Nothing feels better than walking into a fresh-smelling home – that someone else has cleaned. While that may be true whether we are 35 or 65, hiring someone to stay on top of our house cleaning chores means more the older we get. At some point, what used to feel like a luxury becomes a justifiable necessity.
Even if we hold on to our good health, we start losing muscle mass with each passing decade. Climbing ladders to wipe the overhead fan blades feels daunting with time. Our favorite vacuum cleaner seems to get heavier each year. And while having a clean house is appealing, cleaning it is not. Factor in arthritis in our hands, a bad back or a worn-out heart, and we find ourselves going online to see just how much those house cleaning services cost.
Once the decision is made to investigate house cleaning services, the first choice is whether to go with a large company that provides the maids or with an individual house cleaner. There are pros and cons to each choice.
A house cleaning service manages all the details for you: it finds, investigates and trains the maids, files all State and Federal paperwork, pays the taxes, ensures the maids are at your house as scheduled and manages the quality of their work. It also protects you against theft, accidental breakage and in-home accidents by being bonded and insured.
On the other hand, it is usually more expensive, you are at the mercy of a company’s standard cleaning ‘program’ and you may not have the same maids each time despite all efforts made by the service.
With an individual house cleaner, you have the opportunity to select the person who will be coming into your home. You can train the person to clean the way you like and follow your priorities. In many cases, you will be able to develop a personal relationship that will become more and more important as you age and decline in health. The money you pay, which will likely be less than with a service, will go directly to the person doing the work, and not to a company that is covering franchise fees, marketing and profits on top of paying the maids.
However, the administrative burden when hiring an individual who qualifies as an employee is considerable. Also, you do face the possibility of losing that individual cleaner to any number of life events, and you will be left to start over. The service would just send another maid.
That first decision is a big one. While both choices have their appeal, for purposes of this overview we will continue analyzing house cleaning services.
Regardless what anyone says, aging means less energy. We start prioritizing how we use that now-limited resource, and house cleaning may not top the list. But, because a clean house has an impact on both our physical and our mental well-being, if we cannot do it, we need an acceptable, affordable alternative that can.
Using a house cleaning service means:
- Reducing clutter and other obstacles in our homes that could lead to falls;
- Keeping dust and bacteria levels down to protect our health;
- Avoiding injuries from equipment that has become too heavy or too dangerous;
- Avoiding discouragement – and depression – that can come from living in a dirty house; and
- Ultimately, being able to stay longer in our homes – living independently – as we age.
You may decide to look at the well-known names among house cleaning services. These are usually national companies with local franchised operations. You may also look at smaller local or regional businesses (as opposed to individuals).
In either case, when comparing the house cleaning services available in your area, the first information to gather is the price for cleaning your home and whether you need to sign a contract. You question if they offer a risk-free trial so that you can check them out, how hard it is to cancel the service and what kinds of protections there are regarding insurance.
Also, you want to know how many people will be in a cleaning team, if you have to be home when they come, how they secure your house key if you give them one and if they use environmentally friendly cleaning supplies.
The frequency of house cleaning is one factor in how companies price their services to you. If it is one-time only, the cost will be higher. Routine cleaning is what you need to maintain your home, but an occasional deep cleaning or special service could also be needed. The company should be able to offer that flexibility.
Knowing a regular team of maids will be cleaning your home each time is reassuring, as opposed to random cleaners. Be sure you have a voice in who will be coming to your home and that the company considers that a priority. Also confirm how they train cleaners and what the company’s vetting process entails, such as background checks, drug tests and legal status in the U.S.
You will want to ask who provides the house cleaning supplies and the equipment. Most companies will provide everything. If you are particular about the supplies used in your home, be sure the company is flexible and does not demand that its cleaners use only its own supplies.
Two areas differentiate what seniors prioritize from what others do: age friendliness and health-related value.
Regarding age friendliness, your interaction with the service will be the same regardless of your age. The service will be doing all the work. However, if you are dealing with a large company that has a set cleaning ‘program,’ some of the needs that arise as you age may not be fulfilled. You may have to curb your expectations; they are not you and will not clean as you do.
With the explosion in the number of seniors, though, local companies that specialize in cleaning seniors’ homes are popping up everywhere. These are not ‘age-in-place’ care services. Instead, these are house cleaning services that understand that aging seniors have some special – and very individual – wants and don’t wants. One of these local services may be the perfect solution, but it must still pass all the tests established here for the national services.
As for health-related value, health plays a far greater role in the needs of senior customers vs younger customers. Four out of five seniors living at home are said to be dealing with some chronic health condition. The condition could be rheumatism or arthritis, high blood pressure, back issues, heart disease and eye-related issues such as glaucoma, for example.
As health declines, several aspects of house cleaning will magnify in importance. They include how disruptive the cleaning process is, how environmentally friendly the products are so they don’t aggravate any illness, how trustworthy and familiar the people are coming into the senior’s home and how well they deal with someone whose cognitive skills may be failing.
Very rarely will you be able to go to a website, enter some information and receive an estimate for cleaning your house that isn’t subject to adjustment. You will have to obtain individual quotes from each potential service.
Companies may quote based on the number of rooms to be cleaned, the square footage or the hour. First, find out how they quote. Quoting by the hour is the least reliable since you do not know how many people they have in a team and how fast they clean.
To compare apples-to-apples between several companies, prepare a list with your specific information: know the frequency of service, the total number of rooms to be cleaned (number of bedrooms, bathrooms, what other rooms) and the square footage, in case it is needed. Is your house single-story or multi-story? Do you want standard or green cleaning supplies? Do you have special circumstances such as pets, valuable antiques and known allergies? What about any hard-to-access features of your home? Once you have all that, then call. (Some may want to visit your house before quoting.)
Your goal is to obtain the per-cleaning cost of repeat service for your home. Check on exactly what they will clean. Then check on the cost of any extras that they might not include in their cleaning program, but that you might want to be done.
In hiring house cleaning services, the initial evaluation criteria include the price (the basic costs for cleaning your particular house in your desired frequency), the length of commitment, whether there is a risk-free trial cleaning, how hard it is to cancel and whether you are covered by an insurance policy.
Price: While price is a real consideration, it should not be the only one. The least expensive service may not be the best one for you. It is more important to identify the budget you have available for the ongoing service, and then select from the quotes that fall within that budget. Remember that house cleaning entails bringing outsiders into your home; you have to be certain you are comfortable with every aspect of your choice.
Contract obligation: Very few companies will require that you commit to a long-term working arrangement. The only consideration is that if a company gives you a price for multiple cleanings and you call to discontinue after only one, they may adjust the cost of that first service to a one-time cleaning cost.
Risk-free trial: House cleaning companies do not tend to offer risk-free trials of their service. However, virtually all of the larger ones will guarantee your satisfaction with the work. As long as you call and report your dissatisfaction within a set period (usually 24 hours), they will send a team to do a free re-cleaning of the problem area for you.
Cancellation: At some point, you will have to cancel a scheduled cleaning, whether for a medical emergency, a trip or something else. How the company deals with a cancellation is telling. Granted, they have to keep their teams of maids busy. Be certain to find out how much advanced notice you need to provide (this tends to be 24, 48 or 72 hours) and what the cancellation fee will be if you are not within that window. Also, confirm how they charge you if the team arrives at your home, you have not left a key and you are not home.
Insurance: Insurance is one of the more valuable benefits of hiring maids from a larger company. You want to be sure the company has coverage for any loss, damage or breakage, plus full liability coverage for their employees while they are on your property.
In selecting a house cleaning service, you will want to know how many people are in a cleaning team. Four may feel like a whirlwind tearing through your house. Two may disrupt your peace and quiet for longer than you want. It’s up to you.
You will want to know what your options are for giving them access to your home. You may not want to wait for them to show up since they often work within a window of time, not an exact hour. If you give them your house key, you need to know how they limit access to that key, ideally coding it somehow and locking it in a safe, accessible only by management. You also need to think about your alarm: do you leave it off or give them the code?
What cleaning supplies and equipment they use is also vital, especially if you have any respiratory issues. Not only do you want to minimize the introduction of chemicals or odors, but you may want to know that their vacuuming equipment can capture virtually all dust, allergens, bacteria, pet dander, pollen and other pollutants.
Here is the most important point: with the large national companies, understand that they are all pretty similar. What counts is not what the company website says. What counts is what people say about the local franchisee of that company. They are the ones you will be dealing with regularly, not headquarters. Get referrals from your friends. Read local reviews. Check with any senior associations in town about who is good with seniors and who is not. Consider an individual or small, specialized company.
Remember, you are opening your home to people who can dramatically improve your quality of life. However, they can also be a constant headache. Select carefully.