Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What to look for in "green" housecleaning services

My One Green Thing, one day last week, was to hire a housecleaning service that claimed to be green. Normally, as a fan of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickeled and Dimed, I do my own cleaning and expect family members to pitch in, or else!

But there are limits. My husband and I are asthmatic, and highly allergic to dust and soot particles and the dustmites that inhabit them. In the house we've recently moved in to, which has been in my family for generations, there was one small bedroom that hadn't been cleaned in...well, I hate to think. Our son refused to sleep in it out of fear of bugs. Asthmatics are allergic to, well, cockroaches, too.

Out of desperation, I called the one housekeeping service in town that billed itself as certified green. In retrospect and nearly $300 poorer, I should have investigated more.

The good news: The cleaners didn't use ammonia or chlorine, as far as I could tell. That's because there was no noticeable odor, except for a hint of Murphy's soap, after they cleaned two bathrooms and the kitchen and living room floors. Because I didn't speak the 3-woman team's language, nor they mine, I couldn't get specifics on what ingredients exactly they were using.

With an industrial-strength back pack vacuum cleaner reminiscent of Ghost Busters, they did suck up the dust out of the bedroom carpet. They damp wiped the walls and ceilings and removed the thick coating of dust on the blades of the ceiling fan.

The bad news: When they left, I had to clean up after them. Despite the company's claims of effective mold and mildew removal, they left mold and mildew in the shower, large patches of dust on the living room wood floor (I guess they also didn't wash under that rocking chair!) and a dirty closet floor off the small bedroom. And they said I owed $278 for the job, which was $48 higher than the estimate given me over the phone before I booked them.

I paid without complaining until today, when their office called and said I actually owed another $20. Would I pay it? I'm sure that you can guess the answer. I'd been greenwashed!

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