Cleaning ladies tools: rubber glove and cleaning supplies
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Cleaning Ladies

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Cleaning ladies have been a part of my life since I was young. Many of us need cleaning help. However, when I hire help, am I taking advantage of these low-wage workers? Their presence makes me uncomfortable. I’m conflicted with the need for household help and the guilt of taking advantage of those who do menial work.


Until I was 11 years old, we lived in Howard Park, a West Baltimore middle-class neighborhood. Our cleaning lady was Dorothy, an African-American woman. I can’t remember exactly what Dorothy looked like. She was young and slender and maybe pretty. I hung around her while she cleaned. The vacuum noise was particularly soothing. Many children are afraid of the vacuum, but I liked it.

How many years did she work for us? I can’t say. And how did she get into the house since my mother was working with Dad? It’s unlikely she had a key. Perhaps Mom was there when Dorothy came, but I cannot recall.

Dorothy stopped working for us when I was in fourth or fifth grade, I think. Mom told me Dorothy was going back to school, perhaps secretarial school. Dorothy’s aunt, Minnie, would work for us instead.


My recollection of Minnie is an older, heavier woman with a booming laugh. My sisters and I called her Minnie Mouse or Minnie Moose (or something like that). This makes me feel terrible today. However, she laughed it off.

Minnie loved to iron. In those days, before permanent press, we had lots to iron! Again, I don’t know how she got into the house without a key. Did Mom stay home on cleaning days? Not likely since my parents had one car and drove it downtown every morning. And why do I have memories of Minnie when I should have been in school when she cleaned for us?

Anyway, we moved out of Howard Park to Pikesville, Baltimore County in 1965. Minnie continued to work for us. That is, until the tuna fish caper.

The tuna fish caper

My parents loved canned white tuna in water. When it was on sale, they’d stock up. Oftentimes, when tuna was on sale, they’d buy a case, 24 cans. (Remember when tuna came in a seven ounce can?) The extra cans of tuna fish were stored in a basement closet, an overflow pantry so to speak.

Everything was “honkey-dory” until Mom noticed a few cans of tuna were missing from the stash in the closet. Dad knew nothing about the missing tuna and certainly, my sisters and I didn’t take them. That left Minnie. When confronted, she admitted the theft. Mom had no other recourse but to let her go.

It seems silly now. Why couldn’t Minnie have paid my parents back? But perhaps the lack of trust forced Mom’s hand to fire her. If Minnie stole tuna, what else might she steal? As an aside, we didn’t have much to steal—very little jewelry and a set of sterling silver flatware. Knowing my parents, they didn’t keep much cash in the house.

From then on, my parents did their own cleaning. Mostly they ignored the dust but kept the bathroom and kitchen somewhat clean. Luckily for them, I liked to clean, so I’d vacuum and dust.

My previous cleaning ladies

It wasn’t until I began working full-time, 20 plus years ago, that I hired a cleaning lady. Her name escapes me, but let’s call her Audrey.

Audrey was referred to me by a friend who used her for years. She worked by herself, had a car, was reliable and did her job well. However, she was very different from us. First, she was a Seventh Day Adventist. My friend warned me that Audrey might leave religious pamphlets around. Luckily, she didn’t leave anything at our house. Second, she was a non-stop talker and we’re a quiet family. If I was home for lunch when she cleaned, it was a given she’d use up my lunch hour yapping. Third, she brought a CD player to her job and played very loud country-western music. My sons complained terribly when they were home on her cleaning days!

I had to let her go when my husband was unexpectedly laid off. She was an expense we couldn’t afford. Therefore, I avoided telling her that she was getting on our nerves and had to go. The boys were very happy!

Pre-Passover cleaning

No one did our housecleaning except me until 2019 when I searched online for a pre-Passover cleaning service. One in particular sounded good, and the owner, Ana, came to the house for an estimate. It was reasonable, and she and her crew were hired for a one-time thorough cleaning. Ana was the only one who spoke English; the rest of the crew spoke only Spanish.

Boy, were they thorough! Everything in the house was wiped down, cleaned, linens changed, etc. They even took off the inside screens from my living room windows, cleaned them off and used Windex on the windows! Ana was pleasant to work with, and if I had been working full time, I’d have hired her for a once-a-month cleaning. At that time, I was younger, retired and couldn’t justify the expense.

Then, it was March 2020. I contacted Ana and we set up a date and time for another Passover cleaning in April. You can probably guess what happened. The cleaning had to be cancelled because of COVID-19. Ana and I were both upset. However, at that time, given what we knew about the virus, I couldn’t rationalize having strangers in the house during a lock down.

My current cleaning ladies

I hate having people work in the house, especially if I’m the one who is supposed to “supervise” them. However, by Spring 2023, it was apparent that we needed cleaning help. My aching back and other arthritic “ailments” are letting me know it’s time for help. Besides, we have a lot of carpet and now I hate vacuuming. Ana’s card was in my Passover file, but for some reason, which I don’t remember, I didn’t call her.

Instead, I went online and found another cleaning service run by Rosa, (not her real name) a young, Hispanic woman. Rosa and I agreed on a once-a-month cleaning after Passover. The first cleaning, the pre-Passover one, went okay. After that and until now, I’m not so sure.

Rosa and I tried to stick to a four-week schedule. In the first six months or so, she and the crew (none of whom speak English except for her) came on a Thursday or Friday. That worked perfectly because there is nothing better than having a clean house for Shabbat. Then…she asked if she could change the day to earlier in the week.

I felt stuck. If I said “No,” would she stop coming? I caved and said “Okay.” Now Rosa comes with the crew approximately every four weeks on Monday before 9 a.m. However, for the last three cleanings, Rosa didn’t show up and sent her father instead (he speaks limited English). Her excuses included forgetting about a meeting at her son’s school and her son being sick.

Now what?

It irks me to have a crew of ladies who can’t communicate with me when the boss isn’t there. Rosa preps them, sort of, but it’s not the same. There’s a lot of chatter and laughter happening when she’s absent. When the cat’s away, the mice will play? And, last month, I caught one lady scrubbing our self-clean oven with steel wool and soap! (Please pray with me that the self-clean mode will work when the oven needs to be cleaned, by me, for Passover.)


Other times, minor things have been broken. For example, after they cleaned the basement bathroom, the shower door was off track. Hubby was mad, but in their defense, it’s a cheap shower door. Another time, Rosa asked permission to clean the globes of my dining room chandelier. A few weeks later, when replacing a bulb, I noticed the plastic ring that the bulb screws into was broken. Did Rosa do that? Perhaps not. After all, the fixture is at least 40 years old. Things that old do break. But if she did, shouldn’t she have told me?

It’s the last week of March when this is being written. Rosa’s crew came today, without her. The ladies did an okay job. I texted Rosa that our den’s bookshelves needed a thorough dusting, and that I removed the tsotchkes. I’ve noticed that they usually dust “around” stuff, not moving anything. Sigh.

What to do?

Rosa’s next cleaning is scheduled for three weeks from today, a week before Passover. After that, I don’t know what to do. Should I keep her and the crew? Should I call Ana and see if she’s still in business? Should I ask friends for a recommendation? Am I being taken advantage of? Am I just paranoid? Should I just “suck it up” and be grateful for the help?

Confrontation is not my strong point. Avoidance works better! I’d love to be one of those people who can say what’s on her mind, never mind the consequences. This is how the conversation should go:

“Rosa, I think the work has been sloppy and am disappointed that you can’t seem to be here on my cleaning days. It’s been a pleasure knowing you but you’re fired!” (Do I sound like The Donald?)

Want to bet I’ll chicken out?

This is how the conversation will go, maybe:

“Rosa, my husband and I are on a fixed income, and we need to make some financial adjustments. Food, utilities, car insurance—everything is going up. I’m going to start cleaning myself.”

What I’ll probably do is nothing! Grin and bear it!

Please leave your comments below.

Read more by Eileen Creeger.

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