Home, Sweep Home

You're ready to hire a cleaning service to get your home in shape for all that holiday foot traffic. Here are 10 questions you should ask before making the hire.

After years of trying to juggle a never-ending list of responsibilities, you’ve finally come to a realization that makes this holiday season seem more like the Fourth of July: You no longer want to do it all!

Your first declaration of independence is hiring a service to clean the house, the one domestic duty you hate more than anything else. But before you pick up the phone, do your homework.

Executives from two local cleaning companies offer questions you should ask before hiring someone to do the dirty work.

How long has the service been in business?
Donna Hathaway, operations manager for Action Maids, says the fact that a company is well established provides some assurance (although no guarantee) it does quality work. If a satisfied customer or two hasn’t referred you, request references from clients not associated with owners’ and employees’ own families, urges Rebecca Reynolds, owner and president of the environmentally friendly cleaning service Green Clean.

Is each employee of the service bonded and insured?
Reynolds suggests requesting the name and telephone number of the insurance carrier and company policy regarding how thefts, breakage and other issues are handled. Also ask whether the service runs criminal background checks and drug tests on employees dispatched to customers’ homes.

Does the service carry workers’ compensation insurance on its employees?
It’s a very important question to ask when considering an independent contractor, who is technically the employee of those who hire him or her, says Reynolds. “Homeowners insurance may not cover individuals working in your home in the event that they are injured,” Hathaway adds. Get a copy of the certificate of insurance to make sure workers’ compensation coverage is in force, and double-check with your insurance agent to make sure you have adequate coverage.

Does the service prepare and file all necessary reports, including Social Security and tax reports, on its employees?
“It’s illegal to hire people ‘under the table’ to clean your home,” Reynolds says. “They must have a tax identification number.”

Are employees trained? If so, how and for how long?
“You don’t want a new employee who hasn’t proven himself or herself,” Reynolds warns. Get specific, she adds, when asking about cleaning practices. Do workers wipe down cabinets? Do they move furniture so they can vacuum under it? Do they remove knickknacks before dusting? Do they use the same cloth on the kitchen floor as they do on the shower? A room-by-room checklist can help determine if the service’s idea of clean is the same as yours.

Does the cleaning crew speak your language?
“I hear it almost every day: ‘I really like [my current service]. But when they miss things, I can’t communicate with them,’ ” Reynolds says. Make sure at least one person on the team can serve as an interpreter.

What duties are performed?
Hathaway and Reynolds note that some services don’t wash dishes, do laundry, change linens and make beds, or clean carpets and upholstery. Others do so only for an additional charge.

What cleaning products and equipment are provided?
If you want employees to use products and equipment you provide, get assurances that they will do so before booking, especially if anyone in the house has asthma or allergies. Reynolds strongly recommends using your own equipment so germs, irritants such as pet hair, and vermin such as lice aren’t transported to your home via toilet brushes, mops, brooms, cloths and vacuum cleaners — “the second-dirtiest tool in the house, the toilet brush being the first.”

How do customers get in touch with the service if there is a problem?
It’s reassuring to know you can voice a complaint to a real live person at any time during regular business hours.

How much will it cost?
Reynolds says an estimate given after a “walk-through” of the home is always better than one provided over the phone.

Don’t wait until the last minute to book a cleaning crew to do your holiday cleaning. “With a lot of services, you need two or three weeks’ notice,” Hathaway says. Ideally, schedule the cleaning when there are no children, guests or servicemen in the house — or, at the very least, when you’re around to deal with them. And carefully consider how workers are going to enter the premises. Reynolds advises against divulging security codes and giving out keys.

“If you can have someone open and lock the door, that’s your best bet,” she says. “It’s the safest way to protect your family and your belongings.”

Both women suggest taking the time to prepare the house for cleaning to ensure an optimal result. “Anything that is up and out of the way is going to cut back on the amount of time it takes to clean your home, which in turn is going to cut back on the cost,” Hathaway says. Pick up clothing and toys, clear surfaces of clutter and put away cash, checks, credit cards, personal papers, liquor, jewelry and other valuables, particularly those of great sentimental value. (“As careful as many cleaning teams are,” Reynolds says, “accidents do happen.”) Secure pets so they won’t disturb the cleaning crew.

Finally, eliminate what can only be described as “the gross factor” from your home. Load dirty dishes into the dishwasher, run the garbage disposal, flush toilets, remove hair from drains, cap razors (a safety hazard, according to Reynolds), clean up pet “accidents,” and throw soiled disposable diapers and personal hygiene items in the trash. Reynolds says she has turned down stomach-turning assignments.

“I run a socially conscious company that respects its employees,” she says. “I will not send my employees to a job that I wouldn’t do.”

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