How to Hire a House Cleaning Service

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There's nothing like the feeling of a clean house — but the actual act of cleaning is often easier said than done. Whether your house needs the occasional deep cleaning or a regular weekly sprucing, hiring a cleaning service is a luxury and sometimes even a necessity for busy households. House cleaning services can take care of everything from scrubbing the baseboards to doing laundry to changing the sheets, but the level of service that you get will depend on the type of company you hire and the amount of money you spend.

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Ready to bite the bullet and hire a cleaning company? Here's everything you need to know before you start your search.

What a Cleaning Service Does

Cleaning services (whether it's a maid service company or a self-employed independent) offer a wide variety of options, and what they do largely depends on what you ask for. Generally, you can count on a standard cleaning checklist to include washing dishes, taking out the trash, cleaning your bathrooms, dusting the home, vacuuming, and mopping the floors. Many also wipe down kitchen counters, stove tops, and sinks. These are part of the standard tasks that clients expect, and most cleaning services happily provide these basics.

Sometimes, however, a cleaning service will perform other add-ons as well upon request. Often performed only periodically and when specifically asked, a cleaning service may be willing to wash windows, clean blinds, wipe down kitchen cabinets, clean ovens, wax floors, wash the inside of the refrigerator, and move furniture to clean beneath it thoroughly. Some will also clean ceiling fans and light fixtures at your request along with steam cleaning carpets and upholstery.

Not every cleaner will perform all these tasks, however. Some will tackle extra projects, and others stick solely to a specified list of services. You'll need to ask a cleaning service about their specific offerings to know for sure what they will and won't do, and there will be things they won't do.

Most cleaning services won't do any work outdoors, so they won't be cleaning out your gutters or weeding your garden beds. You should also never ask or expect a cleaning service to deal with biohazardous waste of any kind. In most places, it is illegal for them to do so anyway. Remember, too, that house cleaners are not dog walkers, pet sitters, child care providers, or home health aides.

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Doing Your Homework

Before you start looking for a house cleaner in earnest, take a look around your home and decide what you really want the cleaning service to take care of and what you don't. You have to decide what's important to you. Some people don't feel like their house is clean unless they catch a whiff of ammonia. Others don't want to smell cleaning chemicals at all. Quite a few don't feel good about a house cleaning unless there are undisturbed vacuum cleaner lines on the carpet when they walk into a room.

You'll also need to decide what you don't want a cleaning service to do. If you have a messy desk but you know where everything is located, you might prefer it if the cleaning service leaves your desk alone and skips cleaning it. If finding a dish in the wrong cupboard is going to bother you, make sure the cleaning service doesn't empty the dishwasher or put clean dishes away for you. Discuss any allergies or sensitivities you may have as well. If you're allergic to lavender, for instance, you'll want to make sure that your cleaning service doesn't use this scent throughout your home.

You'll also have a bit of homework to do on cleaning days after you hire a cleaning service. That homework will be to tuck away your valuables. Most complaints about cleaning services revolve around late arrivals and missed appointments — not theft, which is actually somewhat rare. Still, you protect both yourself and the crew who comes to clean your house if you make sure cash and other valuables are out of reach.

Depending on the agreement you've reached, you may also have to "clean up for the cleaner" on service days. For example, you may have assured your cleaning service that they won't be picking up any unmentionables off the floor. If so, it's only fair that you do this before the cleaner comes if necessary. Most will go the extra mile if they run into something a little out of the ordinary while cleaning, but you shouldn't consistently expect a cleaning service to do something they haven't agreed to.

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Cleaning Services vs. Independents

Large cleaning services and independent house cleaners both have benefits and drawbacks. Hiring an individual usually means a closer working relationship, and that can be a perk when you're trusting someone to work in your home (especially if this is the first time you've hired a cleaning service). With an independent worker, you know you'll have the same cleaning person every time, and you'll likely pay a bit less than you would if you hire a larger cleaning service.

With an independent service, however, there is no backup. If your person gets sick or needs to take care of a family emergency, your scheduled cleaning will get skipped or postponed. A larger firm, however, can simply send a substitute if need be. A larger firm is also much more likely to carry liability insurance and workers' compensation insurance, and they take care of their own payroll taxes. Some of these responsibilities may fall to you if you hire an independent worker.

Another plus with a larger cleaning service is that you may find them easier to fire. If you're not happy with the service you receive, it's easier to lodge a complaint with someone's boss or fire a company than it is to confront an individual. Once you form a personal attachment to a cleaning person, it can prove difficult to complain. This is especially true when you're unhappy with the work but genuinely like the person doing it.

This also makes a case for not hiring someone you know. Your best friend's cousin may be looking for housekeeping work, but if you hire them, can you fire them? Hiring someone too close to you personally can strain personal relationships if things don't go well or ultimately just don't work out. Someone you know may also push boundaries because he's a little too comfortable with you.

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Questions to Ask a Cleaning Service Before Hiring

Whether you've gotten a referral from a friend or you've found a potential cleaning service online, it's important to ask the following before you hire:

1. Are you insured?

As always, when hiring someone to work in your home, it's extremely important that you make sure they have adequate insurance. A cleaning service should have workers' compensation for the employees as well as liability insurance. If you're hiring an independent agent without liability insurance, call your homeowners' insurance company and ask what protections it offers you when someone works in your home. If the cleaner doesn't have their own insurance and your policy doesn't cover this, don't hire that person.

2. Can I check your references?

You'll also want to ask for and check references. Check the service's standing with the Better Business Bureau and read online reviews. When reading online reviews, try to go for the middle ground. One angry customer may leave a review that's over the top and nowhere close to fair, so take it with a grain of salt. You don't necessarily want to see all glowing reviews either, as this probably means the reviews were bought or hand-picked. Look for consistently (but not impossibly) high marks.

3. How do you conduct background checks?

If someone will be coming to your home, you'll want to know how the company performs background checks on them. The crew you get could change often, so you want to make sure the company is screening the people they send to minimize the risk of problems.

4. How do you handle keys?

You'll need to give the cleaning staff access to your home, but it's important to know how they manage and store keys. It's best to choose a cleaning service that uses a numbered key system rather than attaching your address to the key itself. When possible, it's best to give the cleaning service the code to a digital lock or garage door touchpad so that you can change the code later if you need to do so.

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5. What cleaning supplies need to be provided, if any?

You also need to know who is providing the cleaning supplies the service will use. Do they provide cleaning products or do you? You may have to provide them if you want to use anything special, like nontoxic or green household cleaners. Ask how the company handles breakage as well. Accidents happen, and a good company will have a plan for dealing with them.

6. How will missed appointments be handled?

If you hire a cleaning service, they'll likely have enough staff so that missed cleaning appointments won't be an issue. This can be an issue with a smaller firm, however, so find out how this is handled. Will the cleaning crew come the next day, reschedule, or simply skip the session and come on the next scheduled day?

7. Are you comfortable with pets?

Some people are perfectly comfortable cleaning around dogs, for example, while others may not be. Find out if you need to crate your dog or confine your cat on cleaning day. Be realistic when assessing your pet situation as well. If your cat is a little Houdini who lets himself out all the time, for example, tell the cleaning staff so they don't panic if he bolts out the door.

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The Cost of Hiring a Cleaning Service

On average, a cleaning session costs about $167. On the low end, costs can be about $70 per visit, while the high end runs closer to $250. Flat rates depend on your location, what services are performed, and how messy things tend to be. Vacuuming costs more, for instance, if the cleaner has to pick up your kid's toys beforehand.

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Sometimes, you can pay less per service if you're willing to have the cleaners come more often. Keeping on top of the cleaning is easier if your house gets cleaned once a week rather than once a month. As a result, some services charge a little less if you have them visit more frequently.

Cleaning Service Licensing

Unless the cleaning service you hire offers a specialized service, such as crime scene cleanup, they probably won't be required to have any special licenses or certifications. This means oversight is limited, so you'll have to be cautious about whom you hire. You can't verify the status of a cleaning service through your local government, so you'll need to rely heavily on recommendations, references, and reputation.

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references

Home is where the heart is, and Michelle frequently pens articles about ways to keep yours looking great and feeling cozy. Whether you want help organizing your closet, picking a paint color or finishing drywall, Michelle has you covered. If she's not puttering in the house, you'll find her in the garden playing in the dirt. Her garden articles provide tips and insight that anyone can use to turn a brown thumb green. You'll find her work on Modern Mom, The Nest and eHow as well as sprinkled throughout your other online home decor and improvement favorites.