How To Hire A Home Cleaning Service

Reader MecuryPDX left a detailed comment about how to hire a home cleaning service that was so good we thought it would make a great front-page article.

I had a bi-weekly cleaning service for the past 3 years. Unfortunately when I got laid off I had to suspend them too, but they should be back within a month (fingers crossed). This is a short guide on how to choose:

1. Seek out references. Do any of your neighbors or co-workers use a cleaning service? Ask them: How much they pay hour and how often they have them scheduled.

2. Ask Questions! When you get the service on the phone, ask, ask, ask, in no particular order…

a. How long have you been in business?
Obviously the longer, the better. Look them up in the BBB to make sure they have a spotless record with them.

b. Do you have insurance?
You want a resounding yes. If they break something or get hurt in your home you’re off the hook without using your homeowners insurance.

c. Are your employees screened/licensed/bonded/insured?
You want a yes here too. This means the employees have had a criminal background check AND should something go awry you can be compensated.

d. Are your employees *actual* employees of the company, and not contractors or third party vendors/suppliers?
You want actual employees. Contractors and third party vendors/suppliers are a gamble you do NOT want to take.

e. What type of services do/don’t you provide?
Some don’t do windows or laundry, some do. If you have specific things you need done, ask and ask how much extra it costs.

f. Do you give an in-home estimate?
If the people cleaning your home see what they have to do, it helps determine how much you pay. You may get an hourly quote over the phone, but you won’t know how many hours until the cleaners arrive and check it all out.

g. What is your cancellation policy?
Some companies require anywhere from 24-48 hours notice if you need to cancel. Will they charge a fee? Hopefully not, but some do. The company I use charges 50% your weekly fee if you don’t cancel within 24 hours of your appointment.

h. What are my payment options?
My cleaners would only take cash or a check made out to the company due at time of service. Some companies will allow you to charge to a CC, or invoice you.

i. Do you have any kind of Guarantee?
Most companies will guarantee your satisfaction. Find out ahead of time what the “rebuttal process” is, and what you can expect compensation-wise ahead of time. The company I use will either re-clean to my satisfaction or apply a discount… but only if I complain within 48 hours of service.

j. Will the same people be cleaning my home each week?
Since your housecleaner will be following a routine, you want consistency.

k. Do I need to be home for you to clean?
This is YOUR call. If you feel comfortable enough to let them clean when you’re out [I do], then do so. If you choose to be home, try to stay out of their way. Save any suggestions and critiques until they are done; do not hover and say “missed a spot” over and over.

l. Can you supply me some client references?
If they’re worth their salt, they can and will. You should call the references they supply you, and visit if possible.)

m. Do you supply cleaning products and appliances?
This varies by company. Mine brings all their stuff. If you want them to use specific products [eg. “Green”/Eco Friendly, Pet Friendly, only X Brand, etc.], ask. You will probably have to supply those.

3. Expect the initial visit or two to be slightly more expensive. Before they get into a regular routine, the service should do a top to bottom clean-up of your entire home. This will take longer than a regular appointment. The cleanings they do after that are more like maintenance.

4. Having a service does not mean you can live like a slob. You should try to maintain your home’s appearance as much as possible between service visits. Try to keep things uncluttered and tidy; once your house is clean you’d be surprised at how easy this is to do. If something spills, clean it up… don’t leave it for a week until the cleaners come back. The idea again is that they come to do maintainence cleaning, and not a top-to bottom scrub every time they come to your home.

5. It’s going to be an adjustment the first few times your house is cleaned. If you have a problem, speak up. The housecleaner may not know your pots and pans go in the third cabinet from the left, or that they shouldn’t put pens in the junk drawer. Cut them some slack on knowing where things go for the first few visits. I made an arrangement with my housecleaner that the dining room table is the “Where does this go?” area; anything they can’t figure out where to place goes there.

6. DO leave a tip and call in compliments. If you’re getting great service you should tip anywhere from 15-20% of your service for the week. Be sure to call in to their office and compliment the staff when they do a good job. It’s in your best interest to have a good relationship with your housecleaning team.

(Photo: stephcarter)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Bladefist says:

    Sweet. Can anyone tell me about how much cleaning services would cost? I have absolutely no idea. I’ve heard that cleaning services are not just for the rich.

  2. MonkeyMonk says:

    My wife and I looked into this earlier in the year. We live in the Chicago area and most of the name-brand cleaning services (Molly Maids, etc.) averaged out to about $90-$100 a visit. This included a team of two people spending approximately 2 hours.

    You can probably get a cheaper price if you go with an individual rather than a franchise service.

  3. mrmaxmouse says:

    @bladefist: They are pretty pricey…I typically found them to be about $90/cleaning for a 2 bedroom. If you have a higher frequency, they can be less…Some are more.

    This is pretty pricey for a weekly engagement, since you’re now spending $360+/mo to keep your apartment clean. I used to get bi-monthly cleanings…I have no problem with the “clean as you go” mentality…cleaning up dishes, throwing away trash, to keep it tidy. I have problems finding time to do the stuff that you don’t do every day: windex windows, clean the oven/fridge, mop, vacuum, etc. That kind of stuff I had them do.

    Cost all depends on the size of your house…also, “big” names are going to cost more, since you’re also paying for the name. I paid $90 per cleaning for 1 person in a 2 bedroom 2.5 bath 1100 sq ft townhouse. Also, some places give you a lower per cleaning price if you clean more often…Someone getting their house cleaned once a week will pay less per visit than someone getting their house cleaned once a month.

  4. mrmaxmouse says:

    Forgot to add: So while it’s not astronomically priced, it’s also not cheap either. For me it’s something that I do to save me 4-5 hours a week. If your $90 is worth 4-5 hours a week of your time, then it’s worth it. It all depends on you & your family’s needs and income

  5. cmac says:

    I’m in South Florida and my 1200 sqf house is $65 biweekly. That includes laundry, ironing, dishes, sheets, and normal cleaning/tidying. But I went with an individual instead of a company. If you go with a highly recommended individual instead of a company, it’s much cheaper but you give up something for that price.

  6. DadCooks says:

    Any cleaning service that ONLY accepts cash or check (perticularly if made out to a person’s name) at itme of service may be hiring illegals and/or not reporting all income.

    Ask to see a copies of their business license, insurance certificate, and bonding certificate–reputable services/contractors will provide you with current copies of each. Do call the licensing city, insurance company, and bonding agency to ensure that all are still current/up-to-date.

    Check your own homeowners insurance for coverage and seriously consider an umbrella policy.

    Don’t forget to take a set of before and after pictures for the first couple of times.

  7. satoru says:

    Just as a reference my friend hired a cleaning service and the lady was stealing stuff from their home. She would first move an item she was looking at within the same room. Then after awhile if that item had not moved back, she would take it. The idea being that if the item was not moved back, you are not conscious of it all the time so you won’t notice it is missing until much later.

    Just an FYI for people to watch their stuff every single time the cleaning people come over.

  8. balthisar says:

    The last time I lived in a corporate apartment, they sprung for cleaning. No idea how much it cost, but they were fantastic.

    I’ve since gotten married to a stay-at-home wife. Because she stays at home, I feel it’s not sexist to let her do the routine cleaning.

    When we lived in Mexico for a year, we had a private individual that came in two or three times per week. I think it set us back about $15 to $20 per week. That actually upset the neighbors, because the cleaning gals talk and this drives up prices (yeah, just like on that Who’s the Boss? episode).

  9. velvetjones says:

    @mrmaxmouse: True, but what’s it worth to you to never fight about who cleans what or takes out the garbage?

  10. pkrieger says:

    My mom had a great way to test a maid for honesty and thoroughness: a trial run. She would place coins in various places that she would expect the maid to clean: between the couch cushions, baseboards, etc. Then, she told the lady to put all the loose change she finds in a bowl. When she left, my mom would go around and check to see where coins were left and how much was actually in the bowl. If there was too much change laying around, or not enough change in the bowl. She knew there was a problem.
    As an aside: to encourage my brothers and I to keep our rooms clean, and be careful of where we put our money, the maid was allowed to keep any money she found in our rooms. (We were less than 7 so its not like she was taking $100 at a time.)

  11. MercuryPDX says:

    I paid $80 every other week for cleaning of the master bed and bath, living room, guest bath, hallway, and kitchen (roughly 1300 sq feet). They would also water my house plants, launder towels, change bed linens, and clean about 30 pieces of framed artwork on the wall.

    They would come every other Friday, and I have to tell you nothing capped off the end of a long work week better than coming home to a clean house for the weekend.

  12. wtto says:

    You should think about other questions you think are relevant.

    – Do you provide benefits including health insurance to your employees? How much of the insurance do you pay for if any?
    – How much do you pay your employees per hour or salary?

    I would rather pay an extra couple of dollars an hour to hire a company that’s going to give its employees health insurance for them and their families. If you believe in the free market, you have to include your values in your purchase.

  13. hills says:

    I go with a private individual – $80 biweekly for a 2 bdrm place, now we upped it to $60 weekly. We don’t have cash to burn by any means, but seriously, this has been really nice the past few years… I can’t remember the last time I cleaned a toilet bowl, and that feels good!

  14. Trai_Dep says:

    The article seems incomplete. Nowhere can you ask if they wear Sexy French Maid uniforms. Or Roman Slave Boy attire, if that rocks your world.

  15. The_Duke says:


    If you think a cleaning lady is getting health insurance, you are dreaming.

  16. Incidentally, a few maid visits is one of the nicest presents you can give new parents. Everything’s so busy and out of control and nobody sleeps, so the house tends to get messy.

  17. spryte says:

    Before you spend money on cleaning services, I recommend reading “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich. She spent a year working in various minimum wage jobs in different parts of the country to see if it was actually possible to live on the wage, and one of those jobs was working for a maid service. Basically, the people who work for these services are taught how to do the absolute bare minimum of actual cleaning – using water (and often dirty water) in place of actual cleaners, using the same sponge on different surfaces and in different rooms (read: kitchen AND bathroom), etc. Your house may look clean but in actuality the germs and bacteria are still having a party.

    IMO, stop being lazy and clean your own house. Even if you have a large home and even if you work and/or have kids, if you keep on top of it and do a little every other day or something, it’s really not a problem to do it yourself.

  18. camille_javal says:

    @wtto: That’s what I was thinking about – when I was teaching writing, I once used the chapter from Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed wherein she worked for a housecleaning franchise. Once I reach the point in my life where I’m busy enough that I can’t get around to cleaning the bathroom and kitchen, I’ll be making a good deal of money, and I’d *like* to know someone was getting decent money and benefits for their own work.

  19. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @spryte: You’re hired. How much do you charge for a biweekly visit?

  20. jacknval says:

    I bet you don’t have any children. I have 3 small kids and work full time, and a few months ago I decided to hire a bi-weekly cleaning service. We are not rich, so it is definitely a luxury. I pay $98 a visit. That’s only cleaning, no laundry or ironing or dishes, so it’s not like I don’t do any housework. They come on Friday and have 4 women who each have a designated area of the house to clean. So I don’t think they are using the same sponge on my toilet as on my fridge, (I HOPE) and they are in and out in a little over an hour. I do the maintenance in between and am much happier now that I don’t have to spend my weekends cleaning and can spend more time with my kids. I would rather spend $200 a month for that time with them than Starbucks or eating out.

  21. spryte says:

    @jacknval: Nope I don’t have kids, but my mother had three and worked and she managed to clean the house, do the laundry, etc etc, by herself. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be frustrating to work it in, I’m just saying it’s not impossible, and even if you can afford it, you may be paying for a lot less than you think.

  22. d2kd3k says:

    Another important question to ask: what kind of cleaning products do you use?

    We have been extremely fortunate to find a cleaner who makes all her own cleaning products with non-toxic formulas.

    So now we have biweekly cleanings (around $75 for 1BR, 1Ba apartment) that leave our home sparkling and smelling great, without bleach and other nasty chemicals to make us sick.

  23. wtto says:


    I’m glad to know someone else is thinking about these issues

    I think that living wages for others need to be considered every time you consider “outsourcing” a task. It’s not just about how valuable your time is, but also about what is fair to someone else.

  24. That70sHeidi says:

    Our former cleaning lady used to wear rubber gloves to do things, in the kitchen or bathroom, dust, etc., then unload our dishwasher without taking the gloves off.

    Needless to say, we’re not re-hiring her now that we can afford her. She’d spend 2 hours sitting talking to my mother instead of working!

    She ran her own business, it wasn’t through an agency where you have someone to complain to. Sigh.

  25. DallasDMD says:

    @DadCooks: Credit card acceptance is expensive, especially if you are a small business. While I agree with not hiring staff that are illegal, I would never discriminate against a business because of their credit card acceptance.

    Check and see if the company has a valid business license. That should be enough to determine if they are legit or not.

  26. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

    @spryte: my mother had three and worked and she managed to clean the house, do the laundry, etc etc, by herself.
    And you never thought to lift a finger to help her, huh? Niiiice.

    IMO, if you can afford it (and most everyone can with a little budgeting) it’s a invaluable service. Cut back on the Starbucks and free up your Saturdays to spend with your loved ones.

  27. olivia2.0 says:

    There is a great book called “Nickled and Dimed” about a journalist who attempts to make ends meet with a series of minimum wage jobs. Cleaning houses with a cleaning service is one of them. It is a really, really interesting look at the process and thought that is behind “cleaning” homes. I would recommend it to anyone, just for general reading, however, especially if you are planning on hiring, or do currently employ, a cleaning service.

  28. spryte says:

    @ceejeemcbeegee: Well, gee, as a toddler, no I didn’t. Somehow I don’t think I would have been much of a help. And THAT is the time period to which I was referring, I wasn’t talking about my teenage years, when I most certainly lifted much more than finger around the house. But I hope you enjoyed making assumptions, I’m sure it was fun for you.

  29. Eilonwynn says:

    Sometimes it can just work well to do a “paid in trade” thing with a friend. My best friend cleans my whole apartment, once a month, top to bottom, and in exchange, I do graphic design and manual labour for her film work. We’re both happy, and if we aren’t, we talk about it – Because it’s trade, you’re a lot less uncomfortable about it, and she knows that between school (full time) and work (also full time), the dishes are REALLY not my top priority. She also won’t steal my stuff :)

  30. spitfire101 says:

    I have 4 ladies that spend an hour cleaning my studio apartment, their rate is $5 for the hour, total. Sometimes I tip them twice that much, (because I worked in housekeeping at one point…) and they do a fantastic job. Then again, I live in Thailand and I’ll never be able to afford a cleaning service when I go back to North America. It makes a big difference if you tidy/pick up before they arrive; then they spend more time cleaning the neglected spots like behind the bed and less time organizing your junk.
    I really like that idea of gifting new parents with some housekeeping, will use that in the future!

  31. allthatsevil says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Amen to that! I wish one of my friends had thought of that. A few days ago I took my 6-week-old with me to run some errands. When I got home, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my fiance had cleaned the living room (no small task).

    That was 4 days ago and it’s already back to the way it was. I wish I could talk him into hiring someone, just so I could get a nap now and then. I wouldn’t mind paying someone just to do the dishes.

  32. phxman says:

    A cleaning service isn’t something that’s in my budget, but I would also recommend anyone looking at a cleaning service also read the book “Nickled and Dimed”. It has some other insights you may want to watch out for.

  33. AW99 says:

    I live in Chicago and found a cleaning service through Angie’s List. They come every other week for 4 hours and we pay $80 per visit. Quiet honestly, it is worth every penny especially when I was traveling every week. I am a clean freak and my boyfriend can be very messy at times. Now we have more time for exercise or just relaxing after a very busy day at work. Also, I don’t have to get mad when he doesn’t clean the bathroom like I asked.

  34. Anonymous says:

    I hired a cleaning service, and they basically sprayed and wiped my kitchen and bathroom. Is this the norm? When I’ve cleaned my bathroom and kitchen, I’ll put a cleaning solution in a gallon of water and scrub everything with this powerful disinfectant. And I mop my floor from the cleaning solution in the bucket. It does not seem to me the cleaning service is as effective by simply spraying and wiping — but maybe that’s the norm with cleaning services.