The world of cleaning has many different niches and categories. When you’re first starting out as a cleaning business owner, you may decide to specialize in (or expand into) one type or another.

    Or, as our CEO Michael Brown advises, you might be in a position to make these decisions after you’ve taken on a variety of different cleaning contracts and have an idea of what kind of work fits your team best.

    Either way, it’s a good idea to understand the vast variety of different cleaning opportunities and niches that exist out there.

    To get started, let’s look at two of the biggest and most common categories: commercial cleaning and residential cleaning.

    Time of the day

    One of the biggest differences between the two is what time your cleaners will work, and this difference is literally night and day!

    Most commercial cleanings happen in the evening and at night or even on weekends when the business is not in operation. This is especially true for restaurants and retail stores. Office spaces may have some daytime needs but most of the work is still done in the evening and at night.

    On the flip side, almost all residential cleaning is done during the day when the occupants are at work (or at least not trying to sleep!)

    In order to successfully run a business that specializes in commercial cleaning, you will need to find and retain people who are willing to work the night shifts and/or on the weekends. This extra challenge is balanced by the fact that it can be easier to travel and get work done when everyone else has gone to bed.

    Detail & speed

    Commercial spaces tend to have fewer fine details to worry about, but there’s also much more stuff to clean. Commercial cleaning crews are trained for speed and prioritizing the most important spaces.

    Making sure every nook and cranny is spotless is important for residential cleaning, but there is typically less overall space to cover. Residential cleaners are trained to take their time and cover every last detail.

    These tradeoffs require different skill sets and different approaches to training. A crew that is used to commercial cleaning cannot be expected to switch over to residential cleaning (and vice versa) without proper training.


    The attitudes of clients are very different in these categories. Both you and your team need to understand how they think.

    Commercial cleaning clients are typically concerned with how well you’re delivering on your contract. They’ll be less picky about details and more sensitive to big mistakes, missed deadlines, or complaints from the people who work in the space.

    Residential cleaning clients will be very sensitive to details since you are working in their homes. They may have specific requests and can notice even the smallest error.

    Client-cleaner interactions

    It is much more likely that residential cleaners will meet and speak regularly with the client.

    Commercial cleaners on the night shift may only see a few people, and may never meet the actual client.

    This means it’s important for residential cleaners to have strong social and communication skills. They need to be comfortable with dealing directly with a residential client, especially if that client is upset!


    Commercial cleaning contracts are usually not paid out immediately. You will send them an invoice, and depending on the contract, you may need to wait 30, 60 or even 90 days before the bill is due. This “lag” in payment can have serious impacts on your ability to do business and make payroll, so it needs to be planned and accounted for.

    Residential cleaning jobs usually have much shorter delays or no delays at all—the client often pays the cleaner on the same day that the work is done.

    Sales & marketing

    All commercial cleaning contracts are done “business to business” or B2B. This usually means that it takes much more time, effort, and resources to secure a commercial cleaning contract. You often need to go through several stages of vetting, convince multiple departments and decision-makers, negotiate on price, etc.

    Residential cleaning contracts are “business to consumer” or B2C. It is much more direct because fewer people are involved in making the decision. There are usually no departments or extensive layers of process involved: it is a person or family that needs their space cleaned.

    The tradeoff is in the size of the contracts. One commercial cleaning contract might secure enough work to equal dozens or even hundreds of smaller residential contracts. But it might take 20 times the effort to get that commercial contract.


    via GIPHY

    Your profit margins will look different for each category of cleaning.

    Commercial cleaning contracts tend to have lower profit margins, and as they get bigger the margins shrink further. However, because they are big, this might be a favorable situation compared to having many high-margin residential contracts.

    Put it this way: would you rather have 25% of $10,000 or 50% of $100?

    But if you can successfully maintain a good volume of high-margin residential contracts, then this could also be a good way to make money in the long run.

    Final thoughts: which is better? Commercial or residential?

    Only you can decide if one or the other is a better fit for you and your team. You probably noticed that there is almost always a tradeoff between the two: the disadvantages balance out the advantages.

    You may want to run a company that does both!

    Or, you might pick a deeper niche within one of them. For example, before Swept became a software company for cleaning companies, it specialized in daycare cleaning—a subcategory of commercial cleaning. That decision was made well after Swept had tried several other types of contracts. It turned out that day cares were a perfect niche for Michael Brown and the team
    (you can hear more about this story in this video).

    We hope that this article has given you some direction and ideas about the future of your cleaning company.

    Our team is always happy to talk shop and would love to show you how we can help manage your cleaning company. Book a call with one of our Janitorial Solutions Experts for more info


    Subscribe and get more content like this to your inbox


    Looking for Janitorial Business Software?