Consumer Watch: How to pick maid without getting taken to cleaners

Consumer Watch: How to pick maid without getting taken to cleaners

January 26th, 2014 by Ellen Phillips in Business Diary

Ellen Phillips

Ellen Phillips

Q: My New Year's gift to myself is to hire a maid service. However, I'm really not sure how to find the right one for what I can afford and the kinds of questions to ask when interviewing. Any suggestions?

- Henrietta Homeowner

Dear Mrs. Homeowner: Obviously, my first recommendation is the same I offer in a variety of circumstances and that is to ask friends and colleagues for referrals. Just be certain your peeps know at least some of the specifics you require, as their standards may be different from yours.

Cleaning services have been seeing a record increase in business, whether they're self-employed housekeepers to nationally-franchised chains. Check out the Association of Residential Cleaning Services International's (ARCSI) list of requirements, such as liability insurance and satisfaction guarantees. The website ( also includes a list of interview questions, including but not limited to: Are you insured (ask for a copy of their insurance certificate)? Do you carry Workman's Comp? Do you provide criminal background checks on all employees? Is a trained crew leader in my home supervising at all times and does this person speak English?

1. Many services whirl through several houses in a single day. Unfortunately, this can lead to inattention to detail or, simply, just bad cleaning. All companies should promise and provide a detailed checklist. This should include, for example, wiping down every bathroom surface, scrubbing the tub and toilet, as well as cleaning the counters and mopping the floors with appropriate cleaners. Since housecleaning can be a transient business with a huge annual turnover, always ask for employees who've been with the company for at least six months. (Along this same line, when interviewing services upfront, ask for five references from customers who've used them for at least six months.)

2. Don't assume every worker knows how to clean. Before you sign on the dotted line, ask about the training the company provides. At the very minimum, ARCP says the company should offer at least three days of intensive training to new hires, covering such basics as using the latest equipment or the correct protocol for cleaning wood, marble, tile, etc. floors. Once you' e decided upon a service, be sure and go over exactly what you require that may be somewhat different than the norm. For example, I tend to be very finicky about how I spend my money: if the baseboards aren't dusted regularly, I am not a happy camper. So if you require certain chores that may not be on the maids' list, speak up beforehand. (Most services do have monthly and bimonthly lists that they and you check off on completion. Whether you like what they've done may be another story, however.)

3. Be prepared to pay a hefty sum for the first clean. While certain factors impact cost, such as location, home size, special requirements, and so forth, the average cost for a twice monthly clean averages between $75-$125. However, that first time can cost you dearly, particularly if you've never used a service before and this agency insists upon a "deep clean." While you may want your heavy furniture moved each time to dust and vacuum behind the pieces, it probably won't happen and still maintain reasonable prices. For the deep clean, though, this may be a prerequisite and, along with a few more extras, can jack up the price two or three-fold! Be prepared.

(To be continued...)

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. She may be reached at