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The Dirty Truth About Cheapskate Cleaning

The Dirty Truth About Cheapskate Cleaning

Whether you clean for yourself, or as a cleaning professional, or you own a cleaning company, everyone likes to believe they manage their money wisely and spend the appropriate amount on cleaning supplies while still getting beautiful results. Unfortunately, for a significant portion of the population, this couldn’t be further from the truth for reasons largely outside of their control.

Depending on how they were raised, especially if their parents or grandparents struggled with financial hardships, many people grew up with a very unhealthy relationship with money and grossly undervalue people’s time and labor, especially their own. While society tries to dress it up with positive words like “thrifty” and “resourceful,” many people crossed the line between thrifty and downright stingy years ago, to the detriment of everyone they buy cleaning supplies for.

While we know it is a sensitive topic, one that is likely best worked through under the care of a therapist, we feel that it is incredibly important for us to shine a light on this under-discussed challenge and address the portion of the problem that is decidedly within our lane, which is explaining how misguided thriftiness can lead to inferior cleaning results, surface damage, misuse of time & energy, and ultimately wasting more money than it saved.

Author Disclosure: As a cleaning expert and someone that grew up experiencing financial difficulty, this topic has impacted me both personally and professionally. My family was one side African American that grew up in the projects, and the other Jewish immigrants escaping the pogroms of Russia with barely a shirt on their back, so the message of thrift was strong on all sides.

Learning through my own challenges to overcome my scarcity-driven spending habits and seeing how they impaired my ability to do my work as a cleaning researcher and consultant effectively was the root inspiration for this article. Seeing my old flawed logic appearing in the social media comments of so many other cleaning enthusiasts and professionals online, especially when discussing purchasing new cleaning supplies, was the other key driver. My genuine hope is to help start this much-needed conversation so many can recognize the cycle they are stuck in and break it even faster than I did.

The Traits of A Scarcity Driven Buyer

Financial hardships have been proven to be practically hereditary, and the self-harming coping strategies and bad habits built in times of trauma are often unconsciously taught to the next generation, even when economic status improves.

This is all a fancy way of saying that there are a ton of people with spending habits and a toxic relationship with money as someone who survived poverty, war, or famine, even if they grew up financially stable. Grandparents teach parents, who teach kids, and so on, so things great-grandma or great-great-grandpa did to survive “in the old country” or the Depression can still appear on today’s store receipts.

There has been extensive study on how growing up with financial difficulties can impact everything from impulse control to the ability to delay gratification. To keep it short, experiencing financial hardships can train the brain to grasp the first semi-viable fix to any problem rather than wait for the better solution (AKA delayed gratification) because, in poverty, there is a very legitimate fear of even more things going wrong that use up the money between now and then. Add this to the perpetual stress of living paycheck to paycheck and how stress decreases the ability to make logical decisions, and you can easily imagine why lots of subpar purchases are being made.

The stress of living without reserves can actually cause all sorts of unhealthy spending habits, some of which can be polar opposite responses to the same pain point. For example, feeling shame over not having as much money as peers can drive some to overspend in adulthood to keep up appearances or fulfill the longings of their youth.

For others, those same feelings of shame are channeled in the opposite direction, pinching every penny till it bleeds and building a sense of pride and personal identity around their ability to spend less and be more thrifty than the well-off people they were previously envious of.

Unfortunately, when it comes to buying items where results matter, like cleaning supplies, the quick-fix buyers, the overspenders, and the penny pinchers can ALL make equally lousy decisions, choosing based on quick access, luxury status, or cheap price rather than performance. In all these buying profiles, the privilege of being able to take your time, spend money testing all the different options available, and picking the best choice, feels like an unrealistic luxury. Even though, in truth, that vetting process would often save them enough time, labor and averted damage to more than pay the cost of the research.

Why Thriftiness is the Enemy of Innovation

Quick fixes, status buying, and penny-pinching harm everyone, but no one more so than small business owners, which sadly make up a huge percentage of the professional cleaning industry.

In business, you have to experiment to innovate and find your next big market advantage. If you look at the inner workings of ANY fast-growing and thriving business, you will see constant experimentation, failures, and trying again, which over time results in incremental growth.

To make an omelet, you have to break some eggs is the mantra of businesses that become household names. These successful business owners understand that their workers are not psychic. Everyone will eventually try something that fails or find something new that works far better than the solution they thought was great only six months ago, so successful owners budget for failures in the incremental innovation cycle.

For those in business that are still struggling with poverty-driven spending habits, investing in innovation can be a huge mental hurdle. Being raised on the “clean your plate” and “waste not want not” mantras, their instinct is to quick-fix buy whatever supplies seem like they will work to get started. Then they usually prioritize what looks like a “good deal,” followed by a sense of guilt that tells them they have to use up these quick-fix purchases till they are absolutely threadbare, even if they don’t work as promised or they find better options, lest they be labeled wasteful.

Whether it’s their employees spending hours longer cleaning with bad supplies or the owner themselves wasting endless evenings tinkering with junky broken vacuums, wasted time and labor become the currency of the owner’s inability to let go. Clinging to the “waste not want not” mentality, they fail to recognize that squandered labor, energy, and stress count as waste, too, resulting in lost business growth, profits, and eventually employee turnover as everyone gets burnt out.

Eventually, these well-meaning tightfisted owners unwittingly stifle all innovation in their organization, as no one will dare experiment for fear of being forced to use their failure for months on end.

The biggest challenge in this situation is not that the financially struggling owner doesn’t realize that innovation is important and creates success, they just don’t subconsciously see themselves and their workers as being worthy of investing in. They know Apple and Tesla ditch old designs for new breakthroughs every year, but can’t bring themselves to throw out a half a spray bottle of old cleaner that never worked to begin with.

They are so used to “wealthy people get to do X, but that’s for them, not us” that they don’t even consciously recognize when they are writing themselves off as undeserving. Their brain has learned “Other people get to buy new things that help them be more effective, but we’re the people that exhaust ourselves with old broken junk because that’s what we’ve always done.” Proving that falling into what feels familiar isn’t always a good thing.  

The problem is for many people that survive long term financial difficulty, thriftiness and spending their own time as if it were valueless become almost a religion, hyped up to the very definition of morality and virtue, because it was a way for them and their ancestors to feel good about themselves when the world told them they should feel bad for not having money. It clouds their judgment so they cannot recognize when they're throwing good time and money after bad.

While it is true that it is wonderful to take good care of quality things to help them last as long as possible, that does not apply to every single purchase. Lovingly cleaning a great coffee maker so it lasts for years = Awesome. Endlessly repairing a crappy coffee maker that never worked right in the first place = A lack of self respect for the value of your own time.

Shifting from Surviving to Thriving

If any of this sounds like you or someone you work for or love, helping shifting out of survival mode into thinking long term about what’s best for your home or business is not easy or accomplished overnight. It will take far more than reading one article and most likely involve some time with a therapist or reading self help books, but it all starts with recognizing the current behaviors for what they are and stop applying false morality to them.

Impulse buying, status spending, and cheaping out all see themselves as the justified and most valid response of the group, but until they all see themselves as the bad trauma coping strategies they are and admit that those strategies are no longer needed and are doing more harm than good, they’ll never move on to making healthier buy decisions.

In poverty, everyone is told their time and sweat are worthless, so using a ton of both to save a few pennies is presented as a good deal. Unlearning that personal devaluation is the most critical first step, especially if you have employees in your business or children at home that are made to labor needlessly or take unnecessary risk due to this devaluation.

In professional cleaning, safe speed and quality results are the biggest levers a cleaning business has to pull to separate itself from the competition. If their crew can get more done in less time with better results, they have more time to add special touches and clean more surfaces than everyone else OR they can shorten cleaning times to allow for lower pricing, depending on if the business is trying to be a premium or bargain brand. Regardless of how they market themselves, there isn't a cleaning company in existence that doesn't benefit dramatically from changing a tool or chemical that helps them clean faster with better quality without increasing risk or energy output.

High quality cleaning chemicals, vacuums, and microfiber make people clean faster and more effectively… it can be quantifiably measured, so this isn't an opinion, it's scientific fact. For example, studies have shown that high powered backpack vacuums clean 3X the amount of square feet per hour versus bargain uprights. Other studies have shown that switching from cotton string to microfiber flat mops saves facilities 20% in labor and 95% in reduced water and cleaning chemicals!

While people try to lie to themselves that premium products don’t really matter if they are willing to use elbow grease, the data doesn’t lie and that joint lubrication could be used to cover more square feet in greater depth rather than making up for bargain product’s downfalls.

Microfiber in particular is one of the most critical decisions for a cleaning business, as almost all cleaning tasks are performed with a microfiber towel, mop, or duster. Lousy microfiber can make cleaners perform +10% slower with worse results. That means any microfiber upgrade that reduces cleaning time or improves results will always pay for itself in a few days with either payroll reduction or more time to dedicate to exceptional service that reduces client attrition, or even just more time to fit in more clients.

When even the most high performing microfiber towels cost less than $1.30 and the average cleaner makes around $15 per hour, the math for how these towels could pay for themselves in a couple days if they boost cleaning speed by 10% becomes painfully obvious. This is even before you factor in that premium towels last 300+ washes and bargain towels can fall apart in as little as 50.

The real truth though is that even the most tightfisted supply purchasers rarely need a scientific study or calculator to prove what’s right in front of their eyes, they just don’t want to confront it. People who succeed despite financial difficulties have already proven they are incredibly smart and resourceful, so it is highly unlikely that they haven’t noticed these advanced products performing better and being used by their competitors, so why hold on? Mostly because of the ingrained habits of thrift, but also because they were never encouraged to calculate labor, exhaustion, and happiness into any savings equation.

Most small business owners and family members genuinely care about the people they are leading and want to be good to them. But they fail to recognize that part of treating someone well is respecting the value of their energy and time, especially if they were raised to devalue their own.

For example, when it comes to microfiber, if a cleaning company uses poor quality towels, they are deciding it's OK to make their staff scrub harder, with more strokes, for every inch of property they clean. Then sending them home at the end of the day more exhausted than they have to be, stealing joy from their family time, just so the business can save a few pennies on bargain towels they know don't work. It’s exploitative, not thrifty, but they can’t see it because then they’d have to confront all the times they were encouraged to exploit themselves.

At the end of the day, whether it’s for your home or business, if you’ve gotten caught in the trap of devaluing your and your crew’s happiness by buying bargain basement cleaning supplies, ignoring solutions that you know will make everyone happier and more productive, then you are being penny wise and dollar foolish and letting thrift blind you.

The good news is your determination and cleverness got you and your ancestors out of dire straits before, so it’s time to call on them again. But this time using that determination to break the cycle of bad habits that are holding you back and hurting the people you care about most. See the situation for what it really is, seek resources for changing your mindset, and extend yourself grace while you relearn old bad habits.

When you’re ready to start upgrading your cleaning supplies to ones that lift you up instead of holding you back, we have kits that will take the guesswork out of finally investing in yourself and your team's happiness… whenever you’re ready.

Ultimate Microfiber Cleaning Kit

Deep clean effortlessly, faster than ever before with premium microfiber. Everything a home consumer needs to clean their home top to bottom.

Cleaning Business Starter Kit

This turnkey solution shortens cleaning times, increases performance, reduces expenses, and includes everything you need to succeed.

Deep Clean Hard Floors, Effortlessly.

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