Good hospital hygiene is integral to the prevention of healthcare associated infections (HCAI). Clinical evidence suggests a link between poor environmental hygiene and healthcare associated infections. A qualitative design, using focus group interviews, was used to explore cleaners' perceptions of their role in the prevention of HCAI. Focus group interviews were conducted with cleaners in two large hospitals in the Republic of Ireland. Data were analysed using thematic content analysis and four themes emerged. These were supervision and communication; roles and task allocations; workload and staffing levels; and education. Findings suggest that cleaners feel they have a role in the prevention of HCAI. However, this role is often undervalued due to the perceived low status of cleaners. Problems of communication in the workplace frequently interfere with work organisation. Furthermore, blurring of role boundaries between cleaners and healthcare assistants can create additional difficulties. © The Author(s) 2010.