In a recent column, I explained how we can improve life for our own children (and for all future generations) by making big changes in the way we use and dispose of single-stream trash.
In a later column, I argued that we need to learn more about the people who clean carpets. I’ll be happy to explain more in future columns.
But first, a word about something that’s sometimes overlooked: people who clean carpets work for money. That’s not a euphemism, as many thinks. If you clean a carpet for $60 a week, that’s still more than $1,000 in gross wages. That’s one third of a cleaner’s pre-tax pay. Given that, this is truly a miserable-sounding profession.
You won’t find much discussion of this in the media, but it does merit a closer look. I see some reports of poor pay in the Wall Street Journal. But my research indicates that overall, decent-paying carpet cleaning in the U.S. is just a small minority of the work being done.
The carpet cleaning profession in New Zealand is almost entirely relegated to the small portion of us who live in the big cities (and who can afford the good cleaning services that characterizes those places). The rest of us must use an army of floor sweepers in laundromats or outside our homes, or we hire someone from an off-the-books cleaning service.
As a result, most carpet cleaners in the U.S. are women, who earn just over 40 percent of median earnings for all occupations in the U.S. In my area of southern California, roughly half of the cleaning workers are women.
So, there is a disparity between male and female workers that shouldn’t be ignored. In addition, what most people don’t realize is that carpet cleaning itself is a good way to reach some of the world’s poorest people. People who clean carpets often receive homes made of sheetrock, which often doesn’t come with indoor plumbing. The power to make someone drink drinking water for the first time is one of the most important outcomes of carpet cleaning.
That said, many people will disagree that cleaning carpet is just an act of charity. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite: you’re giving away something that’s one of the biggest resources they have, for free.
Here are a few important myths about carpet cleaning, followed by a rebuttal:
Myth 1: If you have an apartment with a carpet, it’s a waste of time to take it out. Instead, you could put the carpet in a dryer. This would do nothing for it, but it’s convenient and it’s also a potentially waste of time.
Fact: If you’re talking about the simplest dusting that could be done, like vacuuming in an open environment, there’s really no justification for leaving it in. Even though dusting can have some environmentally harmful effects, this is pretty trivial when you’re talking about putting out a flat surface.
Myth 2: When I get tired of cleaning carpets, I can just hire a private cleaner. This would be one option for many people. But it would be little different from hiring someone from an illegal cleaning service.
Fact: Anyone who puts their carpet in a dryer still gets the same benefit of having someone clean it that they get if they put it out on the street. After the dusting and scraping, a lot of the residual dirt gets whisked away from your carpet. There are fewer hazards involved in the process.
Myth 3: My carpet is ruined, so I should just put it out on the street. This is one of the many misconceptions about carpet cleaning that I’ve discussed previously. Carpet with worn edges and crumb marks in your house is just fine.
Fact: There are plenty of ways to minimize the risks of working with sticky and chemically affected materials, and you should be highly skeptical of any service that tries to sell you one of these services. Two kinds of chemicals are a real danger: VOCs and epoxies. These are the oil and glue residues from carpet that can collect in crevices and eventually form soot. If you hire someone who is trying to sell you a special detergent, water-based polish, or a stain removal sealant, you’re putting yourself at greater risk.