The scoop on green cleaning

A Q&A with Anna Tsantir of Two Bettys Green Cleaning Service

It’s March and time to roll up the sleeves and get going on the spring cleaning.  The Journal recently checked in with an expert in the green cleaning business to learn more about her work and get some tips on keeping things tidy. Here are highlights of a recent interview with Anna Tsantir, co-founder of Two Bettys Green Cleaning Service, which officially launched in March 2007.  

SWJ: First, how did you get into the green cleaning business?

Tsantir: My position at a local arts nonprofit was being changed and my business partner Sam Meyers had just been offered a whopping 25 cent raise to do twice as much work at his job so we decided we wanted to work for ourselves. We had a friend in another town who started a green cleaning business and we decided that was something we believed in and already practiced ourselves. We also noticed there were very few green cleaning businesses at that time in Minneapolis. We designed the position so that we could work when and how much we wanted so that we had time to focus on our studio work.

… Now we have a bookkeeper help us keep things in order and have 18 Bettys that work between 10 and 30 hours a week and we do a trade with the fabulous Aesthetic Apparatus for our marketing materials and design needs. The business has always grown steadily, but slowly, which allows us to focus on quality and find the right people. The Bettys themselves are what make us so successful, we have found some amazing people to work with.

How many clients do you have? Do you work in neighborhoods all over the metro?

About 200 — we offer weekly, biweekly and monthly service. I would say most clients are bi-weekly. We serve mainly Minneapolis proper but do go to the Mac Groveland area of St. Paul, parts of the western and southern suburbs closest to Minneapolis. A lot of the Bettys pedal to their cleans, and since all of the Bettys live in Minneapolis or St. Paul, we don’t want to encourage driving all over town and suburbs to work. We try to make everyone’s schedule comfortable as far as that goes.

What are the different services you provide?

The main service we provide to 85–90 percent of our clients is a standard clean which is floors, kitchen, baths and dusting. We always include bath linens as part of our standard as well. Some folks have us do an individualized plan for them where we work within a certain time allotment or a priority list. We also will do bed linens if needed. We do offer extra cleaning for existing clients such as deep cleans, spring cleans, the fridge, help with moves, etc. But these are only for existing clients. … Something that sets us apart from some other services is that we send only one person. I believe it is the way to getting the best quality. It is always the same person so they are accountable 100 percent. They get to know each home, the dog, the surfaces and end up doing a better job than a team of people that changes from week to week with different styles or skill levels.

What kind of cleaning products do you use?

Choosing green products is tricky business. Any company or business can claim anything is green or safe for the environment. There are no laws governing the use of these terms yet. There are many products that say they are environmentally friendly, but when you really look they may just say they recycle or use enviromentally friendly ingredients when possible. This could mean once. We have fully researched the products we used and often use products with a nonprofit seal guaranteeing their greenness according to a solid and accepted set of guidelines.

Things for a consumer to watch: If the product does not disclose the entire ingredients list, they are probably hiding something. Some products go as far as to say “contains” and then list the five most benign ingredients even though there are 90 nasty ones they leave off the label. There are some very well known brand names that are notorious examples of this. If something smells really strong or is a funny color, chances are it is not green. Some products do a really good job of looking harmless with fancy marketing, making a lot of intelligent people mistake them for green, but are not by the standards we use.

There are specific products that we have chosen that have excellent practices and histories. For example we know that Seventh Generation will often change a formula if one of the plants or ingredients they are using becomes unsustainable or are being over harvested.

Betty approved: We like Seventh Generation, Biokleen, Block Brothers, Natural Home and Restore. We have not found one product line to use, but have selected the best cleaner for the job from the companies listed above. We provide these cleaners when we come to a home.

Also, a good vac can not be understated in keeping the dust, dog and cat hair and dander contained. There are so many terrible ones. If you only have a limited budget to go to Sears and stick to Kenmore. They still back up their products. Otherwise we like Oreck, Dyson, Miele and Electrolux mainly.

What are the important tasks to get done if someone wants to do a thorough spring cleaning of their home?

We keep a house in pretty good shape, so when it is time to add some spring cleaning we like to get the things we may not have time or a client doesn’t want to pay for as a part of regular cleaning. These things include cleaning behind larger furniture and appliances we can’t get to every day, under the beds, into the closets, light fixtures, blinds, ceiling corners, the entire surface of cabinets, bookshelves … things like this. A lot of times we work with our clients to decide what projects they would like us to do, or we recommend some if we see they need to be done. Sending the drapes to the cleaners and calling the carpet and window cleaners are good steps, too.

Why is it important, in your view, to follow green cleaning practices?

The number one reason we use green products is our health and our clients’ health. Of course the health of the environment and our communities are not far behind that. There have been studies that say the toxic cleaning products most of us grew up with and are still around hiding under the sink can cause the air quality inside a normal home to be as bad as one of the countries most highly polluted cities outside. We encourage our clients to get rid of those cleaners or to keep them in a chemically safe container in the garage. We highly recommend switching your house out to green products especially if you have chemically sensitive or allergy/respiratory problems in the family. Your toddlers, dogs and cats will be happier too, as they have more direct contact with the floor or fixtures than adults. Think of how many times a toddler touches the floor and then their mouth. Some traditional floor cleaners and waxes have a chemical residue that stays on the surface, that is how that chemical shine is induced. Same with Windex and shower cleaners.

What is the most satisfying aspect of your work?

As a cleaner — going from dirty to clean is an instant gratification a lot of jobs can’t offer. But over the years I have heard a lot of things that make this work really satisfying from keeping a couple out of marriage counseling who always argued about who’s going to clean and when, to making life a little easier and better for the one or two parents who work all week and would rather spend time with their kids than cleaning up after them. Just improving the quality of life for someone is pretty great. Who doesn’t love coming home to a clean house?

Now as the co-owner of Two Bettys, I would say my satisfaction goes further. I love, for example, that I have taken my car to Good Carma for years to get it fixed and one day Bill the owner finds out I have a cleaning business, we start cleaning for him and his lovely family, then he put our cards out and referred us clients. His brother just called me. … I absolutely enjoy meeting new prospective clients, working with the amazing group of people we have working for us, and providing a green, local cleaning service that pays well to a community that really seems to appreciate it like Minneapolis.