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Management And Training

Cleaning In Egypt

September 19, 2010
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To the editor: Cleaning in Egypt
Recently, I visited Egypt.

Like many people, I am enthralled by Egypt’s pyramids, tombs and temples.

Whenever documentaries about Egypt are broadcast, I am glued to the TV.

However, having spent virtually all of my adult life in the cleaning business, I could not help but notice during my trip how Egypt’s buildings are cleaned.

Although there were many similarities to the ways facilities are cleaned in the United States, I soon discovered there were also many differences.

The differences often centered on why the quality of service varied, the equipment used, and the professionalism of the cleaning workers.

Overall impression
Ancient Egyptians were fastidious about cleanliness, and it appears this meticulousness has been passed on for thousands of years.

For example, even though Cairo has more than 20 million people, it and the other cities I visited were amazingly clean.

However, I did notice different levels of quality of cleaning.

A hotel, for instance, that is a two- or three-star facility gets what would be considered a “fair” cleaning.

But, if it is a four- or five-star hotel, the rooms are spotless.

What’s more, the cleaning crews in the better hotels wear uniforms like those of waiters in a restaurant and are very service-oriented.

This is not true in the less expensive properties.

Possibly the disparity is because in Egypt, as in much of the world, there is a big distinction between the upper and lower classes.

The upper class gets the attention and higher quality of service, while the other classes just get a “quick once-over.”

Cleaning equipment
In many parts of Cairo and throughout Egypt, cleaning workers use a ma’asha, which is a broom with two- to three-foot-long bristles that curve at the bottom.

Instead of sweeping back and forth or side to side, workers use the ma’asha like a backpack vacuum cleaner, employing rounded movements as they walk forward.

Usually the ma’asha is used to sweep large common areas and public facilities.

Another difference in equipment, which might come as a surprise to many U.S. cleaning workers, is that upright vacuum cleaners are rarely used in Egypt.

Instead, canister vacuums are very common.

I did notice many cleaning crews performing floor care tasks.

Most of the floor equipment used was comparable, if not a little older, to what one might see in the United States.

However, the floor machines were almost always too small for the tasks they were required to perform.

Instead of using larger floor equipment, that would help cut their work time considerably, workers usually used 13- and 17-inch models.

The reason for this may simply be that wages for most jobs in Egypt, including cleaning, are very low and larger cleaning equipment is very expensive.

Even though it takes more time, effort, and expense to use a floor machine that is too small for the task at hand, doing so may be more economical than buying new equipment because wages are so low.

Finally, watching the cleaning crews work was like watching a military operation.

The cleaning workers are the privates and the supervisors are the generals.

Whenever the supervisor barks an order, and they bark often, the workers stop whatever they are doing and stand at attention.

Overall, I rarely saw any Egyptian building that I would call dirty.

The people’s concern about the importance of cleanliness is obvious.

This is not to say that everything was fastidious, but most observers would probably agree that cleanliness is considered very important in Egypt.


Robert Kravitz is president of AlturaSolutions Communications, a communications firm for the professional cleaning and building industries. He may be reached at 773-525-3021.

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