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HouseTalk: Learn Basic Thai Cleaning Instructions*

HouseTalk: Learn Basic Thai Cleaning Instructions

So you have a Thai maid. Yeah! Now what?…

UPDATE: Flashcards Deluxe downloads added.

Thailand, like the majority of SE Asia, has a deeply embedded culture of employing house help. Housekeepers, cooks, gardeners, nannies and drivers are a normal part of the daily fabric of life out here.

My cherished Filipina amah in Borneo even had a maid back home. And why not?

When expats move to this region they get the opportunity to hand their cleaning chores to others. Some wobble in alarm at the wickedness of it all while others embrace the concept with broad smiles.

If you are the embracing kind who now needs to give instructions to a Thai housekeeper or cleaner, then this basic lesson on Thai cleaning phrases is for you.

In this post I bounce from charades to hand waggling while using two Thai words and more (but not in that order). All have their uses.

What washing, cleaning verbs to use with what…

The Thai language has a sort of generic word for cleaning, ทำความสะอาด /tam-kwaam-sa-àat/ (to do, make cleanliness). But beware. When a chore needs to be done a certain way, in order to avoid confusing your housekeeper you’ll either need different verbs to communicate the type of cleaning or be really good at hand waggling.


[V] Clean ทำความสะอาด /tam-kwaam-sa-àat/
Generic, not suitable for everything you’ll need.

For Thai cleaning instructions to be understood we need to declare the how, what, and sometimes the where and when. This is the ‘hand waving in the general direction’ part of the lesson. Next comes the how and what.


Sample: Clean (the) house.
ทำความสะอาด บ้าน /tam-kwaam-sà-àat bâan/

To see how it works, take the sample sentence above and replace house (บ้าน /bâan/) with the nouns below. Sound files and pdf’s for download are at the end of this post. And yes, the sample sentence structures shown in this post can be used for a lot more than cleaning a house!


house บ้าน /bâan/
office ที่ทำงาน /têe-tam-ngaan/
living room ห้องรับแขก /hông-ráp-kàek/
kitchen ห้องครัว /hông-krua/
bedroom ห้องนอน /hông-non/
bathroom ห้องน้ำ /hông-náam/
car รถ /rót/

You can instruct your housekeeper to “clean the house” or “clean the kitchen” but it leaves the finer details, the how and what, up to her. If you have a maid who can read your mind, fine. But then you wouldn’t need this post.

As above, play around with the sample sentences, verbs, and nouns listed below. But beware, some are interchangeable, some not. For instance, instructing your cleaner to wash your computer in water might not be the best of ideas (don’t laugh… it happens).


[V] Clean ล้าง /láang/
To wash with water, liquids (often by hand).


Sample: Wash (the) dishes.
ล้าง จาน /láang jaan/


dishes จาน /jaan/
fridge ตู้เย็น /dtôo-yen/
vegetables ผัก /pàk/
fruit ผลไม้ /pŏn-lá-mái/
cars รถ /rót/


[V] Clean ซัก /sák/
Wash (cloth items).


Sample: Wash (the) clothes.
ซัก เสื้อผ้า /sák sêua-pâa/


clothes เสื้อผ้า /sêua-pâa/
sheets ผ้าปูที่นอน /pâa-bpoo-têe-non/
bath towels ผ้าเช็ดตัว /pâa-chét-dtua/
carpets พรม /prom/
curtains ผ้าม่าน /pâa-mâan/
fabric furniture เฟอร์นิเจอร์ ที่ เป็น ผ้า /fer-ní-jer têe bpen pâa/

Note: Not all washing verbs are for the home:
wash (body) อาบ /àap/
wash (hair on head) สระ /sà/

On to even more cleaning verbs…

Now that we’ve gotten the washing out of the way let’s get to the rest of the chores. Some anyway. Not all are listed (the series will deal with those later) but I’ve included enough to get you started.


[V] Dust ปัดฝุ่น /bpàt-fùn/


Sample: Dust (the) coffee table.
ปัดฝุ่น โต๊ะกาแฟ /bpàt-fùn dtó-gaa-fae/


Coffee table โต๊ะกาแฟ /dtó-gaa-fae/
Wooden furniture เฟอร์นิเจอร์ ไม้ /fer-ní-jer mái/
Bookshelves หิ้งหนังสือ /hîng-năng-sĕu/


[V] Mop ถู /tŏo/
To mop/wipe repeatedly with cloth or mop.


Sample: Mop (the) floor.
ถู พื้น /tŏo péun/


floor พื้น /péun/
corridor โถงทางเข้า /tŏhng-taang-kâo/


[V] Wipe (clean) เช็ด /chét/
Wipe by hand with or without fluids (water, Windex, etc).


Sample: Clean (the) windows.
เช็ด หน้าต่าง /chét nâa-dtàang/


Windows หน้าต่าง /nâa-dtàang/
Mirror กระจก /grà-jòk/
Coffee table โต๊ะกาแฟ /dto-gaa-fae/
Counter top เคาน์เตอร์ ใน ครัว /kao-dtêr nai krua/
Kitchen table โต๊ะกินข้าว ใน ห้องครัว /dtó-gin-kâao nai hông-krua/


[V] Vacuum ดูดฝุ่น /dòot-fùn/


Sample: Vacuum (the) rug.
ดูดฝุ่น พรม /dòot-fùn prom/


rug พรม /prom/
sofa โซฟา /soh-faa/
sofa เก้าอี้ยาว /gâo-êe-yaao/


[V] Scrub, polish ขัด /kàt/
Scrub, polish (any tough dirt, items that need polishing).


Sample: Scrub (the) bathroom tiles.
ขัด กระเบื้องห้องน้ำ /kàt grà-bêuang hông-náam/


bathroom tiles กระเบื้อง ห้องน้ำ /grà-bêuang hông-náam/
shoes รองเท้า /rong-táo/
silver เครื่องเงิน /krêuang-ngern/

Basic cleaning instructions…

When an item (like doors, windows, beds and such) appears in several places around the house then you’ll need to either physically take your housekeeper to the room or say which room it’s in.

So if you want your housekeeper to dust the bookshelves in the living room you would say:


Dust bookshelves in (the) living room.
ปัดฝุ่น หิ้งหนังสือ ใน ห้องรับแขก
bpàt-fùn hîng-năng-sĕu nai hông-ráp-kàek

You can also use the below arrangement:


Dust (the) living room bookshelves.
ปัดฝุ่น หิ้งหนังสือ ห้องรับแขก
bpàt-fùn hîng-năng-sĕu hông-ráp-kàek

Below are the basic rooms in a house:


Kitchen ห้องครัว /hông-krua/
Living room ห้องรับแขก /hông-ráp-kàek/
Bedroom ห้องนอน /hông-non/
Bathroom ห้องน้ำ /hông-náam/

Note: There are too many household items to list here but in later posts there will be a vocabulary file with sound for you to download.

Defining the when in Thai sentences…

The timing of chores can be as equally as important as the what and where. Like, if I’m still in PJ’s when the housekeeper arrives and want to jump in the shower asap I use this phrase:


Clean (the) bathroom later.
ทำความสะอาด ห้องน้ำ ทีหลัง
tam-kwaam-sà-àat hông-náam tee-lăng

Or, because water is used I can also say it this way:


Clean/wash (the) bathroom later.
ล้าง ห้องน้ำ ทีหลัง
láang hông-náam tee-lăng

Here are a variety of words denoting time:


Today วันนี้ /wan-née/
Everyday ทุกวัน /túk-wan/
Now ตอนนี้ /dton-née/


Once a week อาทิตย์ ละ ครั้ง /aa-tít lá kráng/
Once a month เดือน ละ ครั้ง /deuan lá kráng/
First ก่อน /gòn/
Later ทีหลัง /tee-lăng/

Using today, everyday, and now in front of a sentence puts the emphasis on the time. Today, everyday, and now, shown in first grouping above, can be used both at the front and the end of a sentence. The second grouping cannot be used in the front of a sentence without changing the meaning.

Sentence structures to play around with:


Clean (the) bathroom today.
ทำความสะอาด ห้องน้ำ วันนี้
tam-kwaam-sà-àat hông-náam wan-née

Or


Today clean (the) bathroom.
วันนี้ ทำความสะอาด ห้องน้ำ
wan-née tam-kwaam-sà-àat hông-náam

Going from charades to using actual Thai phrases…

Without knowing a lick of Thai you can communicate by using a combination of charades and cleaning materials. I know because I did a lot of arm waving before introducing McDonalds into the equation (a long story and one I might get to later).

What you do is physically take the maid and the needed cleaning materials to the item needing cleaning, and then go through the motions. If she is still perplexed (or overcome by the giggles even) you might want/need to show how the actual chore is done.

The next step up from charades uses just two words of Thai. You say “clean this” while pointing at the item. They might become confused and maybe not.


Clean this.
ทำความสะอาด นี่
tam-kwaam-sà-àat nêe

Going that route leaves the method up to personal interpretation (a potential disaster), so even better is waggling the cleaning materials towards your maid (Windex, mop, whatever) with one hand while pointing to the item you need cleaned (windows, floors, whatever) with the other as you attempt those magic two words. Good luck.

If you know the right verb but you don’t know the name of what you want cleaned, you can resort to pointing at the item while saying the verb plus นี่ /nêe/ (this).


Wash this. ล้าง นี่ /láang nêe/
Wash this. ซัก นี่ /sák nêe/
Dust this. ปัดฝุ่น นี่ /bpàt-fùn nêe/
Mop, wipe this. ถู นี่ /tŏo nêe/
Wipe this. เช็ด นี่ /chét nêe/
Vacuum this. ดูดฝุ่น นี่ /dòot-fùn nêe/
Scrub, polish this. ขัด นี่ /kàt nêe/

Tip: If you don’t remember the difference between ล้าง /láang/and ซัก /sák/, or ถู /tŏo/ and เช็ด /chét/ then scroll back up to double-check.

Spreading a little Thai kindness…

A basic post on communicating with your Thai housekeeper is not complete without mentioning manners.

Thais, for the most part, lean towards the polite. If you read my เกรงใจ /kreng jai/ post you’ll sort of understand why.

In the case of giving instructions, softening direct orders with kindness is just a sweet way to go. Please note that I’m not saying to do this every time but peppering demands with niceties does give a polite Thai touch.

When you need to get the attention of your housekeeper begin conversations with ขอโทษ ค่ะ /kŏr-tôht kâ/ (excuse me) if you are a female, and ขอโทษ ครับ /kŏr-tôht kráp/ if male.

Adding a ขอบคุณ /kòp-kun/ when a thank you is due is no different than in the west.

Again with the peppering (no need to grovel by overkill), to soften instructions end sentences with นะคะ /na-ká/ if you are female and นะครับ /na-kráp/ if you are male.


Excuse me ขอโทษ /kŏr-tôht/
Thank you ขอบคุณ /kòp kun/
Polite particle female ค่ะ /kâ/
Polite particle male ครับ /kráp/
Conformation particle female นะคะ /na-ká/
Conformation particle male นะครับ /na-kráp/


Clean (the) bathroom later. Ok?
ทำความสะอาด ห้องน้ำ ทีหลัง นะคะ
tam-kwaam-sà-àat hông-náam tee-lăng na-ká

I just love the sound นะคะ /na-ká/ makes tripping off the tongue. Don’t you? Oh, and while I have you here. No, you do not ไหว้ /wâi/ your Thai maid.

Downloads: Basic Thai cleaning instructions…

The below downloads include the Thai script, transliteration, and sound files to the phrases and vocabulary in this post. Newly added are Excel spreadsheets for Flashcards Deluxe. The spreadsheets should also work for Anki.

Flashcards Deluxe is an incredibly easy app created in both Android and iOS. For instructions, go to the Flashcards Deluxe website.

Pdf download 3.9mg: HouseTalk: Learn Basic Thai Cleaning Instructions
Sound download 2.1mg: Learn Basic Thai Cleaning Instructions
Flashcards Deluxe download 1.5mg: Basic Thai Cleaning Instructions

Please note: The materials are for your own personal use only.

The Thai HouseTalk series…

Next I’m going to concentrate on cleaning clothes. And the instructions give should help you to avoid those awkward moments known to expats everywhere.

Connecting posts:

Disclaimer: When compiling the HouseTalk posts I run the Thai phrases and vocabulary through Thai Skype teacher Khun Narisa. But when I code the posts I often tweak a little. So what I’m saying is that snafus are all mine and will be dealt with as such.

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My passion is promoting the Thai language. Fullstop. Oh, and traveling. I'm passionate about that as well. And photography too.

16 Comments

  1. นี่ and อันนี่ and pointing, are two of my most used and favourite charade words :) As you know, I don’t have a maid, but I have just started to outsource my laundry. I generally don’t have it ironed, because most of my clothes just don’t need it. Recently I forgot to be ‘specific’…something I’ve been told I ‘must be’, when speaking Thai…and ended up with the whole lot ironed.

    Now I know to separate our clothes into ซัก/sak and ซักรีด/ sakreet bags.

  2. Snap, absolutely. Being specific is the name of the Thai game. I’ve had clothes ruined over the years from the same so the coming post on laundry instructions goes into detail.

    A number of the single guys I know in Bangkok are in service apartments (same situation as you). And while the maids are trained, there are still times when the guys should know enough Thai to give special instructions. Most don’t so depend upon a third party (with mixed results).

  3. Wow, What an Expat lifesaver (clothes-saver,slippery floor-saver, non-stick pan-saver,etc.) your wonderful Blog is!!Wish I could have had the instructions on my laptop when I lived in Thailand.Remember my little English/Thai cue-cards stuck to the fridge? Great Job!

  4. Thanks Lynn! And I so remember those instructions (I have my own now that I waggle around). You also had a lovely Niwat (I want one of those :-D

    I do have have the non-stick pan-saver instructions coming up but the slippery floor-saver instructions are still in the works. A perfected version of the flat footed walk might have to suffice as I haven’t been able to find a replacement for the cleaner.

  5. Ha ha, I have no idea how to avoid the slippery floors except with your ‘flat foot’ idea-it served us quite well at the Women’s Retreat temple after it rained!!You were very courageous that day! I suppose we could ask our exemplary maids to put out ‘wet floor’ signs like the malls do..in English and Thai of course? :))

  6. A wet floor sign would be sweet! Hah! I’d forgotten all about that temple – you have such a good memory! Going to temple after temple, those were the days, yes? I still visit temples but she’s given up trying to get me involved in Buddhism at that level (flat on the floor). We’ve met some lovely monks though. KP knows where all of the real monks are and I have a lot of time for them.

  7. Great stuff Cat…and definitely things I’ll be using in the future. I haven’t had any problems with my laundry even when there is some ironing to do…we got off on the right foot I guess.

    Either way I look forward to the laundry post as I’m sure it will give me more that I should know.

  8. Talen, until you’ve been decked out in pink, you haven’t yet lived :-D

    Btw – The clothes care post is one of the largest of the series, and for good reason. After that the posts trim down considerably.

  9. Catherine – Absolutely brilliant, I love the audio files attached to these posts, they make learning and remembering the phrases so much easier.

    A word in your shell-like….The young one often bends my shell about her mother not doing any cleaning around the house and every now and again suggests I tell mama to clean the baan whilst we visit Nong Khai or wherever. I get out of it by saying I can’t speak Thai and mama can’t understand English. You’ve given me no excuses now. I’m going to enjoy winding mama up with a few of your cleaning terms.

    When you’ve wiped the floor with this series I hope you continue to do others, such as:

    Hotels
    Markets
    Transport
    Weather
    Festivals
    Sightseeing

    Excellent post and much needed weaponry for my arsenal.

  10. Martyn, great that you have someone you can do the “hit and run” practice on. And just think, you can practice your demands, leave, and when you come back again she’ll have forgiven your transgressions.

    Thank you for suggesting additional series. And now that you’ve brought it up, I will indeed go that route. Scanning down your list I’ll do Thai markets first, mainly because of the diverse vegetables and fruits and mysterious blobs found in Thailand. I have a fabulous book on Thai veg that’ll be a huge help. It does not have Thai script but it does have the Thai names in… not sure what to call it. While I’m getting this one out I’ll be thinking how to present a market series. Phrase books concentrate on the generic phrases (needed) but there is a lot more to talk about in Thai markets.

  11. Hit and Run – A short play by HD.

    An ageing Thai woman lounges lazily on a sofa watching TV in a modern air con house in a Thai village deep in rural Thailand. A waif like young Thai girl sits at a nearby dining table and whispers something into the ear of her red-faced western boyfriend. He gets up and approaches the old lady.

    Westerner: Wan-née tam-kwaam-sà-àat hông-náam (Today clean the bathroom).

    Old Thai Lady: You’re having a giraffe (laugh) son. I’m not cleaning up after a lazy git like you.

    Westerner: Wilai…what’s going on…mama’s speaking English.

    Wilai: Last month I buy mama English dick-shun-hairy.

    Westerner: Oh boll*cks that’s me well and truly rubber ducked.

  12. Hah! Good one Martyn (and one I’ll have to remember :-)

    What you can do is wait until my cleaning schedule for the Thai challenged comes out. That way, all you have to do is make a tick next to the cleaning chores you want done and VIOLIN!…

    And you’ll tell me what happens, yes?

    No promises of it working though. I tried it with a Filipina Amah. She got good at her ticking skills but never improved her cleaning skills. Next…

  13. very nice! thank you! I speak fairly okay thai but realised I didn’t know the words for ‘basin’ etc so came here. One typo near the end – tam not am – thankyou!

  14. Thanks Wee. I don’t really pay attention to the transliteration (guess it dropped out along the way).

  15. Why thank you, Catherine. This has proven to be very helpful to me and I really appreciate you taking the time to post it. Everyday I try to improve my Thai and your website is something I’ve added to my list of phrases to memorize and use. I hate not knowing how to say simple things and through daily practice, I’m slowly getting it. Yay!

  16. You are welcome Andrea :) There’s more to come in the series … eventually.

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