- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2001

Until the day when dishes can clean themselves and feather dusters can swirl away dust on their own, as in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," people will continue the struggle to make time for perhaps the least liked household duty — cleaning.
With two-income families and longer commutes, housecleaning is going through changes. Sure, there still are people who spend several hours a day cleaning, but more and more people are turning to cleaning or maid services or choosing to buy the newest spray-and-scrub, dry-clean-at-home and wrinkle-release-spray products.
"Convenience is key in the cleaning business. People just have less and less time. That's probably nowhere more apparent than in the D.C. area," says Brian Sansoni, vice president of communication and education at the Soap and Detergent Association in Northwest.
The SDA, a nonprofit trade association established in 1926, represents 120 North American manufacturers of cleaning products.
"After picking up kids from soccer practice and swimming lessons, who has time to iron anymore?" Mr. Sansoni asks.
Many of the companies he represents have existed a long time, and their old faithful products still sell, but they also have adapted to the increasingly busy American family with new timesaving products.
Popular new products include in-dryer kits, which enable consumers to do their dry cleaning at home when they don't have time to drop off and pick up garments at a dry cleaner. Mr. Sansoni says the in-dryer kit can remove light stains and get rid of odors and wrinkles.
Another newcomer is the wrinkle-releasing spray that is formulated to smooth and relax fabrics without the use of an iron.

Pay someone else
New and efficient products or not, some people cannot be bothered with cleaning and choose to hire professional cleaners.
The phone book lists about a dozen cleaning and maid services in the District, but there probably are many more because the industry is full of people who may clean part time and not list cleaning as their primary line of work, says John Kastelic, president of the two-year-old Akron-based National Association of Professional Cleaners.
"This industry is not very well organized. It's full of small-time companies and people who clean to supplement their income," Mr. Kastelic says. "It's very difficult to obtain statistics in this industry."
If Merry Maids, a franchiser with 900 companies, is any indication, professional cleaning is a growing business. The company started in 1979 and has grown by about 450 businesses each decade since then.
"We have seen a lot of growth in our market," says Joy Flora, president of Memphis-based Merry Maids. "There are more and more two-income families, and homeowners are time-starved."
There also has been a demographic shift among people who use cleaning services. "It's no longer an upper-middle-class luxury. Today, regular people have their house cleaned professionally," Mrs. Flora says.
The most common service people want is a biweekly cleaning. The average price nationally for a house with three bedrooms and 21/2 baths is $85 to $100, she says.
Before quoting a price, each franchise sends a representative to the potential customer's house to find out exactly what the customer wants done and whether there are special needs or wishes.
Abdulhakim Faqi is the owner of a Merry Maids franchise in Northwest. He started his business in 1997. His typical client is 30 to 50 years of age and lives in Northwest or in the Capitol Hill area.
For biweekly cleanings, which can take up to five hours for a team of two cleaners, he charges about $165. The price varies it can be cheaper, and it can be more expensive depending on what a particular client wants and the size of the house.
"Here in D.C., people don't have time to clean their homes," Mr. Faqi says. "That's they hire us, because they don't have the time."

'Queen of Clean'
Though we perhaps spend less and less time cleaning, we're increasingly well-read about the matter. Many how-to books on cleaning have reached best-seller lists. Among them is "Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean," written by Linda C. Cobb (published by Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster).
"I had no idea so many people wanted to talk dirty to me," Mrs. Cobb says with a laugh during a recent phone interview from her office in Phoenix.
Mrs. Cobb, who also has written a book with laundry tips, says the combined sales of the two titles is about 2 million volumes. She has appeared on the New York Times and Publisher's Weekly best-seller lists; will come out with a new book, "A Queen for All Seasons," in October; and will appear on NBC's "Today Show" on Oct. 8, she says.
She also has a Web site (www.queenofclean.com ) where she gives cleaning tips and recommends cleaning products.
People send her dirty clothes from all around the globe for her to analyze and suggest ways to remove stains. One lady from Saudi Arabia, for example, sent Mrs. Cobb a package with her husband's dirty shirt, asking Mrs. Cobb how to get rid of the underarm stains.
Mrs. Cobb says she thinks the reason she is so popular is that mothers aren't passing down their cleaning skills to sons and daughters as much as they used to.
"And we're constantly trying to find faster and easier ways to do it and healthier ways, too. We're worried about our kids' health," she says.
Mrs. Cobb is a big fan of using natural products, such as baking soda and white vinegar for drains and water stains.
"I don't think any home should be without baking soda," she says.
Club soda is another great natural cleaning product, Mrs. Cobb says.
"You can use it to polish appliances and to remove stains in carpets and clothes. If you spill on yourself in a restaurant, just ask for club soda."

'You're in control'
Despite the virtual bubble bath of new products, cleaning services and how-to literature, some people have no interest in any of it. They always have cleaned their own way and will continue to do so. Donna Liberto is one them.
Mrs. Liberto, a resident of Arnold, Md., just north of Annapolis, has a four-bedroom house, four children ages 9 to 17, a husband and a Labrador retriever named Benny. On top of managing her six-person, one-dog household, she works as a special-education teacher in the Anne Arundel County school system.
All this does not keep her from cleaning her house three hours a day on weekdays and sometimes all day on the weekends. She says her nickname among friends is "Clean Freak."
"If your home is cleaned and picked up, you're in control. If it isn't, it makes you crazy," Mrs. Liberto says.
The most important aspect of cleaning is keeping the house vacuumed, she says, especially because the family has a dog. Other than that, she doesn't have the rooms listed in any order of priority. Each and every corner is important.
Mrs. Liberto, who calls herself "old school," uses traditional cleaning products such as lemon oil for wooden furniture and ammonia water for cleaning hardwood floors.
While cleaning's main purpose is pretty obvious, it has other benefits, too, Mrs. Liberto says. Other people may stay in shape and calm their minds by working out, gardening or playing golf. She cleans. "It's a good relief for me. I think we all have our assets, and this is something I am good at," Mrs. Liberto says.
"I'm very physical, and cleaning keeps me thin. It's great exercise," she says, "but the biggest thing is, I enjoy it."

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