the room). It is extremely important that this information be up to date and accurate. Output always equals input.
  2. Frequency of cleaning: Frequency of cleaning is an important consideration, as different areas will require different frequencies. For example, a restroom in an educational facility would require not just a thorough cleaning at the end of each day but frequent cleanings throughout the day. An office in that same facility may require cleaning only every two weeks.
  3. Working hours: Vacation time, lunch breaks, modified work routines, etc., all need to be considered when calculating the number of people needed to clean the building.
  4. Equipment: The type of equipment used is also part of the calculation. Is the space big enough to run a scrubber through it, or do you need to damp mop? Are you using cordless backpack vacuums or are you using vacuums you need to plug in?
  5. Waste collection: The methodology used to collect and dispose of waste has a huge impact on time allocated for this task. For example, if an open office filled with cubicles has a waste bin at each desk instead of one centralized waste collection bin, the labor requirements increase dramatically.
  6. Noncleaning tasks: One of the most overlooked elements in calculating labor is the time needed for noncleaning tasks. This is where an experienced person with a thorough knowledge of the cleaning operation is required. Noncleaning tasks include factors like setup for events, proximity to sources of clean water, distance between buildings, etc. Other tasks that cleaners take on at some facilities, but that are often overlooked, include light bulb replacement, snow removal, grass cutting, etc. In my experience, time away from cleaning tasks is not usually tracked. Yet, you’d be surprised how big an effect these noncleaning tasks can have on productivity.

After collecting the most accurate data, you can then apply the industry standards and make use of workloading systems to streamline the task of balancing staff workloads. You also can calculate labor for “what-if” scenarios, for example, changing frequency from three times per week to two times per week.

Once you’ve calculated your labor requirements, beware of the tendency to compare your buildings to the facility down the road. People servicing the other facility may not have taken the time to do these calculations and may be delivering a substandard cleaning service. The cleaning world, as we know it, is not black and white but every color of the rainbow. While that presents a challenge, arming yourself with the right information can lead to a pot of gold.


Posted On August 4, 2017

Judy Gillies

Founder and President of The Surge Group, Inc.

Judy Gillies is the founder and president of The Surge Group, Inc., a cleaning consulting company in Toronto that helps facilities managers improve their cleaning operations. She is a co-author of Behind the Broom. For more information, visit

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