How to deal with my housecleaner's response to an injury
November 26, 2018 11:54 AM   Subscribe

We have twice monthly housecleaners who do most things, including mop our floors. Our upstairs hallway has, in the past, been a bit slippery after they've mopped, and last Wednesday, I had quite a bad fall that left me very bruised. I'm pregnant and worried about slipping and hurting myself or baby. The housecleaners... aren't cooperating.

I sent them an email once I arrived home today, because the fall occurred about 10 minutes before we left for the airport for the holiday last week. The email said (verbatim):

Last Wednesday, as we were about to leave for the airport, I slipped and fell in our upstairs hallway. We’ve noticed that some of the hardwood floors in our hallway upstairs are slippery after they’re mopped. This time, I was injured quite badly, and it made me worry about these issues as I progress in pregnancy and once our child is born.

I’m wondering what we can do to ensure that the floors are mopped up thoroughly and no slippery residue is left on the floor. We can remove tasks (like changing the sheets) if it would help you to have more time for this one.

Of course, there was a greeting and salutation and my husband was CC'd. I thought this was a reasonable email that was minimized blame and moved quickly to looking for a solution. I also sent them a photo of my bruising (again, it's quite bad!).

The response I got was:

We’ve been using Murphy’s oil soap almost exclusively every time we clean. Should we just not mop the upstairs hall?

This was from the owner of the company. No greeting, no apology, no sign-off whatsoever. I'm a little dumbfounded and ready to go berserk, honestly. I'm six months pregnant and had a really bad fall due to their negligence. And I'm simply asking them to do better so that no further injury is done (to me, husband or baby).

Is this cleaner appropriate for hardwood floors? Is it possible that it is just residue on the floor, or that their mop solution is too highly concentrated?

And how the F*UCK do I even respond to this? OF COURSE I want you to mop the floors. I'M PAYING YOU TO DO THAT. Grr.
posted by ancient star to Human Relations (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry this happened to you!

Yes, Murphy's Oil Soap is good/fine/appropriate to use on hardwood floors. However--generally speaking, a little tiny bit of this stuff in a bucket of warm water goes a long, long way. To make the floors so slippery that someone would fall like this tells me they're not diluting it enough (or at all--which would be absolutely bananas but you never know)
posted by Automocar at 12:05 PM on November 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm sorry you fell, and glad you weren't more seriously injured.

Our upstairs hallway has, in the past, been a bit slippery after they've mopped, and last Wednesday, I had quite a bad fall that left me very bruised.

It sounds like slippery post-mop floors has been an ongoing issue, but that you've never reported it to them. Is that right? If so, I can understand why they might be thrown by your email... to them, this probably seems like it's coming out of the blue.

It's one thing for a housekeeper to hear, "Hey, the floors were a little slippery after you mopped this week, what can we do differently?" and quite another for them to basically hear, "You've been leaving our floor dangerously slippery for n months, and even though we never mentioned it to you, we're now upset that our unborn baby could have been hurt!" They may also be afraid to say too much about it, and particularly afraid to say anything that might look like they are accepting blame, in case you seek legal action against them.

I think you should reply and say, "We definitely need you to mop the upstairs hall. Do you have a non-oil-based soap you could try? If not, let's try a water-only mop and see how that works."
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:06 PM on November 26, 2018 [46 favorites]

I'm six months pregnant and had a really bad fall due to their negligence.

What negligence? You have hardwood floors, you hire them to clean them, you cleaning crew uses a completely appropriate cleaner for wooden floors. You can email back and ask them to dilute the Murphy's more though it might be sub-optimal for the floors.

At this point, that's probably a trade-off you would choose and that's fine but I don't think they've done anything wrong. This is an issue you've been aware of but not raised previously, so you need to proceed with that awareness.

I'm glad you and your bump are fine!
posted by DarlingBri at 12:09 PM on November 26, 2018 [101 favorites]

"Hi again,
To answer your question: no. I would hope that isn't the only available option here, as this is a service we're paying for and think is important to continue. We had hoped you could ask your employees to run a dry cloth or mop over any newly-washed areas, or possibly look into other cleaners, or diluting the current mixture slightly. I'm sure you agree that it's unreasonable for a busy, expectant mother to have to worry for her safety and that of her unborn child in her own home, and I hope we can find a way to cooperate here that addresses this very real, easily remedied problem with no impact on the service we're paying for. Thanks. "
posted by marsbar77 at 12:10 PM on November 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm sorry this happened.
It's very possible they didn't apologize because they're afraid you might want to sue. My lawyer parents drilled it into my head to never, ever apologize after an accident because it could be considered an admission of guilt.
posted by FencingGal at 12:10 PM on November 26, 2018 [44 favorites]

Is it slippery while it’s drying, or slippery from the soap?

If the latter, it’s the dilution. Just let them know.

If it’s the former, the only sure-fire ways I know of to get the floor dry right away are 1. Towel dry or 2. Use a steam mop, which still can leave it wet a few minutes.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:10 PM on November 26, 2018 [8 favorites]

I'm assuming that your offering to take things off the chore roster means you think starting earlier would solve it, which means you slipped on a wet floor, right? Unless that's not the case, then you're right, the fix is for them to mop the floors earlier in their sojourn in the house. Murphy's oil soap is the go-to for wood floors AFAIK; it wouldn't be the fault of the soap but just that the floor was wet. I've wiped out on my wood floors a couple of times but never when they're dry, only when wet--with plain water once and with rubbing alcohol once. I don't know what my housecleaner uses but I'm never home 'til hours after she's finished, so the floors are dry, so I don't WarnerBros all over the house. If the floor's wet, you can't walk on it safely no matter what it's wet with, in my experience, anyway, so they need to start earlier.

In any case, if his response is to try to blame it on the soap or say there's no solution because they used the gold standard Murphy's oil soap and if he's ignoring your suggestion that they do a thing that could work, I'd just fire them right now, no more fiddling with it. If the floor was dry, then they're probably using way too much soap. Actually, that's nonsense, too. They're the professionals and should know better. Lookit, who needs this? Not somebody with a baby on the way. I say FIRED.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:11 PM on November 26, 2018

To clarify:

The floors are always dry.

We may have an errant spot or two that is slippery for several days after mopping. We've NEVER had a serious issue, and only a mildly slippy area here and there, so that's why we've never mentioned it, but that's a reasonable point to make. I think it's from the oil soap.

I suggested removing things from the roster because I wasn't initially sure if it was related to carelessness/rushing in getting rid of the soap from the floor, not from the concentration of the soap. I have no idea though. :(
posted by ancient star at 12:19 PM on November 26, 2018

Don't read anything into terseness or tone or wording of emails you get from people. Most people are not thinking about the tone of their emails. Even people who write for a living, which your housekeepers don't.

Hardwood floors can get slippery. The cleaners are asking for instructions. Tell the cleaners exactly what you want them to do. I am not sure it is within their power to make hardwood not be slippery unless they have been applying something weird to it, like waxing. If you want them to dilute the Murphy's, tell them that. But yeah Murphy's is the standard thing to use on wood floors.

(I am very sorry you fell, that must have been scary AF. Glad you're ok. Hardwood is pretty but it can be hazardous. I stayed in a lodge room once with gorgeous wood floors so slippery that I fell getting out of bed, and very narrowly missed knocking out half my teeth. It can be a real hazard, and you may need to do some experimenting with dilution and/or put down some very grippy mats.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:21 PM on November 26, 2018 [21 favorites]

One more clarification: Our entire house is hardwood. It's not a new house. This kind of fall is not normal.
posted by ancient star at 12:25 PM on November 26, 2018

No, this kind of fall is not normal.

I can't tell you what to do, but what I would do in this situation is replace the housecleaners. Nothing comes above baby's safety.
posted by Mistress at 12:29 PM on November 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

Yes, I'd replace the housecleaners. An appropriate response would be for a supervisor to go over proper use of the materials prior to (or in person at) their next visit. Hardwood floors being slippery after use of oil soap indicates either improper dilution or incomplete follow-through (or both). I would make abundantly clear to your new housecleaners why you've fired these folks, and ask them to take particular care to ensure that walking surfaces are safe prior to completing their visit(s).
posted by pammeke at 12:36 PM on November 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yes, it's rather odd that a business owner would not acknowledge your injury, even with "I hope you're okay". I might want to find another business.

Hardwood shouldn't need weekly mopping unless it's really that vinyl that looks like wood. Ask them to use just water. or to dustmop. Modern hardwood floors usually have a strong coating - acrylic or polyurethane - and a very mild detergent should do, Murphy's is traditional, not necessarily better. Old hardwood floors may have old varnish, which does not benefit from water. For varnish, strip & wax every year or so, walk carefully until the wax cures enough. We had a long-legged dog who was pretty hilarious on freshly-waxed floors. Also, traditionally hardwood floors had rugs.
posted by theora55 at 12:39 PM on November 26, 2018 [9 favorites]

we've had better luck with the independent house cleaner versus the cleaning service that we previously used. when we used a service we dealt with broken lamps and 'missing' prescriptions before we finally said "um, no".
posted by noloveforned at 12:42 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hmmm... I wonder... Is there something in that hall that they might be dusting with Pledge or similar? Because this one time I was cleaning some new-to-me very dusty furniture I'd just bought at an auction or an estate sale and I wasn't particularly careful with the Pledge I was spraying and afterwards the floor near where I'd cleaned the shelf or the desk or whatever it was was really slippery until I mopped it. So if they're cleaning maybe banisters or picture frames or something maybe the Pledge is flying and some of it's ending up on the floor? It's full of wax and will render the floor icyslick.

In any case and however it happened, I very much do not like the boss's "should we just not do the main part of our job anymore" response and think he should go away and reapply when he's learned how to run a housecleaning business without resorting to boneheaded practices that injure his clients.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:52 PM on November 26, 2018 [12 favorites]

I have hardwood floors and a few spots used to be really really slippery after the cleaners were done with them. I just asked them to stop using cleaning fluid and just use a slightly damp mop or cloth.

It’s possible this isn’t great for the floors, but it might be a good solution while you’re extra physically vulnerable.

Getting the floors unslippery was actually pretty difficult. I ended up trying several different solvents (goo gone, rubbing alcohol) and I don’t remember which worked.
posted by congen at 12:57 PM on November 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

My floor guy (refinisher/installer) expressly said not to ever use Murphy's Oil Soap because of residue issues and recommended Bona hardwood floor cleaner. I also think that if they're using something like Pledge on the furniture or other wood in the hallway, it could be landing on the floor and making slippery spots. Pledge residue is extremely slippery.

Also, unless there's a lot of mess on those floors from tracking stuff around or messy pets a dust mop or using a slightly damp (water or Bona cleaner only) mop is a solution. I dust my floors mostly and spot clean if needed. I only wet mop with Bona once a month. I also don't wear street shoes in the house and don't have kids, so YMMV.

That terrible customer service is another issue.
posted by quince at 1:09 PM on November 26, 2018 [11 favorites]

I think you sent this into Code Red status when you sent them a photo of your injury. That sort of reads to me as a final warning before you file a lawsuit or go on a reputation-destroying Yelp review binge (not saying you would, but if I was your housecleaning company, I'd have a hard time not considering the possibility).

Their best move is definitely to not acknowledge that this might have been their fuck-up, and to put it on you to tell them exactly how you want them to handle the upstairs in the future. If they said "oh sure, we'll dilute the Murphy's next time" and it's still slippery and you fall and get hurt, what kind of liability does that open them up to? (I don't know, IANAL, but it seems that by serving official notice that the upstairs floors are a death trap you've tied their hands a bit in terms of trying to find a workable compromise that still gets those floors cleaned).

Don't expect an apology or anything other than a strictly-business tone to your communications going forward. If they don't want to work on finding a cleaning solution for the upstairs I wouldn't really blame them, and you sound pretty fed up with them for your part, so maybe it's just time to look for new cleaners.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:17 PM on November 26, 2018 [37 favorites]

I'm surprised it took this many answers to say DON'T use Murphy's. My hardwood installer specifically told us not to use it, same with 2 different house cleaners. Murphy's can absolutely leave a waxy or slippery residue after using it repeatedly. I would google around and do your own research on this, but Bona is an industry standard for cleaning hardwood well.

I would respond with clarification and restate your expectations: "We definitely want all hardwood floors cleaned while you are here. Please make sure they are dry before you go. [if you want to switch cleaners you could say: we think the Murphy's may be leaving a residue and we'd like to try using a new cleanser to see if this helps the problem]. I'm sure you can appreciate we need to be extra careful to avoid slippery floors right now."
posted by LKWorking at 1:23 PM on November 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

I am not sure it is within their power to make hardwood not be slippery unless they have been applying something weird to it, like waxing.

Improperly diluted Murphy's might as well be wax.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:28 PM on November 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

We have been using the same housecleaner for many years, and parts of our hardwood floor are always a bit slick after she cleans them - and she just uses a steam cleaner - no soap at all, usually. After my 10-yo fell twice (growth spurt, gangly, running in socks) in the hallway one weekend after they'd been cleaned, I threw one of these rugs down in the hall.
posted by Medley at 1:38 PM on November 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

My floor refinisher said the same as quince's and LKWorking's -- never use Murphy's Oil Soap on hardwood (it leaves a dulling residue), and do use Bona. You might consider just buying some Bona for your housecleaners and asking them to use it instead of the Murphy's.
posted by ourobouros at 1:41 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Provide them with a bottle of Bona floor cleaner to use. Murphy’s IS slippery, don’t risk it.
posted by lydhre at 1:44 PM on November 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'd ask them to clean the floors with only hot water for the rest of your pregnancy. Your floors will be clean enough with that probably. If you've been happy with their services otherwise that is. And don't take the terse email personally--industries like this do not afford people much time to read or reply to emails, let alone craft a thoughtful response. I agree that they did not apologize because it could be held against them in a lawsuit.

I second that Murphy's is not recommended for certain kinds of hardwood floors. If you absolutely must have them use a soap, try the Bona floor cleaner. (I clean my hardwood floors with a little vinegar in hot water, but then again I only clean them with water about once a year. Otherwise I just sweep and dry dust mop.)
posted by purple_bird at 2:06 PM on November 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

I clean houses for a living. I agree with folks above; the terse email was tactless, but they were either not thinking much about their email communications, or were afraid of admitting guilt in case of a lawsuit.

It makes no sense to mop earlier. It really only makes sense to clean top to bottom, because gravity. Therefore mopping generally happens last.

I suggest you invest in a steam mop. I use a cheapy Shark brand at work, and they can be had for about $40. You do NOT need to use soap. Just water is adequate because all of the dirt gets steamed off.

Request they use the steam mop, and use a small fan to dry the floor quickly (or open a few doors for a cross breeze if the weather is warm enough). Have large towels handy, and request they dry the floor completely before leaving. I just step on the towels and shuffle around to get everything dry.

Have a gentle all purpose spray such as vinegar diluted in water, or a TINY amount of Murphy’s mixed in water, in a spray bottle, labeled, and tell them to use ONLY this spray and no other substance on the floors. The spray is just for tough spots that won’t clean with just a steam mop.

If you were to type or write these instructions all out for them to have handy until they get used to the new routine, that would be ideal.
posted by shalom at 2:12 PM on November 26, 2018 [15 favorites]

We've been using Murphy's oil every time we clean
(This is a standard thing for us to do and this is the first time we've heard that it's an issue. Should we just assume this was bad luck and keep cleaning as usual?)

Should we just not mop the upstairs hall?
(What is it that you would like for us to do, keep cleaning, clean differently or not clean at all, we just want to make you happy.)

Basically, you've complained (rightly so, you were hurt and it could have been much worse!) but the issue is you haven't been clear in the outcome that you've wanted and you expect for the cleaners to read your mind. If I were you, I'd ask them nicely to stop using the oil and just use hot water and vinegar (what my cleaners use on my floors).
That eliminates most of the risk, both physically and legally. It's not really fair to get upset with the cleaners, it's the first time there's been a problem and they are attempting to work with you to make sure it doesn't happen again.
posted by Jubey at 2:47 PM on November 26, 2018 [19 favorites]

FASCINATING. A rogue person responded to my email, perhaps not seeing the owner’s email, and said this:

Thank you for letting us know. I have discussed this with the cleaners and they will try damp mopping with water next visit to see if that works. I'm very sorry that you fell on the floor and we definitely want to make sure that doesn't happen again.

This definitely the sort of thing I was looking for, so I plan to thank them and say we can try the water route for now. I’ll chalk the owner’s terseness up to her own business and hope this second person isn’t in trouble.
posted by ancient star at 3:43 PM on November 26, 2018 [27 favorites]

Don't read anything into terseness or tone or wording of emails you get from people. Most people are not thinking about the tone of their emails.

I (respectfully, but absolutely) disagree with this. Even if they don't want to admit guilt, there is no reason to omit "hello" or "hi" and "best" or "sincerely" as all that is accomplished is unnecessarily adding brusqueness to an exhange that is already tense. Want to avoid lawsuits? Being courteous to people won't ward them all off, but it does provide a chance to create a space where a situation like this can be resolved. The second response, even had it not included the word "sorry," is much better and much more what I as a customer would expect from a company after telling them I had injured myself while pregnant on the wet floors that they left behind, but still were seeking an amicable solution, as ancient star apparently is.

As to wood floors, when I had vinyl that looked like wood, I used plain old Lysol, and for real wooden floors I find that ones with an older finish like Murphy's while ones with a modern finish seem to be fine (I could be wrong) with either Murphy's or Lysol, diluted per directions.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 6:43 PM on November 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just another person chiming in to say that yes, while Murphy's is the go-to for many when it comes to hardwood, it can leave a very slippery residue, especially when not diluted prperly. My Mom had this issue, and the cleaners now clean her hardwood floors with a vinegar and water solution. She's had no problems with slipperyness since.

By the way, I don't think you're overreacting to the owner's email. It was rude and curt. The owner could have been more polite while not admitting fault. I'm guessing there was some defensiveness/fear of a lawsuit behind the response, but that's still not okay.
posted by katemcd at 12:28 PM on November 27, 2018

If your whole house is hardwood, and they're cleaning all the floors the same way, then I can't see how the slippery floor in one area is their fault. You should've just told them that one area is slipperier than the rest of the house for some reason and asked them to clean it differently. Instead you included a bunch of unnecessary personal details and blamed them.

I tend to send terse emails because if something pops up in my inbox that warrants a quick reply, I'll just type it up fast and send it. People have varying approaches to how much formality is required in an email, so the lack of a salutation or sign-off isn't necessarily intentionally dismissive. In this case, the owner may have been trying to resolve your issue quickly, so she shot off something short to ask what you wanted from them, since your email didn't actually include that information.
posted by Mavri at 7:08 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

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