Tekla Wlodarczyk Nunez founded and owns Mother Earth Cleaners, one of the few cleaning services in Madison specializing in eco-friendly cleaning. But, she prefers the title of Chief Happiness Officer.
I had the pleasure of meeting Wlodarczyk Nunez as I sat outside my friend’s apartment building on August 14, one of the busiest cleaning days of the year.
Despite being swamped with houses to clean, Wlodarczyk Nunez offered my friend and I free pizza, cookies and masks. Her selflessness and dedication to environmental sustainability appeared immediately.
Wlodarczyk Nunez started Mother Earth Cleaners in 2009 with only four employees.
“When we started there were really no other green cleaning companies in Madison,” Wlodarczyk Nunez said.
The company has since grown to 15 employees, and now, dozens of cleaning services in Madison also claim sustainability as their business’s M.O.
Wlodarczyk Nunez described one of their principal challenges: finding products both effective and good for the environment.
“One of the problems with green cleaning materials back then [was that] the products would say they were green, but they weren’t, or they were green and they weren’t very effective,” Wlodarczyk Nunez said. “What we sought to do was to find legitimately green earth-friendly, non-toxic products that worked and worked well.”
Mother Earth Cleaners isn’t just about sustainability. They also strive to create a healthy work environment for minorities and potentially disadvantaged people who have trouble holding a job.
In the early years of the company, Wlodarczyk Nunez worked with a job training program run through the YWCA, which taught disadvantaged women job etiquette, resume writing and communication skills for job interviews.
“I was looking to start a company where people could learn job skills, and where people who had difficulty keeping a job would learn how to become a good employee.” Wlodarczyk Nunez said. “They’re not cogs in a machine, they’re people with lives and families.”
Wlodarczyk Nunez believes her strong relationship with her customers is the backbone upon which her company thrives.
“It’s green cleaning that gets us in the door, but it’s the quality of our service that keeps us in the house,” Wlodarczyk Nunez said. “I’m not selling a clean toilet, I’m selling a trustworthy relationship that reduces stress in your life.”
Because the relationship with her customers is so important to Wlodarczyk Nunez, the company doesn’t have a cancellation policy requiring customers to pay if they cancel within 24 hours.
“I’m going to charge you when you’re in a crisis,” Wlodarczyk said, bewildered at the notion.
The solid relationship Wlodarczyk Nunez strives to establish with her clientele paid off when COVID-19 first struck and Mother Earth Cleaners had to shut down.
“We closed our services several days before the state mandated that businesses close.” Wlodarczyk Nunez said. “I could not, in good conscience, allow my staff and my clients to mix.”
As soon as Mother Earth Cleaners announced their closure, however, a number of clients reached out offering financial support.
Wlodarczyk Nunez said clients helped with donations, tips and paying for their houses to be cleaned in advance.
“They sustained our bills for more than 2 months because when we did reopen, we weren’t at full capacity,” Wlodarczyk Nunez said.
Wlodarczyk Nunez says her mother, Rita Wlodarczyk, former president of the AARP and a political activist throughout her life in Wisconsin, inspired her to start her own business.
She also cited her father’s resourceful lifestyle in her home growing up as an influence on her dedication to sustainability.
“I wouldn’t say [my father] was poor, but that’s how you lived back then. You grew your own food, you didn’t throw things out, you repaired things. In my household, a piece of tinfoil was reused more than once.”
Although many would call it old fashioned, this sustainable style of living is not only good for the environment but also good for your wallet.
“[Sustainable cleaning] is not more expensive, and in some cases, it’s possibly less expensive.” Wlodarczyk Nunez said. “If we replaced our towels with paper towels, we’d be going through cases on cases of paper towels. Our microfiber towels last us for years.”
Aside from using exclusively microfiber towels, Mother Earth Cleaners runs entirely paperless operation, the employees all carpool to job sites and the company uses concentrated cleaning supplies which are versatile enough to clean a variety of sources while reducing plastic waste.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, companies like Mother Earth Cleaners not only have to clean but also disinfect surfaces, which is an inherently unsustainable practice because only certain chemicals kill viruses and bacteria on the level of disinfection.
Mother Earth Cleaners uses Basic G, a highly concentrated germicide, which isn’t totally sustainable, but still much more eco-friendly than many disinfectants on the market.
It can be tough as a college student to dedicate time to making sure that your cleaning practices at home aren’t harming the world around us.
Click here for a variety of green cleaning options Wlodarczyk Nunez recommends. For more information on environmentally sustainable cleaning products and practices, click here. To check out Mother Earth Cleaners website, click here.