My wife and I carefully calculated the cost of cat ownership before we took in our first stray. Our calculation wasn’t perfect, though. We failed to account for at least one hidden cost of owning pets: cleaning bills.
Now that we have multiple cats, our home is far dirtier than it used to be, and it gets dirty quicker. As renters, we spent valuable time and a considerable amount of money on weekly once-overs and monthly deep cleans. I devoted hundreds of hours over the better part of a decade to mopping wood floors in a succession of apartments.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t always enough. Poor pet hygiene contributed to a substantial reduction in our security deposit refund at our last rental property. Now that we own our home, we don’t have to worry about keeping the landlord happy — but that doesn’t mean we’re willing to tolerate mats of hair in every corner and fine layers of litter on the floor.
As our lives get busier and our household budget grows, we’ve relaxed our old “no professional cleanings” rule. We now invite a cleaning service into our home for two to three hours at least once per month. Although I’m still not entirely comfortable with the cost, I have to admit that our house is cleaner for it.
If you’re unable or unwilling to keep your home as clean as you’d like, perhaps a hired home cleaning service is in your future too. Here’s what you need to know to decide whether it’s right for you.
Things to Consider Before Hiring a Cleaning Service
As you weigh whether to hire a home cleaning service, consider these factors.
1. Your Household Budget
According to HomeAdvisor’s estimate, U.S. cleaning companies charge $50 to $90 per hour, on average. Even the most efficient cleaning team working through a modest-sized residence is likely to take an hour to complete its work. If your budget can’t bear an extra $50 to $90 hit at least once per month, regular professional cleanings may not be in the cards.
Independent cleaners are cheaper, though my research suggests HomeAdvisor’s estimated $9-per-hour minimum is wildly optimistic. Expect to pay a single independent cleaner at least $20 per hour if they provide their own cleaning supplies and perhaps $15 per hour if you provide your own.
Solo cleaners take longer to complete their work than two- or three-person professional teams, so the price difference likely won’t be that stark. Still, cleaners not affiliated with hierarchical cleaning companies can better accommodate tight budgets — though budgets with very little leeway might not have room for any hired cleaning help at all.
2. Your Home’s Size
Professional cleaning costs increase in proportion to residence size. According to HomeAdvisor, the typical single-family home costs $130 to clean. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) pegged the median U.S. house at 2,467 square feet in 2015. A more modest home might cost $100 or less to clean, while a massive McMansion could cost $200 or more.
3. Your Cleaning Requirements
The numbers above are rough averages. Your personal cleaning requirements and preferences will determine where your actual cleaning costs fall. Factors that might affect your cleaning requirements include:
- Your Cleanliness Tolerance. Do you demand a spotless home, or are you OK with some dust, grit, and grime?
- Your Lifestyle. Do you cook full meals every night and frequently host guests? Do you treat your home like a museum? Or do you fall somewhere in between?
- Your Family Size and Composition. Do kids and pets account for more than their fair share of the mess?
- Your Home’s Active Areas. Do you rarely use certain rooms, or is your entire home lived-in?
- Your Expectations For Cleaning Staff. Do you expect cleanings to be basic once-overs — vacuuming, dusting, mopping, and freshening, with special attention paid to the kitchen and bathrooms — or thorough deep cleans?
Longer, detail-oriented cleanings that cover the entire house will cost more than lower-key cleanings that skip lesser-used areas.
4. The Value of Your Time
How valuable is your time?
You can ask this question literally: Is your hourly household income higher than what you’d pay a cleaning service?
A more abstract way to frame it would be: Is it worth your while to devote the time necessary to clean your home to your standards on a regular basis?
Either way, this is a personal question. When I was living alone and working low-wage jobs, DIY cleaning was a no-brainer. These days, the dollars-and-cents calculation is a closer call, but I’m personally less inclined to take several hours out of my week to maintain an orderly house (or perhaps I’m just getting old). Your calculation might differ.
5. Your Family’s Schedule
Professional cleaning is disruptive. If you don’t mind hanging out around the house while one or more cleaning staff mill about, running vacuums and kicking up dust, this won’t be an issue. If you’d prefer to be out of your cleaning team’s hair, though, you’ll need to schedule cleanings when you’re at work or can otherwise be out of the house. If your cleaning service doesn’t let you schedule at precise times — as is often the case — then you’ll need to choose a date on which you’re reasonably confident you can be out of the house.
In households with at least one work-from-home or stay-at-home parent, scheduling is a real issue. My wife and I both work full-time, but I work from home much of the time, and the cleaning service we’ve been using occasionally schedules visits when we’re at home. In our small older home, that’s not really tenable, so we escape to a coffee shop or park if the weather’s nice.
6. DIY Cleaning Tolerance & Skill
If you enjoy — or, at least, don’t mind — cleaning the house, more power to you. As long as you can find time to keep pace with your home’s cleaning needs and meet your co-residents’ expectations, why would you pay someone else to do it for you?
Make sure your cleaning expectations are realistic, though. Budget one hour a month for something that requires more like two hours per week, and you’re set up to fail. Likewise, if you’re not keen on using step ladders to dust high places or scrubbing out caked-on cooking grease, you might want to rethink your DIY cleaning plan.
Cleaning Service Types & Costs
In our search for a professional home cleaning service, my wife and I considered three distinct options.
1. Full-Service Cleaning Companies
These are legitimate enterprises that employ multiple teams of two or more cleaning professionals. Some national cleaning companies operate local franchises; others are independently owned entities that have grown into regional service providers. Either way, your regular point of contact is generally an account manager or office-based crew supervisor.
Cost of Full-Service Cleaning Companies
Full-service cleaning companies generally cost more than independent cleaners and gig workers. However, they’re often better at what they do and more efficient to boot.
According to HomeAdvisor’s estimates, full-service cleaning companies charge anywhere from $50 to $90 per hour, or $90 flat per 1,000 square feet. This range is lower by Care.com’s estimate: $25 to $35 per hour, though it’s not clear whether this assumes only one cleaning person on the job.
Our experience tracks with HomeAdvisor’s estimates. My wife and I got quotes for our 1,400 square foot house from a handful of professional cleaning services in Minneapolis. No biweekly quotes came in under $120, and the high estimate was around $160. We settled on a company that quoted us about $145 per biweekly cleaning because my wife’s employer had a $20-off-per-cleaning deal with them, cutting our net per-cleaning cost to about $125.
Besides home size, many factors may influence your professional cleaning estimate. The most notable include:
- Location. Expect higher prices in major metropolitan areas with higher living costs. You’re almost certain to pay more for an equivalent service in San Francisco than in, say, Abilene, Texas.
- Frequency. Professional cleaning services almost always offer frequency discounts. You’ll pay less per visit when you opt for weekly cleanings over monthly cleanings, even if your total cleaning cost is higher with the former. Our monthly cleaning estimates were higher, ranging from $140 to $180. One-off cleaning estimates were higher still; the service we eventually selected wanted $250 for a one-time cleaning session.
- Bathroom Count. Bathrooms require more intensive cleanings than most other rooms. If your home has an unusually high number of bathrooms for its size, your estimate may come in higher than you expect.
- Pets. Expect professional services to factor the number and type of pets into your estimate. All of our quotes accounted for our three cats.
- Eco-Friendly Products. Cleaning services that use gentler or eco-friendly cleaning products generally charge a premium for it. You’ll want to have a detailed conversation about what each candidate company’s eco-friendly cleaning program entails.
- Add-On Services. Most professional cleaners charge extra for add-on services such as refrigerator cleanings, decorative wood polishing, oven cleanings, and whole-house deep cleanings.
- Special Needs. Professional cleaners may charge more for special requests or accommodations — for instance, dusting the area around an antique china display or reaching upper corners in rooms with unusually tall ceilings.
Pros of Full-Service Cleaning Companies
- Pre-Vetted Employees. Full-service cleaning companies vet prospective employees before they hire them so that you don’t have to. Not all hiring practices are equal, though, so ask your company contact if this is a concern.
- Faster Than Independent Cleaners. Professional cleaners usually work in teams of two or three, and perhaps more in larger homes. As the old saying goes, many hands make light work.
- Potential for Better Work Than Independent and Gig-Based Cleaners. Professional companies’ training protocols tend to be more rigorous — or, at least, better standardized — than those of independent or gig-based cleaners, who may be self-taught or rely on prior professional experience. Professional companies are also more likely to act on customers’ complaints about shoddy or inconsistent work.
Cons of Full-Service Cleaning Companies
- Costlier Than Independent or Gig-Based Cleaners. Full-service cleaning companies are almost invariably more expensive than solo cleaners. We’ll explore this further in the following sections.
- Add-On Services May Add Up Quickly. Professional cleaning companies tend to limit the parameters of standard cleanings to “basic” services such as cleaning floors, vacuuming rugs and carpets, dusting furniture, freshening bathrooms, and wiping kitchen counter surfaces. Other services, such as refrigerator cleaning and detailing upholstery, often cost extra. Our professional cleaning company charges $25 to deep clean a refrigerator, for instance.
2. Independent Cleaning Professionals
These are solopreneurs or small businesses built by and around an individual or small team of cleaning professionals. Your regular point of contact is usually the senior cleaning person, who’s also likely to be the business’s owner. Some independent professionals have their own websites, but plenty use social media (usually Facebook) or third-party platforms (such as Thumbtack, Angie’s List, and Craigslist) to market their services.
Independent cleaning professionals tend to be cheaper than full-service companies and may also be easier to work with. The onus is on the customer to vet prospective cleaners, though, and even then, quality and efficiency might not live up to expectations.
Cost of Independent Cleaners
Independent cleaners generally cost less than full-service cleaning companies. How much less is the question.
In late 2018, I surveyed Craigslist cleaning service ads in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Per-hour pricing started around $15 (though pricing this low was rare) and topped out above $40, with occasional new-customer discounts pushing down the final price. Flat-fee cleanings started around $50 for three rooms and went up from there. Independent cleaning teams, who were often couples, charged more, though not always twice as much.
Pros of Independent Cleaners
- Lower Cost Than Cleaning Companies. As noted, independent cleaners, especially solo types, usually cost less than pros. If paying as little as possible is your top priority, this is the way to go.
- Potential for Greater Flexibility. Independent cleaners may be willing to include for free some or all of the add-ons for which professional companies tend to charge. If not, they may be amenable to a more customer-friendly pricing structure — for instance, simply adding the time spent on add-ons to the hourly total, rather than charging a flat fee that works out to a higher hourly rate.
- Better Negotiating Power for Customers. You may have better luck negotiating with independent cleaners, particularly if you promise steady work. On the other hand, independents may operate on tight margins that limit their negotiating power.
- The Same Person Cleans Every Time. When you work with the same independent cleaner or cleaning team every time, you’re more likely to develop a close working relationship with them. For scheduling reasons, full-service companies are unlikely to send the same cleaners to your house every time, unless that’s part of their value proposition.
Cons of Independent Cleaners
- Vetting Falls to the Customer. The onus of vetting an independent cleaner falls squarely on the customer. Sure, you can check reviews and feedback on Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor, and you should always ask for references (more on that below), but that takes time. So does confirming that the cleaner is fully insured and running a background check, which you should do with any domestic worker.
- Quality May Suffer. Independent cleaners may not offer the same quality guarantees as full-service companies. Short of terminating your relationship with the cleaner or unilaterally demanding they fix the issue without additional compensation, you may have little recourse to redress work that fails to meet your expectations.
- Slower Than Full-Service Companies. Single-person cleaning teams can’t work as quickly as multi-person teams. Plus, full-service companies often hew to efficient, well-defined processes that get them out the door faster without impacting work quality.
- Scheduling May Be a Challenge. If your independent cleaner already has a full client load, finding time for a recurring appointment that works for the both of you might be challenging.
3. Gig-Based Cleaners
These are individual cleaning professionals who find work through sharing economy platforms such as Handy and TaskRabbit. Some gig-based cleaners also operate their own cleaning businesses and use these platforms to find additional clients. In either case, the platform acts as an intermediary in the transaction; you pay the platform, which then takes a cut and passes the rest on to the worker.
Gig-based cleaners are cheaper than full-service companies and may be easier to schedule. However, they’re not ideal for customers with complex needs or those seeking long-term relationships with their cleaners.
Cost of Gig-Based Cleaners
Gig-based cleaners generally cost less per hour than full-service cleaners. However, unless you request otherwise, gig-based cleaners usually work solo, lengthening the time required to complete the task.
I surveyed pricing on Handy and TaskRabbit. Handy seemed better-equipped to handle regular cleaning requests, charging $25 per hour guaranteed for biweekly cleanings. TaskRabbit’s pricing was more variable since its workers — or “taskers” — set their own rates. In Minneapolis, cleaners started at about $25 per hour, but better-rated taskers charged upwards of $40 per hour.
Pros of Gig-Based Cleaners
- Lower Cost Than Cleaning Companies. If cost control is your top priority, you’ll want to limit your search to independent and gig-based cleaners.
- Scheduling May Be More Flexible. Gig economy platforms have vast networks of capable service providers, particularly in major metro areas. If you live in an area with a high density of eligible workers, you’ll be able to schedule cleanings almost at will, as long as you don’t mind a different person each time.
- Fully Insured. Reputable gig platforms provide liability insurance, usually up to $1 million, at no cost to the customer. This gives crucial peace of mind to homeowners reticent to file insurance claims and renters without adequate liability insurance coverage.
Cons of Gig-Based Cleaners
- Quality and Consistency May Suffer. Though workers who develop a pattern of poor reviews or customer complaints will eventually lose platform privileges, gig platforms nevertheless have lots of subpar service providers. When you’re welcoming a different cleaner into your home every time, quality is something of a crapshoot.
- Long-Term Relationships May Be Harder to Form. This is another unwelcome byproduct of using a different cleaning person every time. If you’re looking for a reliable cleaner who knows your home cold, a full-service company might be a better choice.
- May Not Be Ideal for Larger Residences or Bespoke Needs. Slower, less efficient gig-based cleaners are not ideal for big houses or custom cleaning needs. You’ll have better luck with independent cleaners with whom you’ve formed long-term relationships or full-service companies that guarantee their work.
How to Find the Right Fit for Less
Keep these pointers in mind as you research and vet home cleaning services.
1. Get Multiple Quotes
Regular home cleaning is a significant investment. At $150 per visit, 26 biweekly cleanings cost $3,900 per year. For most families, even a $200 one-off cleaning is a substantial expense.
In other words, hiring a third party to clean your house is not something to be done lightly. And, unless you’re preparing to stage your home in preparation for a scheduled open house or hosting a last-minute gathering, it’s not something that requires a snap decision. Take your time and request as many cleaning quotes as you need to make an informed decision. Get every estimate, including the details of what is and isn’t included, in writing.
Every full-service company we approached offered free in-house estimates. Independent and gig-based providers often offer estimates sight unseen. Unless cost control is paramount, don’t simply focus on the final cost; also pay attention to what’s included, the time needed, and scheduling flexibility.
2. Always Do a Trial Run
Before entering into a recurring arrangement with a third-party home cleaner, make sure they’re as good as they say. If you have the luxury of waiting a month or longer to finalize the agreement, purchase one-time cleanings from each of your finalists at least two weeks apart to give your house time to lapse back into a disorderly state.
3. Check References
Always ask prospective cleaners for references and follow up with as many as possible. Use as many third-party resources — such as Yelp, Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List, and HomeAdvisor — as you can to find unbiased reviews or references. Talking only to references provided by the cleaner may give you an inaccurate picture of their capabilities.
4. Don’t Overestimate Your Cleaning Needs
Before beginning your research in earnest, think carefully about how much cleaning your home actually needs.
If you don’t have kids or pets and you’re good about sequestering disorder in, say, a mudroom or entryway, you might have little trouble keeping pace with your cleaning needs on your own or with quarterly or semi-annual cleanings.
Even if your house needs regular professional attention, don’t overestimate its needs. A monthly cleaning might have the same effect as a biweekly cleaning, and at roughly half the cost.
Of course, your personal cleanliness preferences play a role here too. If you demand spotlessness, you might be willing to pay more for more frequent cleanings or add-on services.
5. Don’t Opt Into More Add-Ons Than You Need
Be careful with those add-ons. Whether you’re willing to pay for services not included in a basic cleaning depends on your schedule and tolerance for DIY cleaning. My wife and I put off scrubbing our refrigerator for months (gross, I know) before finally springing for a $25 deep clean, but we’re pretty attentive to dusting around displays the professional crew won’t touch. We also clean our unfinished basement semi-regularly, cutting our per-visit cost by roughly one-third.
6. Ask About Fees
Ask prospective cleaners, or pore over their contracts, for specifics about their fees. Cleaners that require long-term contracts may build in hefty cancellation fees. Many independent and full-service cleaners charge credit card processing fees; we recently switched from credit card billing to direct debit because the company increased its processing fee above our cash back credit card’s rate of return.
7. Negotiate & Customize Your Cleaning Package
You’ll have better luck negotiating with independent cleaners, but even full-service firms may be willing to give a little for a stable, long-term arrangement.
If you don’t need your home’s entire lived-in area cleaned every time, structure your proposed package around the rooms you do want cleaned — say, both bathrooms, both active bedrooms, and the living room and kitchen, skipping the basement, bonus room, and spare bedroom. Most cleaners are happy to customize pricing by room count; even if they aren’t, fewer rooms mean less time cleaning, which could help your overall cost.
8. Factor In Health & Environmental Impacts
If using health- or eco-friendly cleaning products is important to you, you’ll pay a premium for it, as a visit to your local home improvement store’s green cleaning products shelf will confirm. Ask prospective cleaners about their approach to the inevitable health and environmental impacts of home cleaning. If they offer eco- and non-eco-friendly cleaning options, price out both.
9. Confirm Insurance Coverage
Ask prospective cleaners to provide the name of their insurance provider, policy details, and coverages. Then, contact the insurance company to confirm that this information is accurate. Make sure your cleaner is “bonded” as well. This type of coverage covers theft in the home, a common problem.
If a prospective cleaner isn’t willing to divulge insurance details or reveals that they’re not insured at all, avoid using them. Should one of their workers suffer an injury or cause damage in your house, you’ll want to make sure you’re covered without having to go through your own home insurance provider, which is likely to raise your premiums after you file a claim.
10. Ask for a Guarantee
Most full-service cleaning companies offer guarantees of some sort, but don’t enter into any agreements without making clear exactly what the provider’s guarantee covers. Blanket guarantees that aren’t open to subjective interpretation — such as “100% satisfaction guaranteed or your money back” — are best. You want to have the upper hand, and ensure adequate reimbursement, if and when you demand recourse.
11. Avoid Long-Term Contracts
The home cleaning industry is competitive enough that there’s no need to work with a cleaning company or independent cleaner that locks their customers into long-term contracts. We have an open-ended arrangement with our current cleaning company. We can cancel at any time with no penalty or cancel individual cleanings without affecting future visits.
12. Opt Into Auto-Pay
Many cleaning companies offer auto-pay discounts. Even if yours doesn’t, you’ll avoid late payment fees and interest when you opt into an auto-pay arrangement — assuming you keep enough money in your account to cover the recurring charge.
13. Look for Promotions
In competitive markets, full-service cleaning companies offer an array of promotions, such as package deals, discounts, and bonuses. We’ve already touched on frequency discounts, which are almost universal. Other types of deals include:
- Package Deals. Cleaning companies may cut customers a break — for example, 10 cleanings for the price of 9 — when they pay for a multi-cleaning package up front.
- Partner Discounts. Some cleaning companies partner with larger employers to offer employee discounts. The company we ultimately chose offered a generous discount for employees of my wife’s organization, for instance.
- Referral Bonuses. Some cleaning companies run referral programs that pay existing customers for successful new-business referrals. In a cursory search, I found per-referral bonuses as high as $50, a significant discount to the cost of a single cleaning visit.
14. Clean Up Before the Cleaners Come
Last, but not least, once you’ve established a relationship with a solo or corporate cleaner, remember to tidy up the house before each visit. When you declutter your living space in advance of your cleaning team’s arrival, it makes their job more efficient.
Even if you’re charged a flat rate and don’t accrue direct financial benefit from quicker work, your team is likely to be more thorough with minimal clutter in the way. We’re far happier with the results when we take 15 to 30 minutes to clean up our most heavily trafficked rooms the night before our cleaning company comes.
The promise of a clean home doesn’t require a binary choice between frequent professional cleanings or hours of DIY elbow grease. Compromise is possible. After more than a year of regular professional cleanings, my wife and I resolved to adopt a hybrid model and hopefully reduce our household cleaning expenses.
We plan to spend an hour or two per week on essential cleaning tasks in high-traffic areas: mopping the kitchen floor, cleaning the stove, freshening up the bathrooms, and vacuuming mats and rugs. Throughout the week, we’ll supplement manual cleaning tasks with an automated assistant: an entry-level Roomba we picked up for about $250, the cost of about 1.8 professional cleanings. And we’ll keep our professional service on call for special occasions, such as a springtime or thorough refrigerator deep clean.
Is our new plan sustainable? The jury is still out. One thing we can say for certain is that it will definitely be less expensive.
Do you clean your dwelling yourself or hire outside help?