The Job and What's Involved

A cleaner's job is to visit places where people live or visit, to clean and tidy up. They clean in private homes and ensure that buildings are kept clean and hygienic for the people that use them.

For cleaners that specialise in cleaning places such as hospitals, schools, offices and factories, see the article Industrial Cleaner.

A cleaner may be responsible for a variety of cleaning tasks, depending on the requirements of the job. Nowadays cleaners are likely to be multiskilled and able to tackle a wide range of service tasks.

A cleaner in a private household removes dust and dirt. They may dust and polish furniture, sweep and mop floors, vacuum carpets, disinfect kitchens and bathrooms, and clean windows. They may also do washing and ironing.

Some cleaners specialise in the deep cleaning of kitchens or ventilation units. Some may specialise in cleaning a house from top to bottom that has not been cleaned in a long time.

In addition to general domestic cleaners, some cleaners work in a team and go onto aeroplanes and trains, removing rubbish left by passengers and making sure the cabins or carriages are ready for the next journey.

Some cleaners specialise in cleaning particular types of surfaces, such as windows or carpets. For more information on these, see the articles Carpet/Upholstery Cleaner and Window Cleaner.

Working hours for cleaners vary greatly. Some cleaners work shifts, which may include early mornings and evenings. Part-time and casual work is common. Many cleaners are self-employed and work flexible hours. They may be given a set of keys and have to be sure that the building is locked and secure when they have finished.

Most cleaners work indoors. They may travel to different sites, either in a vehicle provided by their employer or by their own means of transport.

Cleaners may wear uniforms or protective clothing, such as overalls. They use a variety of cleaning equipment ranging from dusters, mops, vacuum cleaners and brooms.

The job involves a lot of contact with dust, detergents, aerosol sprays and chemicals and may not be suitable for people with breathing problems or skin allergies. It is an active job which can involve a lot of walking, bending, stretching, climbing stairs, lifting and carrying.

Most general cleaners are paid an hourly rate which they negotiate with their employer. In areas where there is a shortage of reliable cleaning staff, they can earn over £10 an hour. Overtime is often available.

The starting salary for a general cleaner may be around £11,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are nearly one million professional cleaners who work throughout the UK. There is a huge demand for cleaners. They can find work with:

  • Cleaning companies that have contracts to offer cleaning services to, for example airport authorities and railway operating companies.
  • Domestic cleaning businesses (often franchises).
  • Private individuals who employ cleaners at their homes.

Cleaners working for private individuals often find work through word-of-mouth and client recommendation. For others jobs may be advertised in local newspapers, newsagents' windows, Jobcentre Plus offices, Connexions centres and on company websites.

Education and Training

Cleaners do not need educational qualifications to start work, although numerical skills are helpful for measuring cleaning fluids, and a reasonable level of literacy is necessary for understanding written instructions.

Apprenticeships in Cleaning and Support Services may be available.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most cleaners learn on the job. Training may include particular cleaning techniques and routines, health and safety and how to use specialist equipment.

Whilst in employment, cleaners may work towards a number of different qualifications including NVQ's/SVQ's in Cleaning and Support Services Levels 1 and 2 or Cleaning Building Interiors Level 2. Employers may offer specialised training.

The British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICS) offers its own qualifications, including the Cleaning Operators Proficiency Certificate (COPC).

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Cleaners need to:

  • Be reliable and responsible.
  • Have the ability to work unsupervised or as part of a team.
  • Follow instructions and routines.
  • Be able to work quickly and efficiently.
  • Work to consistently high standards.
  • Have a good understanding of health and safety regulations.
  • Remain discreet and be honest.
  • Communicate well with others.
  • Maintain a reasonable level of fitness.

Your Long Term Prospects

Cleaning staff may be able to take further qualifications including those in specialised areas of cleaning.

Experienced cleaners may be promoted to supervisory roles, perhaps taking qualifications such as NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Team Leading, or a City & Guilds Level 3 Diploma in Cleaning Services Supervision. There may be opportunities to progress further into management positions.

Some cleaners set up their own cleaning businesses or buy franchise operations.

Get Further Information

Association of Domestic Management (ADM),
c/o Watson Associates, A6 Kingfisher House, Kingsway TVTE, Gateshead NE11 0JQ
Tel: 07946 772620

British Cleaning Council (BCC), PO Box 1328, Kidderminster, Shropshire DY11 5ZJ
Tel: 01562 851129

The British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICS),
9 Premier Court, Boarden Close, Moulton Park, Northampton NN3 6LF
Tel: 01604 678710

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