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The In-House Vs. Outsourced Cleaning Quandary


It is very common for schools and universities to have their own staff attend to cleaning tasks for their facilities. This is referred to as in-house cleaning and, as we will discuss later, there can be very specific reasons why this is the best option for some educational institutions. However, administrators of schools and universities should not dismiss hiring out their cleaning needs, referred to as outsourced cleaning. Both strategies offer their own set of benefits, including the potential for significant cost savings.

So let’s take a look at both options, with the goal of helping you select which one would work best for your school’s needs.

In-House Cleaning

Scheduling: Schools and universities may have a variety of work and class schedules in each of their buildings, so it may be preferable for cleaning to be done either early in the morning, during the day, or very late at night. In this case, an in-house cleaning staff may offer the most flexibility.

Security: Many schools have their buildings cleaned by in-house staff because of security issues. Because a school administrator may not know exactly who is cleaning the facility if the work is outsourced, he or she might decide that it is best to work with in-house cleaners.

Familiarity: In-house cleaning workers are likely to be very familiar with the work being performed and the special needs of the facilities. While an outsourced cleaning service will likely learn this information in time, this familiarity does provide considerable value in the decision-making process.

Team Player: Related to the points already mentioned, in-house cleaning workers are part of the “team.” Essentially, they are part of the school or university family, and some administrators prefer to have it this way.

Safety Training: As part of the team, in-house cleaning workers are updated, along with other staff, about safety issues related to the equipment, chemicals, aOutsourcednd products used and other safety concerns in the school’s buildings. Outsourced cleaning workers can certainly be updated as well, but very often they are not, which could result in an unfortunate incident.

Outsourced Cleaning

Cost Savings: Let’s discuss potential cost savings right from the start, as this is likely the area where the most benefit can be realized from outsourced cleaning. With in-house cleaning workers, the school or university must pay all employment taxes, workers’ compensation, and other expenses for these workers, just as it would any other person on staff; if these services are outsourced, these costs are paid by the cleaning contractor, along with insurance, healthcare, and similar employee benefits.

Supply Costs: With an outsourced service, all of the equipment, cleaning solutions, and other products used for cleaning are purchased by the contractor, not the school or university. Further, if the contractor is a member of a group purchasing organization, it will be able to purchase supplies at reduced prices. Often, these savings are worked into the contractor’s charges, resulting in another cost savings for the school or university.

Budgets: If school or university budgets are reduced administrators simply must tell the contractor that service adjustments – such as reducing cleaning frequencies – are necessary. On the other hand, with in-house cleaning, this may require administrators to make staff reductions, which can end up being complicated and leave some cleaning needs unmet

Hiring & Firing: Related to cleaning budget reductions, when it comes to hiring and firing, most administrators prefer to focus on those workers actually needed by the school or university to provide its services; often, they prefer not to be in charge of the hiring or firing of cleaning workers.

Supervision & Training: With an in-house cleaning staff, supervision and training becomes the responsibility of the school administrator. Outsourced service providers usually have a standardized training program so their workers are trained and familiar with the chemicals and equipment they use along with the best practices for using these products. This training is often not the focus of in-house administrators and may be overlooked.

Which Is Best?

As you can see, there are certainly worthy pros and cons on both sides of the in-house versus outsourced cleaning debate.

If security and safety are your key concerns, it is best to go with an in-house cleaning staff. With an outsourced service provider, you cannot control who actually works in the facilities and who holds the keys, and it may be difficult to keep these workers up-to-date on any changing safety concerns in the facilities.

However, if costs are a key concern, then, in most cases, the best option is to outsource and hire a contract cleaner. While administrators no longer have to hire, fire, supervise, or train cleaning workers when outsourcing cleaning, they must shoulder the responsibility of hiring the best contract cleaner for the job. Best practices might include the following:

  • Prepare a “scope of cleaning services,” ensuring that every cleaning task necessary in your buildings is put into writing.
  • Send “request for proposals” (also known as “tenders” or RFPs) based on the scope of cleaning services to suitable cleaning contractors. Look for 5 to 10 contractors that are familiar with cleaning schools and universities, have the necessary equipment, provide proper cleaning training for their workers, and meet insurance requirements.
  • Look for a larger contract cleaning company. Very often, these larger companies put more time and attention into training and background checks. They likely also belong to a group purchasing organization, which may make their charges more competitive.
  • Narrow your list to three contractors, and ask each to prepare a presentation. This is very important. You are not looking for the contractor that gives the best performance; you are looking for the contractor that you believe you can count on and work with and who addresses your cleaning needs most effectively.

Tobi Colbert is director of business development and member services for the National Service Alliance (NSA), a group purchasing organization.