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How an Ambitious House Cleaner Showed Thousands of People That Toilet Scrubbing Can Be a Noble Profession

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Editor's note: This tour of small businesses across the country highlights the imagination, diversity, and resilience of American enterprise.

Vinegar on granite countertops is bad news. Bad for the granite's finish. Bad for the cleaner who damages the granite's finish and likely loses a customer. Bad for the whole cleaning profession when that customer decides never to trust another wipe-wielding outsider in her home and denigrates the profession to her neighbors.

Grace Reynolds won't tolerate it. The co-owner of Handmaid Cleaning, in Walla Walla, Washington, sees her job as a calling, an art, a science. She wants to elevate her fellow cleaners in the public eye and exalt their roles as champions of health and restorers of order and beauty.

That's why Grace and her husband Kevin preside over a Facebook community of more than 19,000 cleaners who share tips on removing stains, sure, but also reassure one another about the dignity of their work. That's why they started a professional organization to help other small cleaning businesses thrive. And that's why they persuaded the folks at the National Day Calendar, official registrar of all things commemorative, to proclaim September 17 as National Professional House Cleaners Day.

"There is a deep stigma attached to the cleaning profession," Grace says. "We want to see reciprocated respect between the client and the cleaner. And we want cleaners to have love for the work they do and the service they provide."

Handmaid Cleaning employs between 10 and 17 people, depending on the season, and has annual sales of around $500,000. It is a business dedicated to cleanliness that emerged from two very messy lives. The Reynoldses, who now speak in rapturous tones about baseboards and PH balances, survived divorce, unemployment and--in Grace's case--abuse. Between them they have 11 children, aged 14 years to 2 months.

Perhaps that's where their empathy comes from. Empathy for other cleaners "whose family members or husbands or boyfriends look down on them for the work they do," says Grace. And empathy for clients, whose problems they can't solve but whose lives they make more manageable.

Michelle Dressler, who lives in Walla Walla, found Handmaid two years ago in an online directory of regional services for people undergoing cancer treatment. "Kevin came out to my house and was so compassionate and kind and asked what I needed," says Dressler,........

© Inc.com