IT quickly becomes clear when speaking to Raymond McInulty and William Donaldson that their story will be hard to tell.

Firstly, because their most eye-popping and interesting tales are not fit for print.

And secondly, because discretion and empathy are just as important to their role as disinfectant and mops.

Raymond and William are part of a crack team of Glasgow cleaners very few people have heard of - but they are a vital part of the city's fabric, helping extremely vulnerable residents.

Glasgow City Council's environmental and valet team go where very few people would dare, into homes that may not have been cleaned for years... or even decades.

In one case, an elderly woman believed her little dog had run away.

But when the grime team went in to begin a thorough clear out, they found the pet's corpse under piles upon piles of cardboard, such was the mess.

"The first couple of months was horrendous, the smells and sights," Raymond said.

"The other boys said I would get used to it and I was like, 'No way, I'll never get used to this.' Yet I'm used to it now."

Raymond worked for the council doing grass cutting but it was a short term contract and he wanted a permanent job.

Like most people, he didn't know what the job would entail and signed up seven months ago thinking it would be most clearing out furniture and white goods from people's homes.


Demand for backcourt cleaning teams after Glasgow area 'overrun with rats'

The first two days on the job he vomited after entering homes he was expected to clean.

He added: "I didn't know about the cleaning side. I do now.

"It was really bad [the first house]: clothes all covered in urine and faeces and I was ready to walk out.

"That's the sort of stuff you're dealing with."

William is an older hand, having been on the team for 11 years. He knows the tricks of the trade: Vicks rub around the nostrils to mask the smell, for one.

"We can't refuse so we have to just get on with it," he says.

"I am used to it now. I can come back up the road and people will say they can smell me but I can't smell it."

Sometimes residents are taken in to hospital and when social work visit they find the house in disarray so make a referral to the team.

This can be for anything from the householder being a hoarder to them simply being unable to take care of themselves and their home.

In other occasions the person being helped has a mental illness or an addictions issue.

William said: "It gives you a lot of satisfaction, seeing the before and after. The families really appreciate it, what you are doing.

"A lot of people get really embarrassed or others don't want you touching anything of theirs - it might be rubbish to you but it's not rubbish to them.

"After a day or two they see the work you are doing and they start to trust you."

Raymond adds: "It is mentally as well as physically trying. Some of the people are not well and you know they are not well, that's hard.

"Especially with the older people, the ones who have dementia. But it can be really satisfying. One last week, the old woman was 82 and she's not slept in her bed for I don't know how long. Her bath is never used.

"We cleaned all of that up and that was good, knowing she was coming out of hospital to a fresh bed."

It can be frustrating for the team when people are "repeat offenders" - they clean out the house but are back again in a few months to do it all again.

There have been cases where the workers cannot initially get into homes because the householder won't open the door.

William said: "We had a case where it was so bad there were flies in the close.


Glasgow University lecturers scrubbing OWN classrooms as pressure grows on cleaners

"We had to go every day and just keep calling through the letterbox. Eventually we got in but it was an hour at a time before we were put back out again.

"The neighbours were so pleased to see us though. We got wee waves from the windows every day."

In the course of the year the team clears out 75 tonnes of rubbish from Glasgow homes.

On average they carry out 143 environmental cleans - the big, deep cleans - and these can take anything from one to two days to two to three weeks.

They also do lighter valet cleans - "a nicer job" - of socially rented properties where a family has moved out to ready it for the next family.

For the lighter valet cleans, the teams undertake around 2200 of these a year.

And over the course of 12 months they use 5000 cloths, 5000 mops and 200 bottles of power clean solution.

Raymond said he recently ran sprinting from a flat after getting to the bottom of a pile of dishes to find dozens of cockroaches.

He said: "I was straight out the house.

"It was something I had never, ever seen in my life before.

"I wouldn't take my clothes into the house after that. I had put that to the back of my mind in order to keep going.

"Another one is milk cartons that people have peed in mixed with milk. It is the most horrendous smell you have ever smelt, worse than faeces."

The men also work all across the city, in all areas and in homes of people from all social backgrounds.

They have had customers who have been professionals and people of all ages.

William said: "We've been in big fancy houses. We had someone who was actually a doctor. So it affects all backgrounds. Absolutely. All classes in society."

While it was a real shock to the system for Raymond, he sees himself staying in the job for some time to come.

He said: "That is me just getting used to it now. I know it is strange to say it but I thought I would never get used to it but I have.

"The boy I was out with kept saying I would get used to it and I hated him for saying it to me.

"Now I'm saying to the new boy, 'It's alright, you'll get used to it.'"

Both Raymond and William emphasise the importance of looking after people's dignity and speaking to people sensitively.

Part of the reason they are so unknown - even within the council - is the importance of never discussing individual jobs.

William added: "Sometimes they have not had people in their homes for 10 to 15 years.

"It is a hard, hard job but it has to be done and we try to do it with dignity and sensitivity."