Sweeping it up with a cleaning business

When Diane Savarese was a teenager, cleaning her messy bedroom was a most odious chore – the bed was never made, and clothes were strewn all over the place. Her mother, a meticulous neatnick, was constantly battling with her about being neat.

“I found it very stifling,” says Savarese.

So Savarese finds it very ironic that today she’s president of Surfaceworks, a Watertown, Mass., based residential cleaning company. And one of her customers, is guess who – her mother. “She has a few complaints once in a while, but for the most part, she likes the job we do,” says Savarese.


Surfaceworks started in 1985 when Savarese was a struggling photographer who started cleaning houses as a way to earn enough money to support her art. She spent six months cleaning houses by herself, then started getting more work than she could handle alone. Savarese – whose motto is motto, “Because it’s nice to come home to a clean house” – now employs 50 workers, cleaning an estimated 13 thousand houses a year. “It’s very satisfying to turn a dirty house into one that is tidy and meticulous,” says Savarese.

As dual-income families become increasingly pressed for time – and as the population ages – cleaning services have democratized and are not only for the wealthy or commercial businesses. The cleaning occupation is expected to grow 14 percent to 2016. “Getting the house cleaned frees you up for more pleasurable and important things,” says Savarese. “It’s one less responsibility to worry about at a time when we’re all already stretched so thin.”


Q: What’s the secret to a clean house?
Cleaning is all about timing and efficiency. Start by making a quick assessment and figure out what you want your outcome to be. Clean systematically and have an action plan. For example, put the linens in the laundry first or start the dishwasher – these are things that take a little longer – so at the end, you’re not hanging around waiting for the load to finish.
Q: Why is it important to like and trust your cleaner?
It’s a very emotional thing to have someone come into house and go through your family and personal belongings. It’s not like going to store and making a purchase, or not even like getting your grass cut. Strangers are coming into your space.
Q: Who do you hire as cleaners?
I started with graduate students, rowers from Harvard and MIT because I had a connection in that world. Then I started hiring Irish women who were coming here because the economy in Ireland was so bad. For the past 15 years, it’s been a lot of Brazilians.
Q: What goes into cleaning that most people may not think of?
It’s not as easy as it looks. Some people think I just sit here and wait for phone to ring. But to start a cleaning business takes, time, patience, and persistence.
Q: What’s the dirtiest house you’ve ever seen?
It was disgusting. There were rats living in the house; mice turds in the coffee beans. The only thing clean was the bathtub, because the owners never took a bath.
Q: Is cleanliness next to godliness?
I’m not a very religious person, but coming home and finding my place clean – it’s like Zen experience.


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