Picture this: An office worker returns to his building late at night to retrieve some additional files. The facility is largely deserted, and mostly dark. Suddenly, the occupant unexpectedly sees an unfamiliar person onsite. The occupant is nervous at first, but soon relaxes when he notices the stranger is wearing a janitorial uniform clearly identifying him from the local cleaning company. He is actually not a stranger at all, but a member of the team hired to clean the building.

Industry consultant Dick Ollek, president of Consultants in Cleaning, Camdenton, Mo., and former owner of Mid-America Building Maintenance Inc., uses this example when educating building service contractors about the benefits of uniforms. For 33 years, Ollek put his own employees in uniforms. A uniform not only makes janitors recognizable, but it can make them more productive and professional as well.


The usefulness of uniforms in identifying janitorial staff took on greater importance after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. With national security at an all-time high, it became more crucial that janitors don't look like some stranger who had walked in off the street. Customers appreciate service providers with easily identifiable employees.

"It helps when we're on their site if the security staff know who we are," says Randy McDonald, CEO of Nashville-based Global Janitorial Services. "It helps the tenants of the building know that when we're walking through their office, we don't have to say, 'Oh, I'm sorry, I'm with the cleaning company.' They can just see it on their shirts."

Clothes should be clearly labeled with the company's name and logo. This will not only make janitors easy to recognize, but also helps to market the company by associating it with how well work is performed. Unfortunately, marketing is one reason BSCs don't consider uniforms.

"If they have someone who's not performing properly, or sitting down on the job, their uniform is out there for the world to see," says Ollek.

That's why it's important BSCs train and monitor employees' performance — so they are sending the right message.

Proper Attire

Not only do uniforms help identify janitors, they help workers look professional and take pride in their appearance and their work.

Since janitorial work involves not only the dirtiest and greasiest of environments as well as chemicals that can stain or ruin clothing, practicality suggests that material for janitorial uniforms should be stain-resistant and easy to clean. As cleaning is strenuous work, uniforms also need to be comfortable, breathable and durable. Most shirts are a polyester/cotton blend (65 to 80 percent polyester). BSCs can choose from an array of work shirts, from T-shirts to polos to button-up short- or long-sleeve shirts. All should display the company logo, either in a screen print or with a patch or embroidery.

Uniforms with pockets increase worker productivity, so the more pockets the better to carry rags, microfiber cloths, sponges or other products. Olleck recommends an apron that ties on the side with loadable pockets on the front.

Uniforms will vary depending on the type of work the employee will be doing. For example, day porters or day cleaning workers need to be presentable to the public and give the right image to the customer's customer — the building occupant, says McDonald. These employees may wear a collared shirt of the company's colors. On the other hand, janitors strip-waxing the floor at night when no occupants are around will still be in uniform (to be recognized), but an uncolored T-shirt with simply a logo on it will suffice.

When selecting pants, BSCs can either match the uniform shirt color exactly, or require popular, reliable denim. In the case of the former, matching pants typically consist of a cotton/polyester blend for a combination of durability, comfort and stain-resistance.

As work attire becomes less formal in all settings, blue jeans appear more often. And if black is the most popular color, rugged and comfortable denim blue is not far behind. BSCs who allow jeans as uniform pants merely ask that they be clean and presentable.

Shorts are generally not considered a useful option, but in parts of the country where heat reaches oppressive levels, some BSCs will allow employees to wear shorts on very hot days. But they need to do so in a coordinated nature, getting the word out to all employees on a given day that shorts will be the uniform.

A choice of shoes for a uniform is mainly driven by utilitarian concerns. While some standards might seem fairly obvious — sandals and flip-flops are out, as are high heels — others depend on the nature of the work being done.

"I tried to get our people to wear sponge soles, but not open-toe or sandals," says Ollek. "[Shoes] need to be comfortable, but there are just too many things that can go wrong with flip-flops and open toes."

Slip-resistant safety shoes with hard soles are essential for tasks like stripping floors. Other tasks requiring durability, as well as resistance to stain and wear and tear, will call for the use of work boots. Full-grain leather is the most popular and longest-lasting material, BSCs say, with tough water-resistant membranes a crucial element.

In terms of appearance and coordination with the uniform, there is one color choice for work boots that can almost never be wrong: black.

For other tasks, foot comfort is of high priority.

What About Other Employees?

Front-line workers are not the only staff members in uniform. Salespeople, office workers and managers all can have a coordinated look as well. At Global, non-cleaning personnel also wear uniforms, but McDonald gives them considerably more latitude in the choices they can make.

"The person who does our embroidery work gives us a catalog," McDonald said. "In the winter it's not uncommon for us in management to wear long-sleeve, button-down shirts with the logo on them. During the summer we will wear a colored golf shirt or polo shirt, and [staff members] can pick out jackets and stuff like that."

More important than the pieces of clothing is how the employee presents him or herself. If an employee is not showing sufficient pride in his or her appearance, McDonald will not hesitate to point it out.

"We don't have to have that kind of frank conversation with too many of them," he says.

The right combination of uniform clothing pieces deliver comfort, work utility, security, good customer relations and a constant promotional element for your company. That's a lot of value coming from a mere collection of fabric.

Dan Calabrese is a freelance writer based in Wyoming, Mich.