Is there a polite way to refer to someone who is responsible for cleaning at work?

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  • 33
    His name works. – Tushar Raj Jul 7 '15 at 11:46
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    Habitat Contaminant Removal Executive? – Marv Mills Jul 7 '15 at 11:50
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    I actually think "cleaner", or "We are looking for someone to clean our offices" or similar is fine in a job advert. True, it's not a job that comes with high status attached, but bending over backwards to obscure that only highlights it IMHO. (I'm thinking of Subway's cringe-inducing "Sandwich Artist" job title...) – j_random_hacker Jul 7 '15 at 12:00
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    Housekeeping staff – moonstar Jul 7 '15 at 15:16
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    Yes. Cleaner is not used in AmE. At least not for that. Janitor would be the most common term. In AmE, "Cleaner" is used in movies to refer to a special-agent/criminal type character to comes in to clean-up botched jobs, a la Winston Wolf in Pulp Fiction or Victor in Point Of No Return (both played by Harvey Keitel) – Kevin Jul 7 '15 at 17:27

10 Answers 10

Some people might find it subtly insulting if you call them "custodians" or "facilitators", or whatever, when they are really cleaners, as if their true job were shameful. If you clean, you're a cleaner, and there is nothing embarrassing about it that needs to be concealed. Further, euphemisms and needlessly using big words is considered ugly by almost all style books. So just call him a cleaner.

  • 2
    Agreed, what would be wrong with making things clean? Some nonsense like Localized Sanitation Executive just obfuscates both meaning and some perceived inferiority. Like all over exaggerated "political correctness" this practice actually perpetuates what it seeks to avoid. – Jodrell Jul 8 '15 at 14:36
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    Except that I've rarely, if ever, heard "cleaner" actually used that way. In practice, "custodians" is much more common, or "house-keepers," or "cleaning crew." – user124384 Jul 8 '15 at 15:55
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    @user124384: I have never heard "custodian" used that way. Apparently there are regional differences. – Cerberus Jul 8 '15 at 17:46

Janitor, caretaker, or custodian could also be used, but those jobs tend to be broader in scope than just cleaning: maintenance and other aspects of looking after a building can also be included.

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    "Janitor" is, in a sense, less polite. "Custodian" is the more PC term that is often used. – Hot Licks Jul 7 '15 at 15:52
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    Can you give a reference to "less polite"? Why would job sites use it if it were? – Peter K. Jul 7 '15 at 16:54
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    @HotLicks And how regularly do new words have to be made up in order to prevent this? I mean one can take insult by anything, and usually you're better of not trying to circumvent words that might be interpreted as offensive, since that mere attempt might be an insult as well... – Tobias Kienzler Jul 8 '15 at 11:53
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    Regarding this evolution (devolution) of words, consider these "idiot, imbecile, moron, retard(ed)..." dailywritingtips.com/idiots-imbeciles-and-morons – TecBrat Jul 8 '15 at 15:10
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    @TecBrat: The euphemism treadmill. That is something we should try to avoid, because it doesn't work and results in ugliness. Orwell, amongst others, was famously against doublespeak, using language to try to effect political goals. – Cerberus Jul 9 '15 at 13:43

Perhaps, 'Facilities staff' would fit the bill.

Examples of how to use this:

  • "The kind facility staff provided me with an additional waste paper bin."
  • "The facility staff member smiled at me and asked how I was."
  • 1
    I think this is a good suggestion, could you provide any references to show how it is used in the "real world"? – Silverfish Jul 7 '15 at 15:14
  • Well, the "facilities staff" where I work often refuse to clean things, as "its not their job." – Jodrell Jul 8 '15 at 14:41
  • Just "facilities" is much more common, e.g. "I called facilities and they cleaned up the mess in the bathroom." – user124384 Jul 8 '15 at 15:56
  1. If I wanted a cleaning job and saw an advertisement for a "Facilities Generalist" or a "Habitat Contaminant Removal Executive" I would pass the advert by because I would have no idea what it meant. The last one in particular I would imagine required specialist technical training.
    Advertise for a cleaner.

  2. If you have a particular individual in mind who is already in post, I suggest you ask that person what job title they prefer. Some people will want a fancy title, others will be happy with something simple.

  • 4
    In case you missed it, Habitat Contaminant Removal Executive was sarcasm, made up on the spot. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 7 '15 at 17:09
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I think chasty understood the sarcasm. I think they simply wanted to point out that sugar-coating things will only make matters worse. – MonkeyZeus Jul 8 '15 at 12:08

"Housekeeping" is the general position name at the hospital I used to work for.

HousekeepingBusiness Dictionary

General care, cleanliness, orderliness, and maintenance of business or property. Good housekeeping is an important consideration in underwriting of fire hazard and other forms of insurance, as well as in certification by fire, health, and industrial safety agencies.

"You should have a good housekeeping staff in your office so that it has a good professional feel to it."
"The housekeeping showed up very early and I told them to go away and come back in an hour or two, when I was gone."

Cleaner doesn't sound rude.

I would imagine that you are going to get a lot more applications for a Cleaner ad versus a Premises Upkeep Engineer ad

How about office cleaner?

AVOIDING SEXIST LANGUAGE

Instead of cleaning lady, cleaning woman, consider using housecleaner, office cleaner, housekeeper

Source: Random House Webster's College Dictionary, ed. 1991

The Office Cleaner is responsible for maintaining the overall cleanliness of the facility.

opiny.org

  • Yes, this seems to match more closely than any other what the OP requested. 'cleaner' by itself (or with modifiers) is not impolite or disparaged at all. And the people who come late at night to clean offices after hours are currently called 'office cleaners'. 'Janitor' has become a bit disparaging and 'custodian' is used more often nowadays instead. An office cleaner often implies female, and janitor/custodian male. – Mitch Apr 22 '16 at 16:03

Late answer 2 monthes after the question: a cleaning operative has surprisingly not been proposed.

  • Your answer would be improved if you said whether it was BrEng or AmEng, and if you included some support/reference for your answer. – Mari-Lou A Sep 2 '15 at 22:48

I'm surprised the term "floor manager" hasn't been offered. I've seen it used for the toilet cleaning personnel in e.g. cinema's here.

Another possibility not mentioned is concierge. While usually not associated with cleaning duties, in France where the word originated the concierge was (and in some cases still is) responsible for the janitorial duties in many small hotels. As mentioned in other posts it is not the sole responsibility but included among others.

protected by user140086 Apr 22 '16 at 14:09

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