“What’s the best thing to clean with?”

This is the first thing people want to know when they discover I work in the janitorial business. The other popular questions are real doozies like: “Will you clean my house?” and “Isn’t that a degrading job?”  90% of people ask me one or all of these questions. Seriously. But if you’re reading this- you’re probably just concerned with that first one. What is the best thing to clean with? With so much available nowadays, it’s hard to even make a choice. There’s a lot out there. Every superstore in America has entire aisles devoted to cleaning. Well, my answer will most likely shock you. You might even stop reading after I say it. But I urge you not to. Listen to what I have to say. The single best tool for cleaning is: paper towels. No, not magic paper towels imported from Belize or infused with something exotic found deep within the Amazon rainforest. Just plain old paper towels. That’s my answer. And people hate me for it. I assume people dislike my answer because they want the secret recipe to cleaning and not an item they keep next to their kitchen sink. But the reason behind my answer is actually pretty compelling.


I recognize that this is pretty unpopular reasoning in our current global climate as it isn’t a “green” process. But the benefit is that you’re disposing of germs immediately. Cross-contamination should always be at the forefront of your mind. It’s a huge issue whether you’re trying to clean at home or in a multi-million dollar facility. You might even argue that as long as you have a disinfectant and everything is sanitized, you’re good to go. But allow me to paint you a picture: Carla the Cleaner is cleaning a restroom for a large, well-respected company. She sprays her product on a toilet and uses a cloth rag to clean. Carla places that rag back on her janitorial cart and continues on her way. Eventually, she goes into the CEO’s office and begins to clean. She absent-mindedly begins using the same rag to wipe down the desk. Are you confident enough in the product you’ve chosen? How would the CEO feel if he or she were to watch a video of Carla’s work? Are you willing to stand behind Carla’s skills and know that she was able to completely cover the area and kill all bacteria and germs? Probably not. By using paper towels, you eliminate this issue. After using a paper towel, you discard it and everything you’ve picked up along the way. You’re allowing your chosen product to do it’s job but you’re also getting rid of the “what if” scenario. You have effectively lowered the potential health risks not because of chemicals but by changing your methods. You can stand behind your team and processes with confidence.

Cost Effective

This is what gives me the biggest headache when trying to get my point across because in reality, paper towels are not cheap. Especially if you’re up against a lot of square footage. And since they’re disposable, it feels like you’re literally throwing money in the trash. Most people choose rags because you can wash them, they’re reusable and they absorb more. In fact, I can’t dispute the science behind microfiber or chamois cloths as they are actually pretty remarkable. However, who do you have washing and maintaining those cloths after use? If you have a janitorial team in place, does the team know how often these items should be washed? How about replaced altogether? Are you caring for them properly? Microfiber cloths have static-cling properties which mean you have to wash them with cold water, you must never use a fabric softener, you can’t wash them with other products to avoid lint build-up and so on. Is your team caring for these products appropriately? Yes, microfiber is a magnificent product. So is chamois cloth. Regular rags can be incredibly useful. But they’re also pricey. And when it comes down to the nitty gritty, the simplicity of paper towels edges out the competition. They may be disposable but you’re saving money from the higher attendance rates created by lowered health risks, initial purchase costs, as well as the time and overhead it costs to care for fabric items.  Also, paper towels are probably being used in your restrooms which is a cost you’ve already accrued. As a cost-savings measure, give permission for your teams to use the low stock from dispensers. By doing this, the items are being used on the back-end, nothing is going to waste, and your dispensers always look full for guests and employees. Win-win-win.


This is the big one. Paper towels deliver great results. Do you use fabric on your mirrors and glass at home? Or do you use paper towels? It’s probably the latter. And there’s a reason for that. Glass and mirrors are great at showing your work in ways that traditional surfaces aren’t. Fabric has a tendency to leave streaks because you are creating a chemical trail without ever fully removing your product from the surface. Know that this is true for all surfaces, we only see it more clearly on glass and mirrors. With fabrics there is a greater possibility for health risks and allergic reactions when certain cleaners are not properly distributed and absorbed. When cloth gets wet, it will remain that way until it is left to rest or is laundered. By having a supply of paper towels, you will always have the convenience of a dry material to absorb any missed residue. Listen, I truly love using a variety of fabrics for cleaning and believe them to be a necessary tool for cleaning but fabrics aren’t a replacement for paper towels, they’re a supplement and must be used properly in order to get the best results. So there it is. The best thing to clean with. Even if you’re a green company, even if you have spent hundreds of dollars on fabrics and expensive chemicals. Don’t forget your paper towels. They really are your greatest weapon.    
(For those that care: the answer is no. I will not clean your house. I struggle to keep my own space clean. I’m not a dirty person by any means but I worked at Olive Garden in my early twenties and to this day the thought of breadsticks and pasta still makes me lose my appetite. Now I work in janitorial. It’s the last thing I want to do at the end of the day. Really, I just want to go home and watch Netflix until it asks me “Are you still watching?” And that answer is always yes.
No, I don’t believe janitorial work is a degrading job. Honestly, I think the whole industry gets a bad rap. Television and media tend to paint these positions as bottom of the professional food chain, but here’s a little secret- it’s actually pretty rewarding. We have the space to listen to music, devour hours of audiobooks, and help make facilities healthier and safer for our community. We are the defensive frontline for germs and overall ickiness. We’re basically doctors who have the B12 shot…but without the crippling student loan debt.)