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HomeAdvisor's Guide to Hiring a Cleaning or Maid Service

There’s no doubt about it, your house needs cleaning. Maybe not at this moment, but it’s a never-ending job. It can feel that as soon as you’re done, you have to start all over again. Sometimes, you just don’t have enough hours in the day to clean it yourself. Other times, you just need one really big clean-up to get a leg up.

Which one do you need? Do you need regular service? Do you just need to clean up before or after a big party? Did a house guest with a large, shaggy dog leave pet hair all over your furniture? Whatever your needs, you don’t have to do it alone. Professional maids and cleaning services are there to help.

What Is Typically Included In A House Cleaning Or Maid Service?

Typically, a maid service provides a basic cleaning. These are the ongoing tasks that get done on a routine basis. This normally includes:

  • Sweeping
  • Vacuuming
  • Mopping
  • Dishes
  • Dusting
  • Stovetops
  • Beds
  • Sinks
  • Tubs and showers
  • Toilets
  • Vanities
  • Faucets
  • Doorknobs
  • Baseboards

Maids may charge extra for some services, especially if they involve hard-to-reach areas or require special cleaning methods or solutions. For example, some antiques may be harmed if modern cleaning chemicals are used on them. They may require certain organic mixtures to avoid damaging wood or designs. High shelves or fixtures suspended from cathedral-type ceilings may also cost extra. Cleaning the insides of appliance can also cost extra.

House cleaning, on the other hand, is usually a lot more involved. Most people use a house cleaning service to prepare a home for viewing by potential buyers. House cleaning includes most, or all, of the above plus:

  • Carpet cleaning (steam or shampoo)
  • Appliance interiors
  • Mini-blinds
  • Curtains/Drapes
  • Floor polishing
  • Walls
  • Furniture treatment
  • Outlets
  • Switches
  • Grout
  • Trim
  • Crown molding
  • Vents/Ducts
  • Behind furniture and appliances
  • Windows (interior and exterior)
  • Doors (interior and exterior)

There may be other services offered, but these are best discussed with the companies you are interviewing.

What Else Can I Have Cleaned?

There are things in a house that you might not think about cleaning. However, if they are not cleaned on a regular basis, no amount of sweeping or mopping will make the room look clean.

Blinds or Shades

Blinds are difficult to clean because there are so many slats and strings. Hands are constantly touching the puller and the adjustment bar leaving skin oils behind. However, if not cleaned they can make an otherwise spotless room look like a disaster.

Drapes or Curtains

Drapes and curtains are terrific dust and pet hair magnets. Normally a vacuuming on both sides is enough to handle things, but it can be time-consuming, especially if the curtains are very tall or wide.

Carpets or Rugs

Carpets and rugs are the most prone to dirt and grime. Most carpets and rugs do just fine with regular vacuuming, but over time they can show dirt that gets ground in. In those cases, a shampoo, extraction, or steam cleaning is necessary.

Upholstery and Furniture

Second only to carpets and rugs for picking up dirt, upholstery needs to be vacuumed of everything from regular dirt to pet hair and dander. This is especially important for people with allergies.

Acoustic Ceiling or Wall Tiles

Acoustic tiles absorb sound and help keep a quiet room quiet. Unfortunately, they also absorb everything else like dirt, grime, cigarette smoke, grease, and bacteria. They require specialized knowledge to clean them properly.

Ducts and Vents

The ducts and vents of your HVAC system need regular cleaning to keep functioning efficiently. Also, letting too much dust build up in them winds up circulating particulates into the air inside of your home. These particulates can not only include dust, but also molds that can severely affect your health.

Post Construction Clean-Up

You might not have thought about it, but after having remodeling or other home improvement work done there is still a bit of a mess to be cleaned up. Even if the contractor does a clean-up after the job, they are not professional cleaners. They will generally just remove the debris from the job and do a basic cleaning. However, dust and other particles can fly around your house, not just in the work area. A professional cleaner is often hired afterwards to ensure that your home is back to its old self after the work crews have left.

Range & Hood

The range hood is often above eye-level, so it doesn’t always get thoroughly cleaned. A spritz of cleaner and a wipe-down might make it feel clean to the touch, but a good look can reveal grease and dust that has been left behind. It is often a difficult area to clean properly.

Stone Restoration and Polishing

Different stone takes different cleaning and polishing techniques. Some are more prone to scratching than others while others can react to different polishes. Be sure a cleaning service knows how to handle your type of stonework.

Tile and Grout

Especially in a bathroom, tile and grout are particularly susceptible to hard water staining and molds. If it’s bad enough, it will take more than a simple “tub & tile” cleaner to properly clean it. Some grout may have to be replaced and tiles may require a lot of scrubbing.

Walls and Ceilings

The more textured a wall or ceiling is, the more likely it is to pick up dust and grime. Unfortunately, these textured surfaces will also be harder to clean well. Popcorn ceilings are especially hard to clean because of their intense texturing.

Chimney or Fireplace

These are best handled by a professional chimney sweep. Keeping them clean, however, is a safety consideration as much as a “making it look good” consideration. Many house fires start because of build-up in the chimney, and having them routinely cleaned, especially as summer winds to a close, can help keep your family safe.

Exterior Cleaning

Many exterior cleaning jobs are best handled by specialists. Pool cleaning, trash removal, power-washing, sandblasting, and other cleaning that requires moderately heavy equipment often also requires a bit of training to use the equipment properly.

Gutters and Downspouts

Some cleaning services include this as part of a seasonal cleaning package while others regard it as an extra charge. It is important, however, because a build-up of debris can cause water and mold to damage your roof.

Roof Cleaning

You’ve probably never thought about cleaning your roof, but the fact is that not everything that flies up there blows away with the first good wind. Leaves and pine needles can get trapped in valleys and up against vent pipes and chimneys. These will trap moisture which will lead to mold, leaks, and other structural damage.


Some maid services will clean the inside of your windows. Be sure to ask beforehand, though, because many do not. However, cleaning the outside of your windows is often considered a separate task, and many won’t clean the exteriors of upper floor windows because of safety concerns. However, window cleaning services are available that can handle even the most hard-to-reach windows.

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How Much Should a Local Cleaning Service Cost?

The average price nationwide for cleaning service is $152.00 per visit. This price can sometimes be lowered by signing a contract for regular service. More visits often will lower the cost per visit by $5.00 or $10.00. On a first-time visit, a cleaning service may charge by the square foot. This helps them get an idea of how long it will take to clean your house and to get an idea of what requires special attention (high ceiling fans, antiques, etc.). For the typical home, this comes out to around $130.00.

Cleaning services also are available on a one-time basis. You might consider this service for a move-in or move-out cleaning, or you might need help cleaning up before or after a holiday party. This can cost around $200.00 to $300.00.

Sometimes you can hire a service to do a particular task or group of tasks. Perhaps you don’t need your entire house cleaned; maybe you just have a bathroom that’s gotten out of control or a living room that looks like a hurricane has blown through. Here are some average costs for individual tasks you might have a cleaning service handle:

The size of the town you live in can affect costs. This is because larger towns tend to have larger workloads and higher prices. While the amount of competition can help keep costs under control, the cleaner still has to work you into what may be a heavy schedule. Conversely, in a smaller town, even though the competition is not as stiff, the schedules are usually not as heavy and the job often is not often in as great demand as in a larger city. Therefore, the service generally doesn’t command as high a price.

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One-Time or Ongoing?

A one-time cleaning will cost you more than ongoing service. However, a one-time cleaning may be all you need. If you are moving into a new home or moving out of an old one, a professional cleaning can start you off on the right foot. If you are a landlord, a one-time cleaning can get a new house or apartment ready to show to new prospective tenants. Construction clean-up after a remodel is another time when a one-time service is all that’s needed. Some cleaning services also specialize in flood or smoke damage.

Ongoing cleaning service is quite helpful for people with very busy lives or for those who can’t get around very well. Signing a contract for recurring visits can affect costs, as can the frequency of the visits.

  • Weekly – A busy life with a loaded social calendar is a perfect fit for a weekly cleaning. Because things are getting cleaned fairly frequently, the job usually doesn’t take as long.
  • Biweekly – This service is the one most often called for. It’s ideal for people who are just busy enough to keep them from cleaning their homes as thoroughly as they’d like.
  • Monthly – This service often is used by people who don’t entertain a lot but who can use a hand in keeping their house clean.

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Some tasks are considered seasonal. For example, cleaning windows is something people normally request in the spring. However, not all seasons affect all areas the same way. Fall in Syracuse, New York is a lot different from fall in Malibu, California.

Discuss fee schedules with the cleaning service. Be sure you know ahead of time what seasonal tasks will cost more. Also remember that the holiday season sees an increased demand for house cleaners as people get their homes ready for entertaining. Rates may go up as the workload increases, so be sure to ask about that when interviewing.

Some seasonal tasks include:

  • Wiping down exterior doors
  • Patio furniture
  • Gutters and downspouts
  • HVAC unit vents (ground units are prone to debris blocking the vents, and many cleaning services won’t go onto your roof, so be sure to discuss this)
  • Dryer vents
  • Clean lint from around dryer
  • Vacuum refrigerator coils

Because these tasks are normally not considered part of a standard cleaning job, they may cost extra.

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Tips for Hiring a Cleaning Service

Whatever schedule you use for hiring a maid service, the less time they spend cleaning your home the lower your cost will generally be. It may not make sense to you to hire a maid service and then spend your time cleaning your house so they don’t have to work so hard, but there are little things you can do that don’t take much time but can save you a bit of money.

Remember that the cleaners are there to focus on doing a thorough cleaning job. This means that you can take a few moments to wipe down a surface and make it “basically clean”.

  • Cleaning up spills and doing the dishes means that the maid will spend less time getting your countertops sparkling clean.
  • Pick up any and all clutter. While this can be a major chore if you have small children, you can still teach them early to put away things they’ve brought out. Many cleaning services won’t pick up clutter because they don’t want to be held responsible for broken or missing items. By keeping it picked up, they won’t have to wait for you to do it.
  • Sweeping takes less time than you think. Especially if you live in a high dust area like California’s Central Valley, dust from outside can coat your floor in an almost undetectable layer until you try to mop. Routine sweeping takes a few moments and ensures that mopping takes less time.
  • Have everyone make their beds and throw dirty clothes into the hamper.
  • Do a quick wipe-down of your bathroom once a week including the tub, tiles, and shower. This keeps mildew and soap scum from building up so easily, which means the cleaning service will spend less time sanitizing your bathroom.

The key to making this work is to not worry about getting it perfectly clean. Leave that to the professionals. They can also handle the harder areas. In fact, less time working on the easier places gives them more time to focus on harder areas to clean. They can also dedicate more time to getting those easily-forgotten places:

  • Ceiling corners (a haven for cobwebs)
  • Doorknobs
  • Light switches
  • Telephones
  • Baseboards
  • Trim
  • Molding
  • Toilet
  • Behind the toilet
  • Behind major appliances (Some stoves are installed in a nook that has a two-inch or so ledge against the backsplash. This keeps the stove from being shoved up against the wall, but it’s also a place for grease and dust to collect. Also, dust collecting on your refrigerator’s coils can make it run less efficiently and overheat the compressor.)
  • Ceiling fans
  • Tops of cabinets and tall furniture

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What to Ask Your Maid Service

You need to interview a maid service before engaging its services. You want to be sure that its maids have all of the skills necessary to clean your house and you want to get a feel for who they are personally. You should be able to communicate clearly and effectively with them, and asking a few questions can tell you a bit about their qualifications and professionalism.

  • How long have you been in business?

The longer a business has been around, generally the more reliable it is. It’s been in business a while for a reason. Three years is a good amount of time for a cleaning service to have been around. However, this doesn’t mean that the younger companies aren’t worth looking at. Sometimes, you can get a better deal from a young and hungry cleaning company. Interview everyone thoroughly.

  • Are you bonded and insured?

Insurance protects you from any on-the-job injuries that may occur. Bonding protects you in the event of theft. Even when dealing with the most reputable of cleaners, you should insist on their being bonded.

  • Do you have references?

Get three to five references and follow up on them. Ask about the cleaner’s professionalism and if the job has been done to the customer’s satisfaction. Ask about how any complaints or concerns were handled. Ideally, get references for jobs that are similar to yours.

  • Do you run background checks on your employees?

This is critical. A background check reveals past arrests, misdemeanors, and felonies. A basic check gives you the information for one state, but more advanced checks are available that cover all 50 states. These are available for anywhere from $10.00 to $150.00, depending on how in-depth you want to go.

  • What products do you use?

While most cleaning solutions are fine for most houses, you may have surfaces such as antiques that are sensitive to certain chemicals. Also, allergies and other sensitivities could be a concern for your house. If you have an infant, certain cleaning chemicals may not be safe to use on things the baby is in regular contact with.

  • What tasks do your cleaners do?

Ask for a checklist. This will not only let you know if the cleaners are missing anything when they clean, but it also will let you know what is and isn’t in their scope of responsibility. For example, while they may be responsible for dusting and vacuuming your living room, they may not be required to move furniture. Use the list to jog your mind about any special areas you want cleaned.

  • Will it be the same person each time?

If you’re hiring an independent operator, you will most likely be seeing the same person at your door each time. A cleaning service often will have territories for its cleaners as well, but not always. If it won’t always be the same person each time, ask how to identify a person as a legitimate employee of the firm or whether you will be notified ahead of time that someone else will be taking your regular cleaner’s place.

  • What is your guarantee?

All cleaning companies should be willing to stand behind their work 100%. If anything is wrong because of its actions, it should be willing to correct it quickly.

  • Who do I talk to about complaints?

If you’re hiring an independent operator, then the person you file a complaint with is usually the person you have the complaint about. A larger company usually has a department that handles complaints and follows through on them. Be sure you know the complaint procedure so you know who to talk to if something goes wrong.

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Green Cleaning Options

Environmentally-friendly cleaners have had a tough start. Many of the early ones just didn’t work as well as more chemically based cleaners. But over the years products and processes have improved greatly. Now, you can clean almost everything in your house with “green” products and not have to settle for a sub-standard level of cleanliness.

Some green alternatives to standard cleaners are:

  • Sun & Earth All-Purpose
  • Green Works Natural All-Purpose
  • Simple Green All-Purpose
  • Green Earth Daily Floor Cleaner
  • Green Earth Glass Cleaner
  • Green Earth Natural Degreaser
  • Green Earth Peroxide Cleaner Concentrate
  • Stix (toilet, shower, and tile cleaner)

Aside from using green cleaners, many cleaning services go as green as they can by using rags or microfiber cloths instead of paper towels, and mop heads that can be washed instead of being thrown away. Also, to reduce allergens and spores inside your home, you can request HEPA (high efficiency particle arrestance) vacuum bags.

Note that some items, such as the vacuum bags, might cost extra if that isn’t what they normally use. You can also supply your own cleaners and other products if you have particular needs in your home. Discuss such concerns with the cleaners before you hire them.

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Commercial/Janitorial Cleaning

A house cleaning service uses tools and equipment that are more suitable to the spaces in a typical home. While a power buffer may put a great shine on the floor of your company cafeteria, it’s going to be too big and clumsy for the average kitchen or bathroom floor in a home.

Janitors are often assigned to a building or office complex. They handle the larger jobs such as auditoriums or common areas like lobbies and bathrooms. Janitors are also part of the building’s or complex’s staff. They are a regular employee.

  • The average cost of a residential cleaning service is about $152.00 a month. If you have a small office, you might think that your cleaning agency’s fee of $100.00 a month is cheaper, but you have to look at what you get.
  • The average cost of a residential maid is $152.00 a month. The actual average cost of cleaning for your office is from $500.00 to $800.00 per month for an average small office.
  • Larger offices usually pay from $2,000.00 to $5,000.00 per month.

So why not hire your residential cleaner to clean your office? Depending on your state or municipality, a residential cleaner and a commercial cleaner might need two different licenses. Your office will have different cleaning expectations than your home, which could result in a higher price, and different products may have to be used due to the higher level of occupancy.

In Conclusion

You don’t have to be rich to have a maid. Cleaning services exist for many different budgets and can be useful whether for ongoing cleaning or a one-time clean-up. Whichever one you choose, you’re sure to find the service that is right for your needs.

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