Noe Valley Voice April 2000

Noe Valley Housecleaners Don't Mess Around

By Kathryn Guta

We may be slouching into a new millennium, but the kitchen stove still gets sticky. The Y2K bug proved to be a bust, but the dust mites that are proliferating in our bedrooms -- well, that's another story.

As the digital age shrinks time, who can find those precious minutes needed to clean the house? Many Noe Valleyans have opted to take the crunch out of their busy schedules by employing a growing class of entrepreneurs ready and willing to tote that garbage and lift that broom.

Noe Valley is housecleaner-friendly. The Voice Class Ads section lists dozens of people who offer clean and "green" services. And with the current booming economy, these housecleaners have the luxury of working for whomever they want. One of the things they want is a house empty of its owners.

Roger Miller, 48, who's been running his Cleaninghouse business for more than 15 years, explains, "It's better to clean with a helper, and if the people are home, that makes it difficult. They would have to dance around us."

Miller and a sidekick can polish off a three-bedroom Victorian in two hours. That leaves them enough time to go outside and take a breath of fresh air before moving on to their next assignment.

His minimum is $60, and he charges by the job rather than by the hour. "I don't like people hovering over me and timing me," Miller says.

But he makes sure his clients are completely satisfied with the job. "I love San Francisco -- I've lived here since 1975-- and I love the people who live here. I like helping to ease their busy lives."

Forty-year-old J.D. Snyder, another local cleaning wiz, has been scouring neighborhood apartments and houses for close to three years.

Snyder charges between $17 and $20 an hour, but she is quick to point out that her fees cover medical insurance and retirement. "We have to pay our own Social Security taxes as independent contractors, and there is no 401K plan offered by our employers."

Still, there is the lure of being in business for oneself. Says Snyder: "I love it! I work for people I like, and no one tells me how to run my own business." It's called Time for You Housecleaning.

Snyder feels that good communication is essential to a successful housecleaning operation. "Everyone thinks differently about cleaning," she says. "People can be shy and not realize how specific they need to be." She remembers one time when she lost a job for not getting the tassels straight on an oriental rug. If only the home owner had explained about the rug....

Giving a stranger the keys to one's home can produce understandable apprehension, she says. "It's personal. You are seeing their bathrooms. You are changing their beds. It feels intimate." To make her clients more comfortable, Snyder tells them about her own life (she has plans to go to law school) and encourages them to pour out all their cleaning questions.

Housecleaner Simone Guzman, 34, who hails from Brazil, certainly knows the importance of communication. Though she herself speaks excellent English, some of her friends have failed to get jobs because they couldn't talk freely with their clients, she says. They also may have lost work because they were not bonded.

Although insurance is expensive, Guzman says being bonded has helped establish her professional status. "People believe I am serious about creating my own business. My dream is to have my own cleaning company."

Guzman started cleaning for a living in 1996. Like Miller, she charges by the job. To spiff up a small house or apartment, she'd ask from $60 to $75, depending on the number of rooms.

Guzman says she'd eventually like to hire 10 people to join her company, called Clean and Natural. "I feel like I am doing something good for the environment by using natural products."

All three housecleaners see Noe Valley as an environmentally-conscious community. They say most of their clients prefer using "natural" products, without harsh chemicals. And when they don't, the housecleaners give them a nudge in an earth-friendly direction. "I tell them, 'You don't want your house to smell like chemicals when you come home, do you?'" says Guzman.

Nor should customers want to jeopardize their health. "I used to think that people were exaggerating the consequences of chemical exposure," says Snyder, "but then I had to go to a doctor after using a strong mildew cleanser."

Miller also notes that some strong cleansers can do serious damage to home appliances. For example, chlorine cleansers can cause nasty orange stains on cast-iron tubs whose porcelain has become porous with age.

Miller advises, "Always read the instructions before using one of these cleansers. And if the product produces an unexpected result, call the 800 number on the bottle." (That's how he learned that peroxide can take the rust out of overbleached tubs, sinks, and toilets.)

These experts also say to avoid using toilet brushes with metal parts or those ubi-
=0Dquitous green-and-yellow sponges, which are too abrasive for most cleaning jobs.

And here's a good tip that will save you money: Get your stuff organized. That means a place for everything, and everything in its place. Homes that are well organized are much easier to clean. Snyder says she dropped the rates for two of her clients after they organized their homes more efficiently.

Another thing that will ensure that your kitchen counters glow: Show your housecleaner the proper respect. One neighborhood cleaner, who wished to protect her privacy in this matter, said she encountered one Noe Valley man who offered to pay her $500 if she would clean in the nude. She refused, and called the police.

But Miller, Snyder, and Guzman have met lots of clients who felt awkward about asking them to do basic chores like washing dishes and loading laundry. Women, especially, suffer from the belief that they should be able to "do it all" themselves.

Naturally, our three professionals think everyone who can afford it should take advantage of the great service they offer. Snyder says she'd hire a housecleaner for herself in a minute. "It's a nice luxury," she says. "When you come home, the bed is all fresh and made up for you." Well, who among us wouldn't want that?