Nuts and bolts of hiring a house cleaner

In my last post, I talked about why my husband and I hired a cleaning lady during the later part of my intern year. Today we’ll be talking about the actual mechanics of hiring a cleaning lady. Without further ado, let’s get started!

How much does a house cleaner cost?

Obviously, that depends. You can find a nice overview here, though of course it isn’t going to be totally accurate. I looked at a bunch of these calculators before we took the plunge and got some quotes, and the calculators almost scared me off the whole thing. Naturally your mileage may vary, and it is going to depend on a lot of things. Keep in mind that the initial cleaning often takes longer and costs more than subsequent cleanings.

I’ll throw out our number for your consideration. Our home is 3 bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms, two stories, and about 1500 square feet. Our cleaning lady comes every two weeks, and we pay $95 per visit. The initial deep cleaning was $125. She spends about 3 hours here per cleaning. She is an independent cleaner (not with a bigger company or franchise), which makes her a bit cheaper because she doesn’t have to pay a manager. The calculator that I linked to above puts the average in my area at $126. The other quote that I got was $150 for the initial cleaning and $95 for biweekly cleanings after that, also from an independent house cleaner. We didn’t get any quotes from big companies.

How often does a house cleaner come?

That is up to you and your house cleaner. the most common would be every two weeks, sometimes once a month. Our cleaner comes every two weeks. It is also common for cleaners to charge $5-10 more per cleaning for each extra week between cleanings. If they come every 4 weeks instead of every 2, there is just more work to do when they do come. For example, if your cleaning would cost $100 every 2 weeks, it might cost $110 if they come every 3 weeks, and $120 if they come once a month.

Many cleaners also offer one-time cleanings, like to get ready for a party or a move. If you don’t want to commit to a regular cleaning but feel like you need some help every six months or so, you can do that, too!

You shouldn’t be expected to sign any sort of long-term contract, so you have a lot of freedom to change your cleaning schedule, increase or decrease the frequency of cleanings, skip a cleaning, or cancel the service altogether.

What does the house cleaner do, and what do I do?

It’s important to remember that a house cleaner is not the same as having a live-in maid. When we got our first quote, the lady complained that the house was too messy for her to clean. At first, it seemed ridiculous. I thought I was hiring someone to clean my house! The thing is, house cleaners are here to CLEAN, not to TIDY or to DECLUTTER. It is not usually the cleaner’s job to wash dishes, do laundry, or put away clutter. Your job is to do the tidying and decluttering (and the daily maintenance stuff like emptying the dishwasher), so that when the house cleaner comes, she can clean. Typical tasks for the house cleaner include mopping, vacuuming, cleaning countertops, windows, blinds, shutters, showers, sinks, mirrors, and dusting.

At first I wasn’t sure how this would work out. Before we hired a house cleaner, I was trying to do everything, and as a result I wasn’t finishing anything. The house was both dirty and untidy. Now that I am only trying to do the tidying and decluttering, I am actually able to keep up with it, and the house cleaner stays on top of the actual cleaning.

Where do I find a good house cleaner?

I always would have thought the best way  to find a good house cleaner would be to get recommendations from colleagues, and that is how I started out. Unfortunately, the cleaner whom my colleagues recommended didn’t work out. (If you didn’t read the first post about hiring a house cleaner, she showed up two hours late to give us a quote, and when we gave her a second chance and had her come back to clean, she no-showed.)

How did we find our cleaner? Angie’s List, actually. She had great ratings and was really responsive when I reached out to her through their portal.

No matter where you look, be sure to get multiple quotes and interview multiple people. A quick conversation will usually reveal whether someone is a responsible professional or not. It was important to us to have someone who is easy to get in touch with, who is on time, and who takes pride in their work. We could quickly see the difference between our first quote (late, then no-showed, then didn’t respond to texts or phone calls) and the woman we hired (prompt, professional, communicative). You also want to make sure you aren’t severely overpaying.

As an interesting aside, I’ve noticed that a good house cleaner, like a good contractor or handyman, assumes that you are getting multiple quotes. The people who push you to commit right away are usually not the best for one reason or another. They are often providing sub-standard service, charging above-market rates, or both. Beware the person who assumes they are the only person you are considering!

What about a franchise business, like Merry Maids?

There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with a franchise business or big business like that. We decided that we wanted to hire an independent cleaner for a few reasons, but I’ve tried to lay out the advantages or each option below.

Pros of hiring a bigger company:

  • may have more scheduling flexibility, including availability on nights or weekends
  • cleanings less likely to be delayed or canceled (if you regular cleaner is sick or on vacation, someone else can fill in)

Pros of hiring an independent cleaner:

  • less overhead (smaller office or no office) and fewer managers theoretically means lower prices for you
  • may have more personal pride (and personal reputation) tied to job performance – avoid the “wage slave” mentality
  • schedule directly with the person who will be coming to your home
  • you will have the same cleaner every week

When do they come?

That depends! Some cleaners work nights and weekends, others only work during regular business hours. Many people want to be home when the house cleaner comes. Not only does it feel safer not to leave someone unattended in your house for hours at a time (or give someone a key), it also means you are available if your house cleaner has questions. Our cleaner took about 5 hours for the initial deep cleaning, with an assistant. When she comes for her regular maintenance cleanings, it’s just her, and she is at the house for about 3 hours. My husband works from home so he is home when she comes during the week. Colleagues of mine who are single or whose spouses work have their cleaner come on their day off.

What do I do when the cleaner comes?

Try to be available while staying out of the cleaner’s way – put away your laundry while she works in the kitchen, or read a book in the living room while she works in the bedrooms.

Be sure to have your payment ready. Some cleaners prefer cash or money orders to credit card payment because they have to pay fees for the credit card processing, so they get to take home less money if you pay with a credit card. When you interview a cleaner, ask what form of payment they prefer.

If you have dogs or small children, keep them out of the way. Some people confine their pets in a room the cleaner won’t be cleaning (like a garage, or a guest room that doesn’t require frequent cleaning). Other people take the dog outside to play fetch while the cleaner works.

What if it doesn’t work out?

This is a business transaction, not a charity. If you didn’t like your haircut, would you keep going back to the same place? Probably not. But would you give up on getting your hair cut altogether? Probably not. If it isn’t working out, it’s totally acceptable to stop asking that cleaner to come back and hire someone else. Don’t feel like you have to continue paying for a service that isn’t worth what you’re spending on it. There are a lot of house cleaners out there. You could even skip a cleaning with your current cleaner and have someone else come for a trial cleaning and see how it goes.

If you love the cleaner but just feel like you need them more or less often, just talk to your cleaner! Most of the time, you can work something out.



Ok, what questions do you have? Have you ever hired a house cleaner? How did it go? What do you wish you had known beforehand? 

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