What’s In A Name? A Lot, If You’re A Janitor Or A Custodian

People frequently use "janitor" and "custodian" interchangeably. However, most people fail to realize that these two words, and the careers associated with them, are more different than they know. If you need to hire one or the other, it helps to know the differences so that you draw the right people to the interviewing table.


Custodians, by the very definition of the root word, "custody." assume guardianship and care of a person, place, or thing. There is nothing that suggests that a custodian is one who assumes responsibility for the cleaning of a property. When you hire a custodian, you hire someone to look after what you want him/her to take custody of. In reference to properties, a custodian monitors the property for unusual issues, mows the lawn, provides maintenance to the main structures on the property as applicable, and may come and go on the property based on the requirements of the employer.

A custodian, therefore, has to have some working knowledge of lawn care, maintenance of HVAC and plumbing systems, security, and general building maintenance. He or she does not usually perform janitorial services unless the employer requests it in order to reduce employee expenses. This is quite different from a janitor.


Janitors are automatically associated with people who clean a building. They take out the garbage, sweep and mop the common areas, clean and sanitize bathrooms, and disinfect common surfaces, such as door handles, tables, and light switches. Their cleaning duties encompass all cleaning and disinfecting needs.

On some occasions, janitors may perform very basic maintenance and repairs, such as replacing a door handle or a lock on an apartment door. They typically do not do major repairs, although they may call technicians in who can complete the repairs. Since their primary duties are cleaning and keeping the indoors of their assigned buildings neat and tidy, they cannot be rightly referred to as custodians. They do not "take custody" of the property.

Why the Words and Jobs Are Used Interchangeably

There is a little overlap in duties between custodians and janitors. However, the only times that janitors and custodians are actually one in the same are when their employers have requested janitors with custodial skills and hire these individuals in place of hiring two people to do both jobs. That is why people have come to use both terms as though they are the same when typically, they are not. Know what you want to hire, and hire for that job.

Contact a company like Commercial Cleaning Services for more information and assistance.