Are cleaning service estimates accurate?
September 20, 2022 1:59 PM   Subscribe

I want to hire someone to clean my home. A friend. recommended a service she uses and really likes. I went on their web site and got an estimate and can book. THe thing is that they are estimating my place gets clean in 5 person hours. But they bill based on actual time. That's fair, of course, but I don't want to be surprised when I get the bill. Has anyone use a cleaning service that does estimates and then bills based on time spent? Are the estimates usually accurate? 5 hours seems low, but maybe professionals are just more efficient then I am?

In doing the estimate they collected detailed info: not just size of unit, but number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, whether bedrooms had any hard floor, how many beds, kids? dogs? etc. etc.

BUt my concern is that my place is really dirty right now so if they're going to keep at it until it's clean it might take longer than they expect. For example, there's a dusty/dog-hairy spot on my floor that neither vacuuming nor wiping up has cleaned. I assume at some point some juice got dribbled there and then the dust stuck to it. If they think they're just going to vacuum and swiffer, then it's not going to work and it's going to take longer.

THe hardwood floors are generally dirty. They're not going to come clean with a vacuum and maybe not even with a damp mop. They might need to be actually washed. Are they going to do that or will they do their "we vacuumed it, that's all it says on our checklist" and leave it dirty or will they wash the floor and then I have a bill much higher than the estimate? Neither option is good, obviously...I would rather have a more accurate estimate. 5 person-hours doesn't feel accurate to me. But maybe they're professionals and they're just way more efficient than I am? For those of you who have used professional cleaners, are they just better and faster at this than I am?
posted by If only I had a penguin... to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like these are all questions that you should be able to ask the service themselves. Can you contact them, describe the areas/items that might take longer, and see if it leads them to adjust their estimate? They know their cleaners, so have one less unknown variable than MeFites will when it comes to answering your question.

I guess if it turns out your house does take longer than the estimate, you have two options, either tell them to clean until it’s finished and pay the extra, or tell them to do 5 hours and no more and accept the entire house won’t be totally gleaming. You probably want to agree which of those should happen in advance with the cleaning company.
posted by penguin pie at 2:07 PM on September 20, 2022 [8 favorites]

Did the online estimate have an option for a "Deep Clean"? That's what it sounds like you want. My experience has been that deep cleans take 1.5 to 2 times the amount of time that a 'regular' clean would. But I've always been doing them as part of a move out, preparing a rental for inspection so it was empty of most furniture (easier) but also included cleaning cupboards and walls (maybe harder, depending on what you're looking for). I think the only way to really know what it will take would be to talk to the company and / or see if they'll do an in person estimate.
posted by macfly at 2:12 PM on September 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

Yes, they are probably faster than you. Yes, you have to discuss it with them. And yes, the first visit is usually more time consuming and therefore more expensive than subsequent visits.

Also, are you looking for a one-time cleaning or someone to come regularly? If regularly, I would just trust your friend's recommendation. After a few visits, you can decide whether or not you want to continue, and if you end up paying more than you wanted, chalk it up as a learning experience. The extra money won't be much compared to what you'll be paying over the course of months or years. But if you are planning a one-time cleaning and the expense of a few extra hours would be difficult for you, then you'd want to discuss it in more detail.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:17 PM on September 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

I have a 2k sqft, 4br,3.5ba house that is fairly clean already and they take 5 person hours. Data point.
posted by sandmanwv at 2:31 PM on September 20, 2022

They are definitely faster than you. I have a team of two people come every other week. It takes them an hour or so to clean my 1BR, when it would take me like an entire day to do what they do, and I'd do it worse. The first time they come might need to be a deep clean, which would be more expensive than a regular clean. They might be willing to do it for less if you're planning to have them come on a regular basis. Call/email them and ask.
posted by lunasol at 3:31 PM on September 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Professionals are much faster at cleaning, but it also sounds like you're in deep clean territory and not just maintenance clean territory. Generally, in a case like this, you'll pay more for the initial deep clean and then the regular maintenance cleans will be less expensive because the crew is coming regularly and keeping up with things.

The best is to have an in-person walk-through estimate, which you can also elect to do on the day that they arrive so that you're not shocked at the bill after the cleaning is done. It would also probably be a good idea to actually speak to someone about your needs by phone instead of relying on a website calculator.
posted by quince at 3:34 PM on September 20, 2022

I used to work as a scheduler for a cleaning company. I agree that you should call them back - generally for first time clients, I'd schedule a bit more time than normal unless the client indicated they were a neat freak, but I also wouldn't assume serious grime, which it sounds like you have. Did you explain all of this to them? Are the five hours based on one cleaner, or are they sending a team?

As for accuracy - first time cleans were always hard to schedule, so I wouldn't hold it against the company if they get it somewhat wrong. There is no universal scale of dirtiness, and it can be particularly hard to predict how hard a really grimy surface will be to clean.

If too much uncertainty is stressful, you should be able to say "Look, I'd prefer to pay for just five hours to start, and I'd prefer to see what a deep clean looks like - here is the order I'd like you to clean the rooms in:" That way at least the bill won't be a surprise.

Anyway, for maintenance cleans, for one cleaner our estimate was roughly 1hr per room, though bedrooms/living rooms could go a bit quicker.
posted by coffeecat at 3:42 PM on September 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

+1 to the suggestions above to book a “Deep Clean”

If your gut says the calculator is wrong, it’s probably wrong. I used a service that charged the same for all 3 bedroom living spaces and one of mine was a much better deal than the other because it was fewer sq ft, newer with fewer weird nooks, and stayed cleaner because it didn’t open directly to the street - it took about 2 person hours fewer to clean. The calculators can’t capture everything.
posted by A Blue Moon at 3:50 PM on September 20, 2022

Response by poster: Sorry I should have said, I did choose the deep clean option. 5 person hours is their estimate for a deep clean.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:54 PM on September 20, 2022

Given that you’re worried about it I think it’s reasonable to ask for someone to come by and take a look. I doubt that will be a problem for the service.

And honestly your place sounds pristine compared to what some renters leave behind. It would not surprise me if they stand by their original estimate.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:05 PM on September 20, 2022

Just as an aside...We love our robot mop and robot vacuum! This investment saves many hours of cleaning, whether by us or by a paid service.
posted by ragtimepiano at 4:16 PM on September 20, 2022

I had a similar situation last year -- I was on a tight budget and it would have been a major blocker if the cleaning service invoiced more than the estimate. You can flag this with them and they may leave a few things to the end, to be done as options if time allows. They ended up getting almost everything done, but skipped the oven clean, which I was totally fine with.
It's also pretty cool to watch a group of people work together to clean a place super efficiently, it's much faster than one or two people working longer hours. In our case, we had a cleaning crew of six work in pairs: one person moving furniture, the other cleaning the floors; one person clearing surfaces, the other scrubbing, etc. I learned a lot from them, though I tried to stay out of their way! Getting that deep clean done was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, I hope the same ends up being true for you too.
posted by third word on a random page at 4:18 PM on September 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

5 person hours is their estimate for a deep clean.

Nthing that yes, they are faster than you.

I don't know how big your place is, but I had a fairly grubby 700 sq foot 1 bed 1 bath apartment with all hardwood floors that I was getting a move out deep clean done and it was five person hours. I am getting another "We have five hours for this, total" conversation with a service which bills by the hour for their team, who is cleaning a different place (a place that is quite large but we have limited stuff we need them to do) and that was a totally normal conversation for them.

I know it feels weird, but it's totally okay to just say "Do what you can do in this amount of time, please focus on these places" versus "I need these things CLEAN, please take as long as you it takes to get them clean" but it can get a little confusing in-between those two. If I were you, I'd really narrow down what is important to you (money? time? cleanliness?) and also keep in mind that services generally, even though they bill based on actual time, have some amount of time blocked out for your place and they're not going to spend, like, fifteen hours in a place.
posted by jessamyn at 4:31 PM on September 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

You can ask them to prioritize by room and not to exceed five hours. Then even if they don't "do" the whole place, you will at least have the problem areas done. Or you can do it by task, but then you need to make sure there aren't any prerequisites left undone (e.g., they can't scrub the floors if there is stuff strewn around!).

When I moved out of my last apartment (a smallish one-bedroom), the cleaning person took 4-5 hours to deep clean the place.
posted by praemunire at 4:36 PM on September 20, 2022

I have always gotten in person estimates- I think that's the best way to get an accurate estimate. They also have just told me that this is how much it will cost to clean, in total, without tying it to a specific number of hours. These were individual cleaners, not a large cleaning company.
posted by pinochiette at 5:08 PM on September 20, 2022

I've definitely had the exact experience you fear - that they made a deep-clean estimate based on the size of our house but they didn't account for exactly what an epic clusterfuck my house was. It took hours longer than they led us to expect and it cost a lot more. But whether that's something that will happen in your case is anyone's guess! See if they will come out to do an in-person estimate - or just budget 150% for time and money just in case.
posted by potrzebie at 5:23 PM on September 20, 2022

I would say you want 5 hours only and in that time you’d like them to do a set of tasks, prioritized. For example:

Must do:
clean kitchen, bathroom, vacuum and mop all floors

Extra time:
Clean out fridge, tidy and straighten other rooms, etc

A sticky floor isn’t a big deal, it just means they’ll use a liquid cleaner and let it sit for a bit to dissolve the stickiness.

If you are someone who didn’t really learn how to clean as a kid (no shame!) you might enjoy watching cleaning videos on social media. Aurikatariina is the best- she’s on Insta, YouTube, and TikTok. She is a professional cleaner who cleans hoarder houses for free (don’t worry she makes six to seven figures in ad revenue!) and she often explains her cleaning methods as well, so you learn while you watch.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:38 PM on September 20, 2022

I started recently with a new service and the owner stopped by to do an on-site estimate before giving me a price. I started with a deep clean, and followed up with monthly cleaning. Deep clean was twice the monthly charge (every 2 weeks was a bit less than the monthly but I'm OK with vacuuming and bathroom cleaning in between).

It took 2 cleaners about 3 hours together for the deep clean - I added on a request for a liquid wax be applied to my hardwood. I supplied it and there was no additional charge. I also tipped them well. After that deep clean I was unhappy about one aspect (stove hood), communicated with the owner when setting up the next appointment, and they cleaned it spotlessly. Took 2 people 2 hours the second time and the house looked wonderful.

Their charges were exactly what they quoted, perhaps because the estimate was in-person.
posted by citygirl at 4:20 AM on September 21, 2022

Response by poster: So I called them instead of trying to book online and the person who took my call had me email pictures. I sent pictures of my dust bunnies and dusty surfaces, etc. The estimate she gave me was higher, but I also, in talking to her added some services (e.g. clean the inside of the microwave, change the bed sheets, spot clean the walls anywhere you see kid handprints/grime, and oh yeah, did I mention I have multiple french doors that need cleaning?), so it's hard to know if the higher estimate is based on the added work or the dust bunny colonies. They're coming on Monday.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:44 AM on September 22, 2022

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