The newly launched Ecomaid Middle East offers Dubai's first completely eco-friendly cleaning service. Selina Denmanmeets its founder, Tolga Soytekin, who says the concept is surprisingly popular across a broad demographic
"There's always been that mindset that if you don't douse everything in bleach or Dettol, it's not going to be clean," says Tolga Soytekin, the managing director of Ecomaid Middle East, a new Dubai-based, eco-friendly maid service provider. "But, actually, it is: it's just not going to be harmful and it's not going to smell like a hospital."
Like many expats, when Soytekin arrived in Dubai from the UK nine years ago he was surprised to discover that everybody used a maid service. He was probably equally surprised to discover how quickly he warmed to the idea. "Coming from the UK, it was quite strange to have maids at first, but here you become so blasé to the fact that you have hired help. It becomes like second nature," he says.
A few years later Soytekin's then wife fell pregnant and the couple decided to up the frequency of their maid service from once to twice a week. "We found that there wasn't availability. So I asked the company we were using about their set-up and about how many girls they had, and I crunched numbers. And because my wife was pregnant and we had cats in the house as well, I also started thinking about the chemicals being used."
During his research, Soytekin discovered that some of the most common cleaning products, including toilet cleaner and bleach, contained a host of harmful chemicals. He also discovered that many of Dubai's maid-service companies were making their employees work seven days a week for minimal wages. Employees were provided with accommodation, but this often meant 60 people crammed into a single villa in Satwa. "It doesn't matter where you are from, that kind of thing makes you feel bad," he says.
As he continued to learn more, Soytekin remembered a product called Citrus Based Cleaner that he had come across a few years earlier while working for a Dubai-based trading company. Then came his "light bulb" moment. "I thought, why not use the eco-friendly product and do things a bit differently?"
The "eco-maid" concept was born: a green cleaning service performed by well-trained, well-treated individuals using eco-friendly products. "We pay our staff a bit extra and we make sure they have less crowded living conditions and better amenities, such as internet access."
In addition, all employees receive training at a five-star hotel, and Soytekin has recently hired a training and education manager to teach staff about basic issues such as using home appliances and dealing with pets.
The eco-maids all use the Citrus Based Cleaner, which is produced by a company in New Zealand and made from orange extracts mixed with biodegradable surfactants, detergents, dirt-suspending agents and water softeners. "The product has been around for quite some time," says Soytekin. "It's used a lot in the marine industry in New Zealand, particularly when they are washing down boats because obviously everything then goes back into the ocean, so making sure it's not harmful to the environment is essential."
Ecomaid charges Dh35 per hour, which is only slightly above the market average - and this is inclusive of the product, Soytekin points out. "You might be able to get someone in for less, but you'll find that those girls don't work for a company or are on someone else's visa, or maybe don't have a visa at all. There's no real security for you. If something gets broken or goes missing, you are not protected."
Soytekin has taken his green approach across the business. For example, business cards and flyers are made from recycled paper and all receipts are sent electronically. The company is also looking into other eco-friendly cleaning options and is about to begin testing products - available locally - by a company called Diversey.
Also on the agenda is a huge recruitment drive that will focus on Nepal and Ethiopia. "I know someone who is involved with a charity in Ethiopia called the Orphanage, which is for infants and teenagers up until the age of 18. There's a second programme called Beyond the Orphanage that is for people who are 18 and over and provides training and development. So we are probably going to look to hire some staff from Beyond the Orphanage and bring them over here."
Ecomaid was officially launched in April and demand has already exceeded expectations, says Soytekin. And although he had initially assumed that his core customer base would be western expats, the Ecomaid concept has proved popular with a far broader demographic.
"We have western expats, Arab expats and young locals. We've got kids who are 18 and in university, all the way up to 60-year-old couples who are working here. The spectrum is huge. It's just people who are eco-conscious.
"I made the presumption before starting that it would predominantly be western expats, but I was wrong. It's good to see that the mindset of people is changing - they are becoming more conscious and more accepting of this. We're finding that a lot of young Middle Eastern mothers are particularly conscious about this stuff now. They ask the most questions."
According to Soytekin, it is not difficult to adopt a greener lifestyle, and a few small changes can make all the difference. He advises people to be more aware of the chemicals that they are regularly exposing themselves to, and to try healthier, more natural cleaning products such as vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. He also suggests that people pay greater attention to their water and energy consumption, as there are simple ways to drastically cut down on both.
"I think it's easier for people to adapt to small changes," he says. "If you go on a crash diet, where you completely come off certain foods, you are more likely to fail. But if you introduce small changes - such as putting a bag in your cistern to ensure that you waste less water with each flush - you are more likely to succeed.
"I'm probably not the greenest person there is. I can't say I drive an electric car or anything like that. I like big cars and big engines and motorbikes and I'd be a hypocrite if I said any different. But I believe that you can still enjoy the things that you want to enjoy if you are willing to make changes in other areas."
For more information on Ecomaid Middle East, visit www.ecomaidme.com or call 04 346 9774.