Tell me about your maid service?
April 2, 2005 9:35 AM   Subscribe

So i'm a young professional who doesn't have the {time,energy} to keep my house clean. I've been thinking about getting a maid or cleaning service, but the house is such a pigsty that I'm worried about them just throwing up their hands and going home. Do you keep your place in very bad shape?

I mean, i'm talking a serious problem. Like dishes on shelves, cat poop when i'm not at home for several days, clothes thrown all over the place, you know the drill. -- and that's in addition to all the normal mildew/dust/toilet bowls/kitchen counters/etc. I mean, if I have to do a lot of precleaning, I don't see the point of getting a maid service. The pig sty nature of the house is usually due to me being out of town for several days at a time. What is the maid service honestly expected to do, and has yours cleaned up from this kind of situation before?
posted by arimathea to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
In short, yes. The more of a mess there is, the longer it takes them, and therefore the more they earn.

I get a cleaner/ pair of cleaners in every month or six weeks, and tend to do a pre-clean just because it keeps the cost down.

But if you warn them in advance that the place is in a terrible state I think they should be okay with it. That's their job, after all.
posted by skylar at 9:54 AM on April 2, 2005

What with kids and working we sometimes leave a pretty big mess for the cleaners. Most cleaners will come for a set amount of time so if you leave the place in disarray they will spend most of their time picking up (and not getting stuff into the place you would put it) and less time actually scrubbing, vacuuming etc. If you can get the stuff up off the floor and table tops you will get more out of your cleaning dollar.
posted by caddis at 10:01 AM on April 2, 2005

Sorry, I know this wasn't what you're asking but: pay your cleaning service a lot. And add an extra tip for the first nuclear cleaning option session. Barbara Ehrenrich's book nickel and dimed has a very good section about domestic workers. The person you hire may have a big family and probably doesn't have medical benefits and may have to buy her/his own insurance for the family, kids, relatives etc.

In San Francisco we have a worker owned cleaning coop (see women's commective). I'm not sure if they have something similar in GA or not. Be wary of going with services like Merry Maids since they skim the money off the top and screw the workers for benefits etc.

Just my unsolicited butting in ;-) Good luck!
posted by prettyboyfloyd at 10:10 AM on April 2, 2005

A friend of mine got a Hispanic illegal, eight hours a day, five days a week, for $30 a week.

More mess for them just means more money and more job security. If they turn up their noses, there'll be somebody else who won't.

Basically, for the right price, you can get somebody to do anything -- witness those people who sell their bodies for as little as a $100 or $200, for compensated medical experiments.

But then, it might have been easier for my friend, being a first-generation Hispanic-American herself.
posted by orthogonality at 10:19 AM on April 2, 2005

I second reading at least the section of nickel and dimed about housecleaning services. You may even change your mind about the whole thing after that.
posted by advil at 10:22 AM on April 2, 2005

Best decision I made was getting a cleaner. The hardest thing is to find someone you can trust. It's really nice being able to leave her alone and not worry that she's only working when I'm around. I pay minimum wage x2.
posted by quiet at 10:47 AM on April 2, 2005

I think workers for maid services, who will be sent to a job and paid the same small amount regardless, have little incentive to do more than make the place look clean.

But if you hire an independent person or a collective and make it clear that you want the place to be really clean, you are looking for someone long term, and you are willing to pay well (call around and ask what various people charge and offer more), and then just ask them how long it'll take, you should get someone who will give you an honest estimate of the time and money required and do the job they promise. Be very clear what you expect, i.e. you want the floors swept and mopped thoroughly in all the corners and underneath appliances, etc.

Re: politics. It is weird, if you think about it, to ask someone to clean your mess. But given that you're not going to do it, as long as you pay a fair price and treat them well, it's okay. I used to do an odious job as a waitress, but I got paid well so it was a worthwhile choice for me.
posted by mai at 10:52 AM on April 2, 2005

Seriously consider cleaning your own house. It will save you money, and it is not. that. hard.
posted by Hildago at 11:06 AM on April 2, 2005

What odinsdream and hildago said. Not a brag, but our place is spotless. The trick is to never let it get that out of hand. Do the big push, take a whole weekend or whatever, then keep after it. How exactly does the house get dirty while you are out of town? Clothes go in a closet, drawer, or in a hamper. The floor as a storage system is simply not an option. Dishes are in a cabinet or the dishwasher. It takes ninety seconds to clean a toilet. Put it all together and the house is claen.
posted by fixedgear at 11:24 AM on April 2, 2005

I absolutely refuse, barring utter povert, to clean my own house. I mean, yes, I keep things clean on a day-to-day basis; put dishes in the diswasher, pick up the underwear off the floor, etc. But I have way too much to do for me to feel like cleaning toilets and scrubbing the shower are good uses of my time. Also, I hate the hell out of doing it. It's well worth it for me to pay someone else to do it, and I pay well.

I would say, offhand, that someone who cleans your house will be able to handle a pretty high level of messy. What I would not expect them to deal with is any kind of excrement or similar substances. An escaped turd from the litter box is not a big deal, but I wouldn't expect a cleaning person to deal with the results of a totally incontinent or un-housetrained pet. I also wouldn't ask them to deal with, say, completely molded over food. Messy is one thing; really disgusting is another.

One of my friends cleaned houses for a while -- she has some stories that would curl your hair. My personal favorite is the woman and her three teenaged daughters who would leave all of their used tampons on the counter for her (my friend) to dispose of.

A friend of mine got a Hispanic illegal, eight hours a day, five days a week, for $30 a week.

Your friend should be ashamed of himself.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 12:24 PM on April 2, 2005

Whatzit has an exellent point about looking clean. I was annoyed every time I'd come and find stuff straightened, or napkins folded over with little corners and salt shakers placed in a cute or aesthetic position near other accessories. But the bathmat hadn't been moved when the bathroom was cleaned. I don't want the house to smell clean and have dainty object relocation.

Perhaps this person wasn't the best for us.

I work at home, and so having to surrender my work location for hours at a time in order to have someone clean also can really mess me up.

I'd love to have the house always be clean, but I have realized I probably don't have the situation or temperament to have someone else do it for us.
posted by stevil at 12:27 PM on April 2, 2005

Agreed. Hidalgo, odinstream, and fixedgear have it exactly right.

I don't know your precise situation, but it seems to be a modern middle-class complaint that people are "just too busy" to take care of their own living spaces and need to hire someone else to do it for them. Having a maid is not as much of a bourgeois affectation as, say, wearing a powdered wig, but it's almost as unnecessary. Honestly, you can clean your own place and keep it tidy with very little effort.
posted by yellowcandy at 12:28 PM on April 2, 2005

I could be wrong, but my understanding is that pet care is separate from any sort of services a maid or cleaning person generally provides. So that means that you can get someone to vacuum up the litter that your cat tracks around, but she won't clean the litterbox for you.
posted by xo at 12:37 PM on April 2, 2005

I think the people saying that hiring a maid is unnecessary are completely missing the point. Virtually everything we do is at some level unnecessary. Owning a computer is unnecessary. Owning a car is unnecessary. Owning a television is unnecessary.

They all make life better to some degree even though we can survive without them. Same with a cleaning service. Unnecessary? Yes, but so is virtually everything that doesn't directly involve food, shelter, and clothes. The question isn't whether it is necessary but whether it is worth it to any given individual.

I will probably hire a cleaner to come in twice a month once I buy a home.
posted by Justinian at 1:44 PM on April 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

xo writes "So that means that you can get someone to vacuum up the litter that your cat tracks around, but she won't clean the litterbox for you."

They'll do anything, so long as the price is right. Just make sure you get someone who wants to work.

(And you assume all house cleaners are "she"?)
posted by orthogonality at 1:56 PM on April 2, 2005

I should have been more explicit - when I recommended nickel and dimed, I meant to recommend it for both the political side, and the practical side. The practical side is that unless you do it yourself, you are not likely to get a clean house.

I have talked to two people who worked quite a while for different cleaning services. One of them worked for exactly the kind of place described in nickel and dimed - if you hire this kind of place, they will do the minimum amount of cleaning to ensure that the house simply looks clean. In terms of actual dirt removal, etc, it won't be clean.

The second person worked for what sounded like a better agency. For this kind of agency, the above will be true, unless you do a large amount of prep work each time the cleaning agency comes in. If you do this, they will get your house really clean, but if you don't, you aren't paying them enough to do a thorough job. It sounds like the poster wants a cleaning agency that will take their house/apt from disaster area to pristine, and from what I understand, this kind of agency doesn't exist.

By adding demand for cleaning services, people like you, in aggregate, are raising wages. It's Econ 101.

Well, econ 101 is all I've taken (and it wasn't a very good class at that) but this is only true as far as I understand if demand exceeds supply (for a service, if the labor force is not sufficient to meet demand). In most parts of the country, it doesn't, and it won't for the foreseeable future. There are always more people willing to work for minimum wage with no benefits.
posted by advil at 2:03 PM on April 2, 2005

orthogonality writes: "They'll do anything, so long as the price is right. Just make sure you get someone who wants to work. (And you assume all house cleaners are "she"?)"

The poster asked about a maid, which is also a female term. I was thinking of my mother, who is a house cleaner, when evaluating what a hired cleaner may or may not be willing to do. My mother won't care for people's pets for them.
posted by xo at 2:26 PM on April 2, 2005

tharlan: By adding demand for cleaning services, people like you, in aggregate, are raising wages. It's Econ 101.

advil: Well, econ 101 is all I've taken (and it wasn't a very good class at that) but this is only true as far as I understand if demand exceeds supply (for a service, if the labor force is not sufficient to meet demand). In most parts of the country, it doesn't, and it won't for the foreseeable future.

In the NYC burbs the demand must far exceed supply. Good cleaning people charge private parties $15 to $30 and hour. Employees of services probably make much less.
posted by caddis at 2:55 PM on April 2, 2005

What is the maid service honestly expected to do, and has yours cleaned up from this kind of situation before?

First, you can hire a person or service to spend a lot of extra time, the first time they clean, and then less time thereafter (so, 8 hours the first time, then 2 hours every week, or whatever).

What you can't expect (unless you're very lucky) is someone who will ORGANIZE things. So you might be able to reach an agreement with someone that they will run all your dirty clothes through your washer/drier, and then put them away [this isn't what normal cleaning services do], but if you don't have enough storage space for all your clothes (or books, or dishes), then there is a problem. In addition, if they do put clean things away (like dishes, after putting through the dishwasher), you're going to have to accept that some things aren't going to be in the right place.

In short, filth isn't a problem (you pay them more the first time, that's all), but clutter/disorganization/disfunctional space IS.

Finding the right person or service is tough. My experience is that (a) using one person is iffy - you may get someone good, or someone terrible, and things like bonding and paying taxes can be an extra risk; (b) paying Merry Maids or other services doesn't get you particularly good service, while those who actual do the work are being ripped off - they get paid amazing little of what you pay the service; and (c) a small, local service (including cooperatives) can be the best solution, but is usually the most expensive, and good services tend to have more than enough customers.
posted by WestCoaster at 3:52 PM on April 2, 2005

It's not about being too good to do anything, MC. I am at home for perhaps 10 waking hours every week. During those 10 hours, I am going to see my husband, do my laundry, and try to exercise enough so that my immune system doesn't take a dive. I hire a private person on whom I pay taxes, and I pay her very well. What exactly is wrong with that? To those of you who object to that, are you just morally against anyone working for anyone else, ever?
posted by LittleMissCranky at 4:21 PM on April 2, 2005

Little Miss Cranky and anybody else who wants to hire somebody (except for the person who is paying an illegal alien $30 a week): There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, not that you need my blessing. I'm way too cheap to pay someone. I'd much rather do it myself and do a way better job, then take myself out for sushi with the money I saved. I'm also very tired of strangers coming into my house. Six weeks of general contractor plus four workers at 7 am every weekday, two electricians, two plumbers, two HVAC guys, two inspectors....I really don't want anyone to have my keys, I don't care if they are bonded and insured.
posted by fixedgear at 4:53 PM on April 2, 2005

I have a maid that comes once a week. She does all the heavy cleaning plus ironing. Usually I pre-clean, but sometimes I don't get to it. However, she doesn't do my office or bedroom, out of my sense of privacy (bedroom) and practicality (office). She's fabulous.

The common areas of my house are in beautiful shape. She has the patience I lack to get it cleaned well, she even vacuums the couch. She dusts! She cleans the shower! And while it sometimes seems a waste, some things really benefit from the iron, and I simply can't do that.

The worse part is being on a schedule, and inclined to not leave her alone with the opportunity to satisfy any curiosity she may have about the private parts of the house. The other irritation is about having things in the kitchen misplaced.

We're not paying a lot, but labor is very cheap here. We give her paid holidays any time my partner takes off on her cleaning day. She gets paid if she's sick and can't work, although its not clear how long that would continue if she was sick for a time. She's only missed one day in four months.

Oh, there was one irritation at first: She kept rearranging the living room. She didn't understand the wall was the TV (projection), and of course it looked silly the way we had it. Mind, I stay at my computer most of the time she's here, just so I don't feel compelled to tell her how to do her job.

The really really bad part is that I doubt I'll be able to enjoy such service when I leave South Africa. That is really a horror!
posted by Goofyy at 8:15 PM on April 2, 2005

I spend about 30 minutes a week keeping my house clean. I'm a grad student who works a job and a half, and I likely have less free time than any of you. And I've got two messy roommates (who read metafilter, but oh well). I promise, promise that you can keep your house clean without a maid service, so if that was even a question in your mind, Arimathea, please give it a second chance before spending the money on professional cleaners.
posted by Hildago at 11:30 PM on April 2, 2005

If I were you, arimathea, I think I would be looking at two different things: 1) the first big-blast cleanup, and then 2) regular maintenance.

For the first, it might be easiest and fastest to get a service to send a couple of people over. For the second, you will really need to get word-of-mouth recommendations for an individual. It seems clear that this person will need to have a key to your place, since you are away so much, and for the same reason, you will need to depend on their reliability and discretion to do what needs to be done without supervision or guidance. To find that jewel will take some effort on your part; you need to talk to friends, co-workers, people in your neighborhood/building and see if you can get a recommendation. You will need to put time and attention into finding the right person, and when you do, you need to pay really well and treat them like gold. Make sure you have all the items they will need (vacuum? dustbuster? cleaning materials? Ask what they will need to have on hand, or give them the money to purchase those things, plus extra - regular rate+ - for the shopping time).

If it were me, I'd probably also try to suss out their transportation situation, and, if need be, provide cab fare (because the idea of someone standing in the rain waiting for a bus to come to my house to clean would give me nightmares!). Tips at holidays, birthdays, whenever some extra work has been needed, etc. If they are sick and can't come once in a while, pay anyway.

I disagree with those who have indicated that there may be something morally or politically wrong with hiring someone to clean, because the logic doesn't work out for me... Would the same be true of sanitation workers, car wash employees, restaurant kitchen workers, etc.? The critical question is whether one is employing or exploiting them. Providing decent, fair employment for someone who wants it is not a bad thing. Exploiting someone because of their legal or financial situation is a very bad thing. There's a big difference between the two.
posted by taz at 12:06 AM on April 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

Best answer: To get back to Arimethea's question re: level of precleaning: I've never hired a cleaner, though I'm considering hiring someone once a month for heavy-duty stuff (I too have a roommate who WILL NOT CLEAN and while I'm perfectly capable of keeping a tidy house on a steady basis, I'm simply tired of doing double-duty in the common areas because -- despite the many other ways in which she's a lovely, lovely person -- she apparently couldn't identify which end of a mop to use). I've called around a little in my area to local cleaning services (i.e, not Merry Maids or a similar national chain) to do some research. They seem to have a flat rate for a thorough cleaning for the first visit (they also have what seems to be a heavy duty "spring cleaning" option as well), then establish a sort of "maintenance" rate and routine, depending on the size of your place and if there's a high level of "extra" work.

So call around and be upfront about the state of your place and your desire not to do precleaning; if they send a team over, you can assess on the first visit if they're cleaning to the level that will actually get your place in shape. My sister recently hired a housekeeper on a more regular basis (she just had her third child and is the chair of her department at the college she teaches at, and her husband currently works 80-90 hour weeks at a law firm), and they basically interviewed him at the house to get a very clear idea of what it was that he'd do. (And they checked with the agency ahead of time and asked him directly to confirm that he was getting well above minimum wage for his efforts.)

Finally, you may find (and I'm speaking as a formerly semi-messy person who's now much more of a cleaner) that once your place really is in great shape, it may be easier for you to develop and maintain small habits to keep it at least semi-neat in the interim. For example, I have found in recent years that it really is just as easy to put a dirty shirt in the hamper or to hang up a skirt instead of tossing them on the floor and then hunting for them later, and that taking the 90 seconds every morning to make my bed feels surprisingly nice when I come home and my bed looks nice and neat rather than crumpled and tacky.
posted by scody at 11:09 AM on April 3, 2005

I got a cleaner years ago and did so guilt-free after a friend put it very succinctly: "I just don't feel that house-cleaning is a cost-effective use of my time." We pay our cleaner every two weeks what I earn in about an hour. She spends about two hours doing what it would take me four to six hours to do. That is cost-effective.
Re: cat litter - get yourself one of those self-cleaning cat boxes. They cost about $80 and you only need to clean the self-dumped part out about every two weeks (something you should be able to manage if the rest of the place is clean). Your cat will be healthier and happier for it.
posted by dbmcd at 3:08 PM on April 3, 2005

Best answer: My cleaners have faced some pretty sty-like situations at times, and have amazed me by finding ways to make the most filthy guest rooms liveable again. As others have said, pro cleaners have probably faced worse messes than you can imagine. The trade-off you face with not pre-cleaning is having things put away in the wrong places. If your mess is such that you can never find things anyway, you'll probably be better off. But if you have important papers "filed" in lots of discrete piles all over the house, or differentiate between the clean and dirty clothes on the floor, you can't really expect a cleaner to make those distinctions for you. My cleaners charge me a set rate based on the square footage/number of bedrooms, and their travel time and expense, which they decided on after a few visits. This way, they can bring extra help to get the job done in fewer hours if they want or need to, and I don't need to keep track of the time or number of workers. If the guest rooms are clean and empty, I have them do deeper cleaning, like windows, ovens, and cupboards.

You should plan on being home for at least their first visit, so they can ask questions and you can give direction. This is a good time to do your own simultaneous straightening up. Put your paperwork and clean clothes away before they get stacked of thrown in the laundry. If your house is never quite clean, this is your opportunity to determine where everything should go, which will make the job easier for everyone in the future.

Although it's not true for everyone, I find that having a freshly-cleaned house leaves me inspired to keep it that way for as long as possible, which means longer stretches of time without needing pro help. If you're away a lot, have the house cleaned just before leaving-- it's so much more pleasant to come home to a clean house, and you may be more likely to properly unpack, which is a big step for keeping things clean as a frequent traveller.
posted by obloquy at 6:21 PM on April 3, 2005

I've never had a cleaner until recently, and it is worth every penny. I pay 60$. She comes once every two weeks. Honestly, I have been cleaning my place my whole life, but never very well... it's really made a difference.
posted by xammerboy at 12:36 AM on April 4, 2005

Oh and feel free to call them over - even if your place is a disaster. Just be sure to explain the situation over the phone and when they come.
posted by xammerboy at 12:41 AM on April 4, 2005

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