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A janitor cleaning the entrance to a building in Buenos Aires
A janitor cleaning the entrance to a building in Buenos Aires
A full-time janitors residence building, in South Korea
A full-time janitors residence building, in South Korea

A janitor (American English), also known as a custodian, porter, cleanser, cleaner or caretaker, is a person who cleans and maintains buildings. In some cases, they will also carry out maintenance and security duties. A similar position, but usually with more managerial duties and not including cleaning, is occupied by building superintendents in the United States and Canada and by site managers in schools in the United Kingdom. Cleaning is one of the most commonly outsourced services.


The word janitor derives from the Latin "ianitor",[1] meaning doorkeeper or porter, itself from "ianua", meaning door, entrance or gate.[2] This derives from "Janus", the Roman god of doors, gates and portals.[3]

Its first recorded use meaning "caretaker of a building, man employed to see that rooms are kept clean" was in 1708.[2]

Occupational tasks

Most of the work performed by janitors and building cleaners is indoors. Office buildings are usually cleaned when they are vacant, so most of the office janitorial staff work during the evening. The work can be physically taxing and sometimes dirty and unpleasant.[4] General janitor duties often include the following tasks:

  • Cleaning and restocking bathrooms
    • Sinks
    • Toilets
    • Urinals
    • Scrubbing feces from toilet, floor and stall
    • Floor cleaning, refinishing, and polishing (sweeping, mopping, scrubbing and buffing)
    • Clearing garbage bins
    • Restocking restroom paper products and other supplies such as feminine products and air fresheners
    • Cleaning mirrors
  • Cleaning floors (mopping, sweeping, polishing)
  • Carpet cleaning (dry method, extraction, steam and bonnet)
  • Cleaning carpeting (vacuuming)
  • Cleaning stainless steel and other special surfaces
  • Clearing lunch room/kitchen
  • Cleaning tables in cubicles, meeting rooms, etc.
  • Window washing
  • Scrubbing concrete
  • Emptying trash and recycling bins
  • Unlocking and locking buildings at the beginning and end of the day
  • Operation of building systems (turning on and off lights, setting thermostats, etc.) In some places, this may include testing/maintaining/setting building safety/security systems (fire alarms, burglar alarms, surveillance cameras, etc.)
  • Stripping and waxing floors using floor buffer
  • Cleaning air-conditioner vents
  • Crime scene cleaning (requires being fully certified and pay scale starts from $300.00 to $700.00+ an hour[5][6])
  • Spot cleaning (generally spills – coffee for instance)
  • Sanitization
  • Room and event setups (tables and chairs, audio video equipment, etc.) (college/schools, etc.)
  • Raising and lowering flags (schools)
  • Removing graffiti or other forms of vandalism
  • Minor maintenance work, such as: changing light bulbs and filters, replacing ceiling tiles, doing small repairs, fixing small leaks, performing testing and monitoring of building equipment, etc. In some places, other people may do these maintenance tasks.
  • Outdoor work, such as: cleaning walkways, litter pickup, mowing lawns, tending to landscape plantings, leaf cleanup, snow removal, etc. In some places, groundskeepers or a separate company may do outdoor work.
  • Porterage (internal deliveries; movement of equipment or people in hospitals, colleges, etc.)
  • Unclogging blocked drains and toilets
  • Removing vomit, urine, and feces from public areas

Pay scale

In 2010, the median pay of a janitor working in the US was $10.68 per hour. The yearly salary could grow by 11% according to the statistics of 2010.[4]

Office cleaning

Janitorial closet in Elko, Nevada, United States
Janitorial closet in Elko, Nevada, United States

Office cleaning staff perform many of the same duties as janitors. However the tasks are divided among different members. Additional tasks include:

  • watering plants (pruning as well)
  • cleaning sinks, refrigerators, microwaves and toasters in office kitchens; clearing recycling and garbage bins
  • dusting furniture and computer equipment (monitors and desk area, but excluding keyboards) and tables


Cleaning is one of the most commonly outsourced services.[7] Some of the reasons for this include:

  • Basic cleaning tasks are standardised, with little variation among different enterprises.
  • The nature of the job and required standard of performance can be clearly defined and specified in a contract, unlike more technical or professional jobs for which such specification is harder to develop.
  • Some organizations prefer to outsource work unrelated to their core business in order to save additional salaries and benefits required to manage the work.
  • Some organizations may feel uncomfortable dealing with labour relations related to low wage employees; by outsourcing, these labor relations issues are transferred to a contractor whose staff are comfortable and experienced in dealing with these issues, and their approach can benefit from economies of scale.
  • If a janitor is unavailable due to sickness or leave, a contractor which employs many janitors can easily assign a substitute. A small organisation which employs one or a few janitors directly will have much more trouble with this.


Between 17% to 23% of the total undocumented immigrant population living in the United States work in the cleaning industry[8] (and growing at a rate of 1/2% to 1/3% percent per year). In addition to this population offering an abundant source of inexpensive labor,[9] janitorial work is mostly undertaken at night, making it an appealing option for janitorial companies to employ undocumented workers[10][11] seeking clandestine employment.

In the Netherlands, the number of cleaning companies grew from 5,000 in 2003 to 8,000 in 2008.[12]

See also


  1. ^ "janitor", Wiktionary, 2021-08-31, retrieved 2022-01-02
  2. ^ a b "janitor | Etymology, origin and meaning of janitor by etymonline". Retrieved 2022-01-02.
  3. ^ "'Janitor': A Word History". Retrieved 2022-01-02.
  4. ^ a b "Janitors and Building Cleaners : Occupational Outlook Handbook: : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics".
  5. ^ Morreale, Don (July 6, 2012). "Crime Scene Cleaners mops up after mayhem". The Denver Post. Archived from the original on April 8, 2013.
  6. ^ Facts about Crime Scene Cleaners! by Documents & Resources for Small Business Professionals DOCSTOC News Source, Fed 12, 2013
  7. ^ Torrington, Derek; Hall, Laura; Taylor, Stephen (2008). Contracts, Contractors and Consultants. ISBN 9780273710752.
  8. ^ Weltin, Dan (2010-05-21). "Immigration Reform: There's Always An Excuse". Retrieved 2011-11-13.
  9. ^ Mollenkamp, Becky (2011-04-11). "Illegal Subcontracting Bad Apples: Illegal subcontracting's continuing impact on the BSC industry". Retrieved 2011-04-11.
  10. ^ Ridgely, Lisa (2010-03-01). "Overdue Diligence: How BSCs can avoid hiring undocumented workers". Retrieved 2010-04-01.
  11. ^ Miriam, Jordan (2011-08-15). "Immigration Audits Drive Illegal Workers Underground: ABM Caught for Employing illegal immigrants". Retrieved 2011-08-15.
  12. ^ Data from the employers' organisation in The Netherlands provided by EU-OSHA's Focal Point Literature review - The occupational safety and health of cleaning workers EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work

Further reading

  • The dictionary definition of janitor at Wiktionary
  • Media related to Janitors at Wikimedia Commons
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