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Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Cleaner in Washington, D.C.

Residents of Washington D.C. are exposed to as many as 500 to 1,000 different species of microbes in their homes and workspaces every day. Some of these microbes, such as the coronavirus, which is singularly responsible for over 1,300 deaths in the district since 2020, can last for days and even weeks on surfaces. Hiring a professional cleaning service in Washington D.C. that works per relevant district health guidances minimizes your exposure to various microbes and diseases, and also affords you several other health benefits, such as stress and fatigue reduction.

To ensure that you hire the right cleaning company in Washington D.C., you need to ask certain key questions, all of which will be explored in detail in this article:

Are You Licensed to Practice as a Cleaning Service in Washington, D.C.?

Cleaning companies in Washington, D.C., must obtain a Basic Business License from the district's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) before offering their services to interested parties. Cleaning companies that wish to obtain this Basic Business License are typically required to complete the following steps:

  • Register their businesses with the DCRA. This can be done online via the department's CorpOnline platform.
  • Obtain an Employer Identification Number from the IRS and register this number with the DC Office of Tax and Revenue online. Applicants will also be required to sign an affidavit stating that they do not owe the Government of the District of Columbia more than $100
  • Register with the DC Office of the Zoning Administrator and obtain either a Certificate of Occupancy if they will be operating out of an office location or a Home Occupation Permit if they will be conducting business out of a home

Once these steps have been completed, the Basic Business License applications can be submitted online via the district's My DC Business Center platform. Note that the creation of a user account will be required for this. Alternatively, in-person applications can also be made at the DCRA's office located at:

1100 4th Street SW
2nd Floor
Washington, DC 20024

Inquiries concerning the requirements and procedures for obtaining DCRA-issued business licenses can be directed to the department via phone number (202) 442-4400. It is always in your best interest to ensure that the cleaning company whose services you intend to retain has complied with the district's business licensing requirements, as this gives you confidence in their level of professionalism. You can confirm whether or not your intended cleaning company possesses a valid business license by calling (202) 442-4400 or utilizing the DCRA's online SCOUT platform.

How Much Do You Charge Compared to Other Cleaning Services in Washington, D.C.?

Cleaning companies in Washington, D.C., typically consider several factors when charging for their services. These factors include the type of service that you require, the amount of work involved in providing this service, the size of the home or building that requires cleaning, the areas that need cleaning, and the cost of cleaning supplies needed for the job. Also, while some cleaning companies may charge hourly rates for their services, others may charge per square foot of area cleaned.

As such, you should always find out how you will be billed for your required service and request a cost estimate for the service. Requesting and comparing estimates for your required cleaning service from several cleaning companies is a good idea. This helps you get a fair idea of the average cost of your required cleaning service, thereby ensuring that you do not end up being overcharged by a fraudulent cleaning company.

Building and grounds cleaning workers in Washington, D.C., earn an average wage of $35,970 annually. A comparison of the average hourly wages of workers in Washington D.C.'s building and grounds cleaning and maintenance industry against those of workers in five other major cities in the country is provided below:

Washington D.C. Cleaning Contractors Average Hourly Wage
Boston Cleaning Contractors Average Hourly Wage
Chicago Cleaning Contractors Average Hourly Wage
Houston Cleaning Contractors Average Hourly Wage
Los Angeles Cleaning Contractors Average Hourly Wage
New York City Cleaning Contractors Average Hourly Wage

What Types of Cleaning Services Do You Offer?

Making sure that the cleaning company you intend to contract with provides the specific types of cleaning services that you require is an important criterion to consider when searching for suitable cleaning companies in Washington, D.C. Cleaning services that are commonly offered by professional cleaning companies in the district include:

  • Residential cleaning
  • Commercial cleaning
  • Disinfection/Enhanced disinfection cleaning
  • Move in/Move out cleaning
  • Upholstery cleaning
  • One-time cleaning
  • Recurring cleaning
  • Post-construction cleaning
  • Office cleaning
  • Green cleaning

Request a list of services your intended cleaning company provides and confirm that your required service is included. You can also request before and after pictures of cleaning jobs that the cleaning company has provided to other clients. However, not all cleaning companies may be able to provide this for client confidentiality reasons. Nonetheless, you should also find out the types of supplies that will be used for the job and how much you will be charged for the requested services. The list below provides cost estimates for some cleaning services offered in Washington, D.C.:

Cleaning a typical four-bedroom home (per visit)
$140.40 - $180.10
Couch cleaning
$91.40 - $96.85
Graffiti removal and protection (per square foot)
$2.08 - $3.52
Industrial cleaning services (per man hour)
$67.70 - $101.70
Janitorial services (per square foot)
$0.19 - $0.31
Maid services/home cleaning (per hour)
$30 - $45
Medical office & healthcare facility cleaning services (per square foot)
$0.21 - $0.38
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Do You Comply with Washington D.C.'s COVID-19 Regulations?

Another important criterion to consider when hiring cleaning companies in Washington, D.C., is whether the company and its cleaners are knowledgeable about and comply with the district's COVID-19 health guidelines when performing their cleaning and disinfecting activities. More than 134,100 positive cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in Washington, D.C., and approximately one percent of these cases have resulted in fatalities. Also, while about 73 percent of the district's residents are estimated to have been fully vaccinated as of February 2022, nearly six percent of these residents have fallen sick despite being vaccinated.

Considering this percentage of breakthrough cases, the necessity of compliance with relevant health guidances cannot be overlooked. Making sure that your intended cleaning company follows the recommendations of these guidances goes a long way in significantly reducing the person-to-person spread of the coronavirus in the district.

Particular attention should be paid to the district's Guidance on Routine Cleaning and Disinfection for Community Facilities, which was created to ensure the efficient cleaning of homes and buildings in the district. The recommendations of this guidance include prioritizing high-touch surfaces, increasing the cleaning and disinfection frequency for specific shared spaces, and using gloves and other required PPE during cleaning and disinfecting tasks.

Additional information on Washington D.C. COVID-19 health guidance can be obtained by contacting the DC Department of Health at (202) 442-5955 or via email.

Do You Provide Commercial Cleaning Services for Non-Residential Buildings in Washington, D.C.?

Business or commercial cleaning services generally refer to cleaning and disinfection services that are specifically tailored towards offices, schools, hospitals, apartment complexes, factories, and other types of commercial properties. These services also involve tasks like post-construction and hazardous cleanup, and they typically require specialized cleaning tools and equipment. On the other hand, residential cleaning services refer to the cleaning and disinfecting of bedrooms, bathrooms, living rooms, and other spaces typically associated with homes and residential dwellings.

Excluding DCRA-issued Basic Business Licenses, which must be obtained by all businesses in the district, there is no separate business licensing requirement for cleaning companies that provide business or commercial cleaning services in Washington, D.C. However, cleaning companies that provide certain specialized services may be required to obtain specific licenses or permits for these services. For example, cleaning companies that also wish to provide asbestos abatement services must obtain an Asbestos Abatement Business License from the DCRA.

Likewise, cleaning companies that wish to transport, treat, or dispose of hazardous waste, universal waste, or used oil may be required to obtain environmental permits from the Washington D.C. Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE). You can get additional information on Washington D.C. environmental permits by contacting the DOEE via phone number (202) 535-2600, email, or in person at:

1200 First Street NE
Washington, DC 20002

Inquiries concerning cleaning company business licensing requirements can also be directed to the DCRA at (202) 442-4400.

Do You Engage Unionized Cleaners for Non-Residential Buildings in Washington, D.C.?

Many janitors and building cleaning workers in Washington D.C. belong to unions like the SEIU Local 722 due to the benefits that these memberships provide, such as higher wages, better working conditions, and access to health care and educational scholarship opportunities. Similarly, many building owners and facility managers in the district also lean towards hiring union cleaners because of the advantages that these cleaners typically have over non-union cleaners, such as up-to-date training and certifications, better insurance coverage, and higher job security, which results in low employee turnover.

As such, when looking to contract with a cleaning service to handle the regular cleaning and disinfection of your commercial property in Washington, D.C., it is always a good idea to consider a union cleaning service. In some situations where you contract with a non-union cleaning service, you may face pressure from the SEIU Local 722 and other unions in the area to discontinue this service. Sometimes, this can lead to loss of money due to a disruption of business activities in your facility and negative media attention.

Do You Offer COVID-19 Disinfecting Services in Washington, D.C.?

Failing to decontaminate spaces with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases properly jeopardizes the health and safety of every person who comes in contact with that space. When faced with these types of situations, it is necessary to retain the services of a cleaning company that offers enhanced disinfection services to ensure that the home or facility in question is professionally cleaned, sanitized, and disinfected. When doing this, note that you should always inform the cleaning company that you require COVID-19 cleaning and disinfecting services.

You should also make sure that the cleaning company you hire will provide these services per the recommendations of the DC Department of Health's Guidance on Cleaning and Disinfection for Community Facilities with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19, as well as other relevant district COVID-19 health guidance.

Per these guidelines, any areas where COVID-positive individuals have been in contact must be cleaned and disinfected within 24 hours. However, in situations where the individual has not been in a specific area for more than 24 hours, special disinfection may not be necessary but is still recommended. Likewise, routine cleaning and disinfection procedures may suffice if the COVID-positive individual has not been in an area for more than three days. Other recommendations of these guidances for COVID-19 cleaning and disinfection include:

  • Closing off areas where the sick individual may have been
  • Increasing air circulation to the area during the cleaning and disinfection
  • Wearing masks, gloves, and any other necessary additional PPE at all times
  • Using EPA List N disinfectant products during the decontamination process
  • Following the application instructions on the labels of all products used during the job
  • Removing visible contamination from surfaces before cleaning and disinfecting them
  • Giving extra consideration to high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, faucets, toilets, tables, and light switches

What Cleaning Supplies Do You Use?

Cleaning companies in Washington, D.C. use different types of cleaning supplies, and ensuring that the appropriate supplies are used for your cleaning service is essential for optimal service delivery. The right supplies for a cleaning job are largely dependent on factors like the areas and surfaces that require cleaning and the nature of the building or facility. For example, while simple soaps and detergents may be appropriate for residential cleaning, they would be ineffective for cleaning industrial or medical facilities. Cleaning agents used for cleaning services in Washington, D.C., are generally grouped into four types, namely:

  • Abrasives: these come in liquid or powder form and are used to remove stains from hard surfaces. Abrasives typically require scouring action to work and are unsuitable for plastics, stainless steel, and other surfaces easily scratched.
  • Acids: acid cleaning agents are mostly used to remove mineral or hard water deposits from surfaces. They require proper dilution before use and careful handling due to their corrosive nature.
  • Degreasers: these are solvents that are used to remove stubborn grease stains. Degreasers are commonly used for kitchen cleaning and can be applied on a wide range of surfaces.
  • Detergents: these are the most common types of cleaning agents used for cleaning a wide range of surfaces in residential and commercial buildings. Detergents are typically water-soluble and come in several forms, such as powders, gels, crystals, and liquids.

In addition to cleaning agents, other supplies that are used by cleaning companies in Washington D.C. include products like disinfectants and sanitizers to rid areas of germs and other microbes, as well as tools and equipment like vacuum cleaners, brooms, mops, and scrubbing brushes. To this end, before finalizing arrangements with any cleaning company in the district, request a list of the cleaning supplies that will be used for your required cleaning service and make sure that they are appropriate for this service. It is also advisable to let the cleaning company know of any allergies and medical conditions that you have so that they do not use any products that can trigger or aggravate these conditions.

Do You Carry the Necessary Insurance Policy for Cleaners in Washington, D.C.?

There are no specific mandatory insurance requirements for cleaning companies in Washington, D.C. However, per district regulations, any company with one or more employees must have workers' compensation insurance coverage. Nonetheless, when hiring a cleaning company in the district, it is in your best interest to ensure that the cleaning company you hire also has a valid liability insurance plan that covers third-party injuries and accidents and cleaner-related property damage and theft. Doing this protects you from legal and financial liabilities if any of these detrimental events occur when your required cleaning service is being provided

Always confirm the insurance status of your intended cleaning company and make sure that their insurance cover is adequate for your required cleaning service. The company's insurance plan should include general liability insurance coverage for work-related accidents and property damage and employee dishonesty coverage or janitorial bonds to cover the costs of theft and other dishonest acts.

You can confirm a Washington D.C. cleaning company's insurance status by requesting a copy of their insurance certificate or certificates where applicable and contacting the issuing organization to validate it. You can also contact the Labor Standards Bureau of the DC Department of Employment Services at (202) 671-1000 to get additional information on the district's mandatory workers' compensation insurance requirements.

How to File a Complaint Against a Bad Cleaner in Washington, D.C.

You should always keep an eye out for unscrupulous cleaners and con artists when searching for a suitable cleaning company to undertake your required cleaning service. A report published by the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia suggests that consumer complaints in the area had increased by more than 70 percent between 2019 and 2021, with a majority of these complaints related to home improvement and contracting services.

In June 2017, the district attorney general's office announced that it had obtained restitution for consumers who had been defrauded by home cleaners that they had hired through a sharing economy company. According to this announcement, the company had misled consumers about the safety of their cleaners, who had then gone on to either steal personal items from the homeowners or deceptively charge them for recurring cleaning services.

As such, you should consider taking the following precautions when searching for cleaning companies in Washington, D.C., to protect yourself against the actions of fraudulent cleaners and con artists in the district:

  • Be cautious of individuals that offer you unsolicited cleaning services
  • Get referrals to cleaning companies from reliable sources. This can be friends, relatives, or online platforms like the Better Business Bureau. This platform also provides reviews and testimonials on listed cleaning companies.
  • Never hire the first cleaning company that you come across. Get estimates for your required cleaning service from at least two or three different cleaning companies and compare these estimates before making your decision.
  • Confirm that your preferred cleaning company possesses a valid DCRA-issued Basic Business License, either online or by calling (202) 442-4400
  • Request references from the cleaning company and contact these references to get their opinions on the cleaning company's service delivery. You can also look up reviews on the company online.
  • Never agree to verbal contracts. Make sure that you are given a well-detailed contract, which should include the cleaning company's contact details, a description of the requested services, and the cost of these services. Review this contract properly and make sure that you understand it before signing.
  • Do not pay the full cost of the cleaning service upfront. Advance payments or deposits should also be limited to a fraction of the service's total cost. Also, final payments should not be made until the job has been satisfactorily completed.
  • Avoid cash payments and be wary of cleaners who insist on being paid via this method.
  • Keep copies of payment receipts, contracts, and other relevant documents used for the job.

You can file cleaner-related consumer complaints with the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia via email, by completing and submitting an online complaint form, by calling (202) 442-9828, or by texting 'complaint' to (202) 738-5212.

Note that even though this office may take the necessary steps to resolve your complaint or provide you restitution for the actions of the cleaner or cleaning company named in the complaint, it cannot guarantee you a satisfactory outcome. In situations where this happens, you may take further action against the subject of your complaint by filing a lawsuit against them at an appropriate Superior Court Division of the District of Columbia Courts. However, consulting with a licensed private attorney before doing this is advisable. You can get referrals to private attorneys in Washington, D.C., by utilizing the Hiring a Lawyer resources made available online by the D.C. Bar.