Every business has its jargon. Even if you’re an industry pro, sometimes it can be hard to remember what all those terms mean.

    We’ve gathered some common commercial cleaning business terms below, and explain them in plain language. Hopefully, you find them helpful!

    Sales & revenue

    E-commerce- Short for electronic commerce. Refers to transactions that occur entirely over the Internet, usually through a website or app.

    Janitorial bid- When a company asks janitorial companies to submit proposals for a contract. It is like a job posting, but for your entire company. Also known as a request for proposal.

    Purchase order- A document sent from a purchaser (you) to a vendor to confirm a specific purchase of goods or services.

    Leads- Individuals or businesses that have a good chance of becoming your client.

    Quotes- Another word for “estimate.” Given to clients or prospects to provide a sense of the cost of a project. The final, actual price may vary.

    Referrals (business)- When someone recommends your business’ services to someone else. This can be a much more powerful method of generating new business than sales and marketing combined.

    Referrals (employment)- This is when an employee tells someone else that your company is a great place to work.

    Referral program- Rewarding people for providing you with either business or employment referrals. Often, the reward is only paid out (or is much better) if the referral successfully leads to a new client or employee.

    Reviews- Public ratings by current or past clients. Employees may also review your employment quality. These can be simple number ratings (e.g. 7/10) or extensive written essays.

    RFP- Stands for Request For Proposal, another term for a bid.

    Scope of work- A document that clearly outlines the cost and timeline for specific services.

    Staffing & operations

    1099 employee- These are self-employed, independent contractors. It is common for cleaning businesses to employ 1099 employees.

    Brick and mortar- A term to describe physical businesses. Usually used to contrast online or digital businesses.

    Customer service- A branch of the business that handles customer questions, complaints, feedback, or praise. Strong customer service can be the backbone of many organizations, including cleaning companies.

    Franchise- When a company grants the right to another company or individual to carry out specific commercial actions. For example, McDonalds is a franchise—each restaurant is independently owned & operated but must follow specific guidelines from the parent company.

    Footfall- A term used to describe the amount of walking or foot traffic that occurs in a specific area. High footfall areas will need more floor cleaning attention.

    Green cleaning- The purposeful use of environmentally friendly products and techniques. Demand for this kind of cleaning is expected to continue to grow.

    High-traffic areas- Places in a building that people use frequently, and therefore will experience the most soiling and wear and tear.

    In-field staff- Refers to employees who are working at a client site. Also called “on-site staff.” These are usually your cleaners but may also include a supervisor, mechanic, or inspector.

    Niche. A specific area of focus or specialization. For example, you may specialize in cleaning high rises over 10 storeys only. Establishing a niche can be a strong strategy for growing a business.

    Operational software. Technology that exists on your computer or phone that helps manage the business. This may include scheduling, tracking cleaners, communication systems, and payment processing. Swept is an example of operational software specifically built for commercial cleaning businesses.

    Residential cleaning. Specific cleaning services that are carried out in people’s main residences. This almost always happens during the day versus at night.

    Sustainability. A broad term that implies that a given activity can be continued on indefinitely without eventually collapsing due to its own costs or other negative impacts. An important strategic idea when thinking about both your business, the environment, and relationship

    Subcontractors- This is when you delegate your work to another contractor. You pay and deal with the subcontractor instead of your client.

    Vendors- These companies provide your company goods and services needed to run your business. Examples: cleaning supplies (product), bookkeeping (service). Building strong relationships with vendors can be a smart long-term strategy.

    Walkthrough- A type of inspection where someone literally walks through a space to determine what job needs to be done and/or if the job was done properly.
    Before bidding on a space, you usually do a walkthrough to get a sense of how much space needs to be cleaned during each shift, how big or small is the space etc.

    Workflow- A detailed and specific set of steps designed to create efficiency within a business. Workflows may involve employees, software, or both.

    Work orders- A document given to an employee. It provides the information necessary for a specific cleaning task.


    Bleeding- When colors on carpet or any other fabric fade or start to mix into one another. This gets worse when it is hot and humid.

    Browning- A brownish or yellow “stain” that starts to appear on fabrics. High pH cleaning agents or too much water is a leading cause.

    Dirt retention- A property of a floor finish. High dirt retention means that dirt will get stuck into the finish, making it hard to sweep or clean. Low dirt retention is the goal for any good finish.

    Dry rot- When wood or other fiber-based material starts to decay thanks to fungi. Often a problem in carpets.

    Pitting- When small holes start to appear in the material, often due to improper cleaning. Common in a porous material like concrete.

    Spalling- When heat distorts materials such as concrete or terrazzo. A floor might crack, break, or splinter.


    Abrasive cleaners- Products that have tiny grains of material in them. These grains can help physically remove tough stains.

    Acidic cleaners- Products with a low pH. Acids help dissolve and break down built-up dirt or deposits. They can also be harmful to the skin and to the environment if not properly handled.

    Alkaline cleaner- Products with a high pH. Alkalines can also dissolve certain types of build-up, especially oily or greasy messes. Often used as a metal cleaner. Like acids, alkalines are also harmful to the skin and to the environment if not properly handled.

    Anhydrous soap- Soap that doesn’t use water.

    Antiseptic- A chemical that destroys harmful germs. Septic means “infected with harmful microorganisms.”

    Anti stat- A chemical that you put on carpets to reduce or remove static electricity.

    Beater-  A tool for removing dust or dirt from carpet before it is cleaned.

    Caustic soda- Another word for sodium hydroxide. It is used in heavy-duty detergents.

    Circling- Streaks that look like a circle on a carpet. Usually caused by improper use of a rotary shampooing device.

    Defoamer- A chemical added to a cleaning product to reduce the amount of foam it causes.

    Deodorize- Cover up or destroy the source of an odor.

    Foiled tabs- Keeps damp carpets separated from furniture, which protects both the carpet and the furniture during drying. Usually about 3 square inches, either plastic or paper.

    Fungicide- A product that kills fungi, such as mold.

    Iodophor- Iodine that is mixed with a detergent, used to kill germs.

    pH value- Measurement of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. The range is from 0 to 14, with 0 being extremely acidic. Pure water is perfectly neutral with a pH of 7.

    Operations Marketing

    Subscribe and get more content like this to your inbox


    Looking for Janitorial Business Software?