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Cleaning with less and producing more

September 19, 2010
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The largest cleaning problem an educational institution faces is the competition for shares of a limited budget.

Custodial departments, being at the wrong end of the funding trough, and the requirement by teaching and administrative staffs for the cleaning service to remain unaffected by budget cuts, continually stretches the use of personnel, materials and equipment.

Case in point
In 2003, a downturn in state financing forced a university administration to reduce its custodial crew by 20 percent. This year, the central library increased its hours to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and opened a 3,000-square-foot lounge/study area with extensive coffee and snack services.

The floors were covered with maroon carpeting and the area furnished with leather chairs and sofas, high-dollar lounge tables, dining tables, computer work stations, and study desks.

An increased level of cleanliness for the entire building was required due to the increased level of exposure expected by the administration.

The same year, the university added three large fine-arts studio buildings, a life sciences museum, an addition to the chemistry building, six new portable classroom and office buildings, as well as expanded recreational areas and services.

The increased pressure on an already overextended cleaning staff resulted in increased sick leave and resignations, while the budget limitations eliminated funding for automation, which would reduce the effect of staff reductions.

Relief in sight?
Remedies for reduced staffing are usually the reduction of project work, high dusting, cleaning low exposure areas, and the prioritizing of office cleaning. Eliminating service redundancies, such as postponing the last day-service bathroom cleaning until the end of that shift — to eliminate the first cleaning for the evening shift — and increasing the capacity of dispensers and waste containers will reduce service profiles.

“On the fly” elimination of cleaning services for absent instructors and the locking of unused classrooms can also trim service loads.


  • Recycling paper products will reduce waste removal costs, as well as providing income from the sale of the used paper. Getting staffers to empty their own recycling containers into large, convenient containers is relatively easy because of the popularity of recycling, and the financial benefits to the school.
  • Using temporary employees can create flexible staffing — which can be impossible when relying solely on permanent custodians — and the need for overtime and holiday pay, as well as provide a labor market of pre-trained and evaluated workers.
  • Using new products and increasing the amount of time supervisors spend visiting their users are additional methods of nullifying reductions in staff.

Jim Brewer is executive housekeeper, University of Texas at Arlington.
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