It's every woman's dream - and probably has drifted into the consciousness of a few men, too. Walk into your brand new home. Everything is spotless, the drawers and closets are empty and ready to use, the bathrooms sparkle, the kitchen gleams, the windows are crystal clear. Everything is fresh and new and breathtakingly clean.
Great, huh?Well, it wouldn't be that way if not for a little known segment of the home building industry - the post-construction cleaners who vacuum, dust, scrub, tidy and do more knuckle-busting housework in a new home than most people ever do during heavy-duty spring cleaning.
Just ask Lori Martain and Carol Sundberg, the owners of Spatz Cleaning. This two-woman dynamo decided in 1992 that they wanted to be their own bosses and work only part time so they could spend more time with their families. They printed fliers, took them around to contractors and phoned prospects endlessly to launch their cleaning business.
Today, they have so many work offers they do no advertising and even turn down jobs because they're too busy.
They had learned from a mutual friend that this kind of cleaning paid well, but it was hard work.
Little did they know.
"No really sane person would have done it. There is so much involved," Sundberg said, laughing. "The first house we did took 20 hours."
Since then, they've discovered many tricks of the trade while on the job and can leave a home flawlessly clean in eight to 10 hours.
Most people don't realize how much of a mess is left in a new home. Some contractors insist that subcontractors tidy up after themselves - and these are heroes as far as Sundberg and Martain are concerned. But there are carpet layers who leave big strips of leftover carpeting all over, carpenters who toss packaging materials helter skelter and drywallers who leave chunks of stuff everywhere.
It's not unusual for a bathtub or spa to be heaped with boards, nails, inches of dust and pieces of drywall. (The women say careful contractors cover tubs and spas with cardboard or plywood to protect the finish. It's also a good idea to cover heating ducts.)
But even a job overseen by the best contractor is bound to include some mess that just naturally occurs as part of the building process.
Hardwood floors have to be sanded - and fine dust flies around and lands everywhere. During construction, people have to go in and out of a building and the wind brings in more dust. Sawdust and construction go hand-in-hand. New appliances are always plastered with huge sticky labels that somebody must remove.
That's where Sundberg and Martain come in.
They tackle a house from top to bottom, cleaning virtually every surface except the ceiling.
In a kitchen, they'll usually vacuum surfaces first, then dust, then wet-wipe with water, or ammonia- or vinegar-water mixtures. They sometimes need lacquer thinner to take off sticky appliance labels. They wipe down all molding, clean light fixtures, vacuum and wet-wipe the insides and outsides of every cabinet, and remove drawers to clean beneath them.
Many walls turn out nicely with just a thorough brushing with a long-handled dust mop. The women also vacuum heating ducts and baseboards, clean window tracks with toothbrushes, and attend to floors. Sometimes a 40-foot ladder is needed to reach chandeliers.
Bathrooms are a real challenge, especially tubs. The women sweep the junk out of a tub (rinsing it away would clog plumbing), give it a once-over with a scrub brush, delicately scrape away paint chips with a razor knife, sweep the tub again, vacuum it and fill it up with water to soak.
Later, they can actually clean it.
Martain and Sundberg don't use any exotic materials in their work. They prefer Amway products because they say these work well, are bio-degradeable and are easy on their hands (the women wear rubber gloves only occasionally). The duo also likes some pretreated dust cloths purchased at a janitorial supply store and have an industrial strength vacuum cleaner.
"A regular vacuum won't pull the stuff out of vents," said Martain. "We need it for the sawdust in cupboards. We're not talking about a film of it. Sometimes there's an inch of sawdust in cupboards."
Otherwise, they use fairly ordinary materials and lots of elbow grease.
They used to do windows, but now they hire that out. "We were spending so much time cleaning windows, we were almost too tired to clean the house," Sundberg said.
Martain and Sundberg usually charge 10 cents per square foot but sometimes raise their rates if a house is especially dirty. They always work together and carry a mobile phone. If they take on a night assignment, one of their husbands comes along for safety's sake.
Best friends for years, they enjoy working together and have their cleaning system down so well that there is little need to talk about how to divide tasks. One rule: never leave a room until it's completely finished.
Their business is so healthy they're considering hiring others but aren't sure if this is the time to move into a management mode - something they've had experience with in previous employment. "It's a big step for us," Martain said.
So, what are their own houses like?
Martain, the mother of two, and Sundberg, who has four children, just laugh.
"It's hard to keep up your own house when you're so busy with others," Martain said. "It's funny," adds Sundberg, "but when I've got company coming, I'll get out the toothbrush and do the toothbrush routine."
And has the business turned out the way they wanted?
Yes, both women say. They have income and flexible schedules so they can be with their husbands and children. "We're used to it, although it is hard on the knees and the hands," said Martain. "We go through lots of lotion," adds Sundberg. "Gallons of it."