The UK cleaning industry is enormous and makes an important contribution to the UK economy. This article takes an in-depth look into the sector.
In the first part of this article we provide an overview of the size and structure of the overall UK cleaning industry. In the second section, we outline the growth in the sector and analyse growth drivers. Finally, we do a deep dive on the cleaning activities sub-sector which includes domestic cleaning.
Most of the data in this article is from 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the UK economy as a whole, including the cleaning sector. In a separate article, we explore structural trends in the sector and the likely impact of Covid-19.
(A) Overview of the UK cleaning industry
Size and importance of the UK cleaning industry
According to recent data from the BCC (British Cleaning Council), the cleaning industry contributes £54.5 billion to the UK economy every year. For comparison, this figure is greater than the economic contributions of food and drink manufacture and agriculture combined (£28 billion and £10.4 billion respectively).
Number of people employed in the UK cleaning market
The cleaning sector creates a huge number of jobs, employing over 970,000 people. If we also factor in other jobs that involve some degree of cleaning (such as hospitality), that number rises to over 1.6 million, which equates to 5% of the UK’s total workforce.
The geographic footprint of the sector is broadly in line with economic activity and population distribution. Over 35% of cleaning industry employees work in London and the South East of England.
The South East is also the fastest growing region. Between 2015 and 2018, the South East experienced a 19% increase in employment whereas Scotland, the North East of England, and the East Midlands all saw a decrease of employment in the industry of 8%, 4% and 2% respectively.
Source: British Cleaning Council
Number of UK cleaning businesses
There are nearly 65,000 businesses currently operating in the UK cleaning market. The industry is highly fragmented with a large number of small businesses. The average number of employees per business is only 15.
The majority of cleaning businesses are concentrated around London and the South East of England. Each of these areas has over 11,000 cleaning businesses. By comparison,the North East of England, has fewer than 2,000 cleaning businesses.
Cleaning industry sub-sectors
The industry comprises four main sub-sectors.
Cleaning activities - domestic and commercial cleaning, general cleaning of buildings
Facilities management - commercial management of real estate, renting and leasing machinery and equipment, facilities support
Landscape service activities - care and maintenance of parks, schools, commercial properties etc.
Waste and resource management - waste collection, treatment, and disposal
Source: British Cleaning Council
Nearly 50% of the cleaning industry’s economic contributions comes from facilities management, a sub-sector that covers renting and leasing of office equipment, real estate management and facility support.
Whilst the cleaning activities sub-sector accounts for just 17% of total revenue, it employs 480,000 people, representing 49% of total employees.
Cleaning worker gender analysis
The cleaning market employs more women (68%) than men (32%) but men do tend to dominate certain sectors (such as waste management).
In general cleaning roles, women make up 79% of the workforce. General cleaning includes office spaces and domestic households. Male cleaners, on the other hand, are far more prevalent in industrial environments.
Nationality of workers employed in the UK cleaning industry
While most cleaners were born in the UK, the cleaning industry employs more migrants on average than other UK industries. Over 40% of general cleaners are migrants, double the average in other industries of 18%.
In London, this figure is even higher with 62% of the London cleaning industry’s employees being migrants. In some parts of the country, these figures are significantly lower. For example, in the North East of England the vast majority (91%) of cleaning industry employees are UK natives. Of the migrant workers within the cleaning industry, 60% are European and 40% were born outside of Europe.
(B) Growth in the cleaning industry
The industry as a whole is growing at a faster rate than the national average. Since 2013, the industry’s turnover has increased by 28% while the economy grew by 14%.
Source: British Cleaning Council
Of the cleaning industry’s annual turnover, 48% comes from facilities management, a sub-sector which contributes nearly twice the amount of any other subsectors of the cleaning industry. The second largest contributor is waste management, contributing 26% while cleaning activities make up 17% of the cleaning industry’s annual turnover.
Reasons for increase in demand for cleaning services
The different sub-sectors of the cleaning industry have experienced increases in demand for a number of reasons:
Landscaping Activities - bolstered by the public sector outsourcing tasks that were previously handled in-house.
Waste & Resource Management - trend towards businesses outsourcing their waste disposal
Cleaning Activities - increased demand for domestic cleaners among young people
Facilities Management - growth in the demand for real estate management
Many companies have also begun to outsource their cleaning and waste disposal to external businesses, allowing for growth across every sub-sector of the cleaning industry. This growth is also supported by the barrier for entry to the sector being minimal as few qualifications are needed to find a job in the industry.
As recently as 2018, a significant proportion of young people aged 25-34 were either employing a cleaner or actively searching for one. Due to recent events impacting household incomes this is likely no longer the case. Once the economy begins to recover from COVID-19, however, we may see demand rising once again.
In London, many of these young professionals are working longer hours and are seeking outside help to ensure that their leisure time is not overtaken by chores. The relative ease of booking a cleaner through services like TidyChoice may also be a factor in this growth.
Between 2015 and 2018, most sub-sectors of the cleaning industry experienced a growth in total employment figures. The industry as a whole experienced a 5% growth rate with 920,000 total employees in 2015 and 970,000 in 2018. Landscape Activities was the only sub-sector to not experience growth, employing 10,000 fewer people in 2018 than they did in 2015. In contrast, the Waste & Resource Management sub-sector expanded its total employee count significantly in this period, with 95,000 employees in 2015 growing to just under 125,000 in 2018.
Wages in the cleaning industry have generally increased over the past 5 years, with a few exceptions. Back in 2015, wages in the sector increased by as much as 6.4%. This growth rate has now slowed but we can still observe a general upward trend in average wages across all four sub-sectors.
Source: British Cleaning Council
On average, employees in the cleaning industry earn above the UK living wage. Facilities Management pays the best rate with Waste & Resource Management seeing a recent uptick in average wages too. While wages took a dip for workers in the Cleaning Activities sub-sector in 2018, they were back on the rise at the time this data was recorded. With so many cleaning staff working in London it is worth considering that the London Living Wage is over £1 an hour higher than the UK Living Wage so some workers in the capital should be expected to earn slightly more, potentially impacting the national average.
(C) Cleaning activities sub-sector
The cleaning activities sub-sector includes domestic cleaning, external and internal cleaning of buildings, and other specialised cleaning tasks such as pool cleaning or extermination.
Number of cleaning companies
There are 21,000 businesses in the cleaning activities subsector, making up a third of all businesses in the industry as a whole. Given the high number of businesses, it is unsurprising that 80% of them are small and employ fewer than 10 people. The economic contributions of cleaning companies make up 17% of the industry’s total.
The sector is highly competitive. Barriers to entry are low and minimal skills are needed to enter the workforce. The five year survival rate of new cleaning businesses set up in 2013 was 32% which was lower than the UK economy rate of 42%.
In domestic cleaning, there are several franchises, such as Maid2clean, Missmaid and Mollymaids. In London, there are several new entrants that have established strong brands over the past five years, including TidyChoice, Helpling and Housekeep.
How many people are engaged in cleaning activities?
There are nearly 500,000 people employed by cleaning companies in the UK, more than half of the total employees in the cleaning industry as a whole. Of these employees the top four professions are domestic and commercial cleaners (65%), cleaning and housekeeping managers and supervisors (7%), window cleaners (7%), and pest control workers (3%).
Characteristics of workers engaged in cleaning activities
Unlike other areas of the cleaning industry, women dominate the cleaning activities sub-sector with 68% of all workers being female. If we only look at general cleaning of buildings, this figure rises to 79%.
The majority (60%) of these workers operate on a part-time basis, suggesting that the flexibility of the hours worked is appealing to many in the sector.
The rate of migrant workers is also at its highest in the general cleaning sector with 41% of workers involved in general cleaning being foreign-born. In comparison, the average figure across the whole cleaning industry is 18%.
British Cleaning Council, Industry Trends Report 2017
British Cleaning Council, The Cleaning and Support Services Industry: Research Report 2020
Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, Total income from Farming in the United Kingdom, first estimate for 2019
Food and Drink Federation, Our Industry At A Glance
Office for National Statistics, Employees in the UK (2018)