WHEN home-owners hire a cleaner, they usually expect a woman in her 40s or 50s.
So many are surprised to see someone like 21-year-old Karen Ong.
The Republic Polytechnic (RP) student is used to the doubting faces, having seen them as a Primary 3 pupil helping her mother with her job as a part-time cleaner at a student centre.
Years on, the freelance cleaner still sees that same look.
"(The home-owners) didn't think I was experienced enough," she said.
"But my actions speak for me and soon they see the results."
While cleaning has long been seen as a low-level job, young people here, attracted to the pay, have begun signing up.
Several start-up cleaning companies, which link such cleaners with home-cleaning jobs, said students and adults in their 20s make up 10 to 20 per cent of their pool, and at least one has plans to focus its recruitment efforts on this demographic group.
The job typically pays about $16 an hour, almost double the wages of service jobs at food and beverage outlets.
Undergraduate and freelance cleaner Mohamad Hazim Mohamad Yazid, 23, said he was attracted by the high hourly rates. "I checked the market; after tuition (jobs), cleaning had the second-highest hourly rate."
The first-year student at SIM University, who learnt to clean at home and in the army, said: "I just need a job that pays more than that of a waiter's."
According to Helpling Singapore, a freelance cleaner can earn up to $1,500 a month if he works an average of 23 hours a week.
Another freelance cleaner, Ms Norashikin Mohamed Latif, 27, was so drawn to the flexible work arrangement that she left her administrative job to become a cleaner with start-up Fuss earlier this year.
"I wanted to spend more time with my son," she said.
Cleaning firms, in turn, say that it is good having young workers who are enthusiastic and eager to learn.
Mr Nat Tan, business development manager at Fuss, noted: "This model came out of the West, where young people do almost any kind of part-time job."
The model of these cleaning companies - all of which have been operating here for less than a year - mirrors that of Boston start-up TaskRabbit, an online marketplace that connects users to various small jobs and tasks.
Homeowners seeking a cleaner simply make a booking on the companies' websites.
Freelance cleaners, however, said that those interested in taking up the job must be prepared to face the difficulties of the job, which includes getting down on their hands and knees to scrub hard-to-reach spots.
They must also be prepared to deal with unreasonable clients, who insist on their way of doing the cleaning.
In one instance, a client said he was particular about creases on his clothes but had no ironing board for the cleaner to do the ironing on.
Ms Norashikin said some home-owners were wary of her because of her age.
"But I always tell them I will try to do my best."
Said Mr Hazim:"Once you start cleaning and show you can get the job done, they don't care where you're from or how old you are."