National Housekeeping Week was observed September 12 through 18, recognizing the value of those who serve in the professional cleaning industry.

Whether caring for businesses, private homes, or vacation rentals, the contributions of house-keepers has been underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Professional cleaners provide a very important, essential, and skilled trade that many people think of as unskilled and unimportant,” said Lesleigh Hallford, co-owner of Blessed Mess Housekeeping. “But today, more than ever, professional cleaners across the country are needed to keep our homes and businesses clean and safe.”

Hallford says she and business partner Haley Stanton view their profession not only as a cleaning service, but also as preventative healthcare.

“The COVID-19 pandemic really resulted in us increasing our vigilance,” she said. “We sought and received COVID-19 certification through OSHA and the AHCA because something that used to be as simple as spraying an object and cleaning it became a several step process. It doesn’t matter if you have a product that says it does it all; you need to clean, disinfect, and sanitize. There are specific, ordered steps that need to be taken, specifically in high touch and high traffic areas. This is especially important for our elderly clients, many of which are terrified of the virus.”

“Housekeeping takes so much work and knowledge,” she added. “In the past, some have looked at those who work in this profession as unskilled or uneducated, but the pandemic has helped change that, helped people understand how important disinfecting and sanitizing is. That’s where we come in and what we strive to do.”

Tina Sloan, owner of First Impression Cleaning Service, says in addition to raising public awareness about the importance of knowledgeable professionals, COVID has also led to many challenges.

“As with as businesses, COVID has caused great stress and staffing issues,” said Sloan, whose business services mainly vacation rentals. “I’ve been at half-staff since 2020. Due to this issue, I had to give up a big contract. There are also more expenses in doing the job now, partly due to extra precautions. I believe COVID has truly taught us all that we can no longer judge any businesses as we have in the past.  Everyone is doing the best we can with the new normal, so when packing up for vacation don’t forget to pack patience, kindness, and grace.”

Sloan adds that while she and her staff are stretched thin, they’ve tried to focus on the positive.

“We are learning new ways to support each other,” she said. “The most rewarding part of my job is team building and the people I meet. Some come into my life for a day, some for a season, and some for longer.” Sloan is known locally as a mentor for many who have gone on to begin their own cleaning service.  “I love seeing others become successful,” she said. “I’ve had a few cleaners decide to start their own businesses, and it’s pretty neat to watch them learn and grow and to be able to say, ‘That’s my seed.’”

Heather Darby, a self-employed housekeeping sub-contractor, stresses that housekeepers are the behind-the-scenes mood setters.

“There’s a job for everybody, whether or not it’s a job that everybody will do,” said Darby. “And when you walk into a vacation rental, we are the reason you’re greeted by a pristine sight. It can really set the whole tone for your vacation.”

Darby says like others, her business had to step up preventative measures due to COVID – but she was grateful to be able to resume working at all.

“The pandemic really put a stop to nearly every rental,” said Darby. “Many cleaners were out of work for long periods of time. When rentals did begin to re-open, the way we cleaned changed drastically. Where we may have used bleach before, we began to use specialty disinfectants and place a much heavier focus on high-touch surfaces like doorknobs and light switches. Now, more than ever, we are having to balance having units cleaned in a timely manner with ensuring the quality isn’t compromised.”

Darby adds that the physical stress of the job is often compounded by less than considerate guests.

“When you walk into a unit during spring break, you never know what you’ll find. Sometimes, there’s unmentionable things that appear to have been done on purpose, and that can be stressful. At the end of the day, it is rewarding to look at the finished product after you’re done and see how beautiful it is. I really do enjoy cleaning, just the before and after difference because you know what it looked like before you started. Everything is shiny and pretty, and it makes you feel good about yourself because you know you did your job.”