Cancer, Commitment, and Clean Houses: An interview with the founder of Cleaning For A Reason

February 25, 2019

Debbie Sardone, the founder of the national nonprofit, Cleaning For A Reason, didn’t begin her career path anticipating that she would help tens of thousands of women with cancer. But with grace, hard work and integrity, that’s what Debbie did.  Cleaning For A Reason is an organization that that partners with local home cleaning services to give the gift of free house cleaning  to as many female cancer patients as they can in the United States.  Women undergoing treatment for cancer are eligible for a professional housecleaning completely free once a month, for four consecutive months. In just 10 years, Cleaning For A Reason has been able to clean the homes of over 18,000 women with cancer.

The story of Cleaning For A Reason began 35 years ago, when Debbie turned a job of cleaning houses out of the back of her car into a home cleaning business called Buckets and Bows. Under Debbie’s leadership, Buckets and Bows grew quickly. But as business expanded, Debbie began to encounter people that needed her help on another level.

There was one call in particular that got Debbie thinking. 

“I remember taking a call from a woman who had phoned to inquire about our service and the prices. I gave her the quote over the phone and she said, ‘Oh, I can’t really afford that right now, I’m going through chemotherapy and radiation and I’m not working. Maybe I can afford you later on down the road.’ And she hung up.” After the call, Debbie was distraught.

“I remember sitting there and thinking ‘Oh my goodness. What just happened? Why didn’t I think to give this woman her cleaning for free? I can certainly afford it. I don’t need every customer,’” Debbie says. It was the days before caller ID, and so Debbie had no way of calling the woman back. “I just sat there kind of stunned that it didn’t occur to me to give her the cleaning for free...and I felt terrible,” she recalls.

Debbie Sardone talks with one of the people with cancer who has received help from Cleaning For A Reason

That day, Debbie called an all company meeting. “I said the next time a woman calls our office and indicates that she has cancer and cannot afford us, just give her the cleaning for free.” And so, a company policy was formed. 

The company policy continued on for several years and Bucket and Bows was able to help both women in their local Texas community as well as their own employees. Debbie saw how much something as simple as having a clean house could help these women.

At one tradeshow event, Debbie shared this company policy, which at that point had become so established for Buckets and Bows that it had its own logo displayed prominently on the company website so women could learn about it. After she finished speaking, Debbie says that “maid service owners from all around came up to me and said, ‘I want to do that. I want to give away my service to someone in need in my community.’”

This overwhelmingly positive response got Debbie’s wheels turning. She said she began to think, “Maybe I can take this little company policy out of my own business and bring it nation-wide.”

The next year, Debbie spoke about her policy again, but this time branded, Cleaning For A Reason, alongside printed logos, t-shirts and materials. She stood on stage at a large conference and said “I don’t know what all this is going to look like, but I can’t do it myself. I need people to join my cause.”

That day, eleven cleaning services signed up on the spot to help. Within its first year, ~100 home cleaning services had agreed to join Cleaning For A Reason. Now, almost 10 years later, there are 1200 home cleaning services nationwide that have enlisted their services to be a part of Cleaning For A Reason. “Who could have predicted that this could have taken off?--But it resonates with everybody” Debbie says. “It doesn’t only help women, it resonates with the whole family. They walk into a clean house and they feel good.”

To date, Cleaning For A Reason has cleaned over 17,000 women’s homes all across the country, and it isn’t planning on slowing down anytime soon.

One of the reasons that Cleaning For A Reason has been so successful is because people feel embarrassed asking for a friend or family member to clean their bathroom or scrub their floors, even if it’s what they really need. 

“People will accept help from a professional because it’s not as embarrassing..they feel guilty or weak or embarrassed accepting that kind of help from a friend or family member” Debbie says. Cleaning For A Reason helps solve that problem by offering women a professional service for free. It’s a way for women to get the type help that they need the most when they are fighting cancer.

“I think this is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in business. There is nothing like giving away what you do for a living to somebody that didn’t pay for it, and can’t pay you back. And you just did it because [you could]. I think it’s the most rewarding thing you can do in business.”

We’re sure the over 1,200 cleaning services and 17,000 women all across the country who have taken part in Cleaning For A Reason agree. What started out as simply one woman insisting that her company do the right thing has turned into a national movement that has impacted thousands of lives and serves as an inspiration for us all.