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02 February 2012

First world problems, vol 6459327: finding a cleaner [More:]So Mr alto and I are both quite bad at cleaning. Or more accurately, we can do it well but (consciously or otherwise) don't want to make it a priority.

So for the last year or so I've been resolved to hire a cleaner. I even have the number of a local cleaner who advertises in a local supermarket. But I haven't done anything about it, for a bunch of reasons I don't fully understand.

So: those who have cleaners, how did you find a good one? What questions did you ask initially? How do you like the "employer" role? I'm only 33 and any cleaner is likely to be older, and this bothers me for some reason.

This got long... I'd be grateful for any thoughts. I guess I just need to make that phone call.
Actually, thinking about it, "first world problem" is a poor and insensitive description, as people in many types of country employ cleaners.
posted by altolinguistic 02 February | 13:27
I went to Citysearch for Seatle and looked for someone local (versus one of those Merry Maid type outfits) who was well reviewed. Then we met personally in home so she could tell me what she thought it would cost, and so I could check that she pays her people a living wage and provides benefits. That was about 5 years ago and I am very, very happy. We did change things up a little shortly after she started re her usual bedmaking service, as I like making the bed myself.

I did use Merry Maids and a similar outfit earlier, and I hated paying them. Those poor workers had to wear garish uniforms, gallop through the house with a heavy vacuum strapped to their backs, and race through their cleanings. And all for minimal pay and no real benefits. I just couldn't stand the exploitive busines model. (For more about what it is like to work for one of these folks, check out Ehrenreich's Nickled and Dimed.)

It is a nice thing to have a cleaner who is a local small business person. The relationship is friendly -- we visit on the rare days we are home when they clean, we call and leave notes sometimes, we exchange Christmas goodies, etc. And there's no guilt, because everyone is getting what they need without being exploited.
posted by bearwife 02 February | 14:15
Be aware, though, that hiring individuals means that every time a cleaner decides to move away, or get out of the business, you're looking for somebody new. We finally did go with a Merry Maids franchise (they don't make their people wear uniforms or vacuum equipment, and they have low turnover, for what that's worth) because I got tired of looking for someone new every 6 to 10 months. Also, since the folks doing the cleaning are working for someone else, we tip them every time, which I recommend.

Everyone's experience is going to be different, but over the last 15 years or so, that's been ours.
posted by BoringPostcards 02 February | 14:54
I agree with BP that it is best to avoid hiring an individual too. I had trouble with consistency too, which is why I briefly used a couple of Maids outfits. But there are people who run a business with employees who clean, and with them you get reliability and decent employee treatment.

It is pretty classy that you tip each time BP.
posted by bearwife 02 February | 15:18
I tend to prefer an indivudual based on my experience with chains. The chain we hired started off well, then slowly began to do a shit job...when we called the manager, it got better for a week, then went to hell again. Repeat. We gave up and called the number we saw on a lady's van. She was amazing and reliable for over 10 years (right up until she just disappeared one week, so...yeah).

Good luck. I miss my cleaning help immensely, but I'm trying to save some money currently!
posted by richat 02 February | 15:28
Every housekeeper I have ever had had been an individual, and yes, there is turnover, but the relationship I get to build is worth it. I find it is best to try and get recommendations from friends and colleagues, and be sure and get references. References are really important, because after all, this person is gonna be all up in your personal stuff. Don't feel weird about employing someone older than yourself, you are providing them with gainful employment, after all!
posted by msali 02 February | 16:17
Thanks, everyone. I've read "Nickel and Dined" and we have somewhat similar franchise arrangements here in the UK, which I'm wary of.

I'll try the number I have, and go from there. I only have one friend locally who has a cleaner, and he's incompetent (the cleaner, not my friend), so that's not a possible avenue.
posted by altolinguistic 02 February | 17:08
Tipping: I've no idea how that works here. The UK tipping culture is very different from that in the US, and I don't fully understand it in either place...
posted by altolinguistic 02 February | 17:11
No, alto, you wouldn't tip here, it would be seen as very, very strange indeed. A few of my friends have cleaners and they're all Eastern European, Polish or Bulgarian, and generally very hardworking. I've toyed with the idea of getting one but I'm so antsy about privacy that I think the anxiety about that would outweight the delight at having the place cleaned for me.

The going rate in the UK is about 8-10 per hour.
posted by Senyar 02 February | 17:34
Doesn't the UK have online reviews? And references? That usually is a good way to go.
posted by bearwife 02 February | 18:07
I've hired cleaning services in the past;the last time was one which was listed in a NY service guide as paying health insurance to their workers.

Does the UK have anything similar to Angie's list?
posted by brujita 02 February | 18:38
My mum started with a company (it might have been Merry Maids, but I'm not sure) and the second cleaner they sent was DS. When the owner of the company closed down, my mum kept DS on as she was a great cleaner and all around great person.

Mum had suggested to DS to go rogue after the company closed rather than join another company. DS took mum's advice and has a lot of happy clients. Mum has given her some business advice as well (raising rates, actually) and DS has been happy with the changes suggested.

They've been "together" for almost 4 years and I think mum loves her almost as much as me!
posted by deborah 02 February | 18:43
I think Molly Maids is the main franchised cleaning company in the UK. The benefit of using a company rather than someone independent is that a reputable cleaning company will be insured so you'd be covered for damage or loss caused by the cleaner.
posted by Senyar 02 February | 18:51
I remember telling people I'd hire a cleaner the second I could afford one, but that second arrived and I still didn't for a long time. I felt a little uncomfortable about it: wasn't it a waste of money? Surely I should be able to clean my own place? But one day I met a woman who'd been cleaning for some friends for several years. We struck up a conversation and, well, hit it off. A couple of days later she came over and gave me an estimate. Her first offer was a little more than I could afford, but we negotiated and found a combination of prices and services that worked for both of us.

Before she arrives I straighten up so she doesn't have to waste her time moving my stuff around, sweep up the courtyard, make sure all the garbage and recycling is out. She does those things for some clients, though. And laundry. I'd rather do my own.

When she needs supplies, or thinks there's something I should do differently or stuff I should reorganize, she says so.

I wouldn't have hired a chain or franchise service. I might conceivably have hired a small independent cleaning company, or a local co-operative, but even that idea makes me a little uneasy; I want to know exactly who's coming into my house. YMMV.

Oh, and about hiring someone older than yourself: you're not the "boss," you're the client. She's contributing her expertise and experience.
posted by tangerine 02 February | 19:50
I've gone both with individuals and with a service, and here's my experience so far:

1. The first cleaner I ever hired was the same lady who cleaned my landlord's garden apartment and she charged me $50 to do just the kitchen and bathroom because those were the places I needed cleaned (and mouse-free) the most. She was quick, efficient, but wasn't great at keeping to our agreed schedule (in the morning, the second Saturday of every month). There were a few times where she brought her son with her, and he waited in the hallway while she cleaned. I always felt bad about that and offered to let him sit on my couch while I surfed the 'net, but he never did. When she cleaned the kitchen and bathroom before I moved out, she didn't do such a great job because my landlord charged me for additional cleaning.

2. When we moved out of my boyfriends high-rise apartment building and into our second floor walkup, we hired the same company to clean both his apartment after he moved out and our new apartment before we moved in. I supervised the move-in cleaning, and I liked the girl they sent. He supervised the move-out cleaning, and he didn't like that person. So we decided to go with the girl I met, and for a while she did a great job. We got turndown service on our bed and she folded the toilet paper into points which was great for those little touches. There were some other areas where my boyfriend felt she didn't clean as thoroughly. Then, she decided to return to school full time, and a new lady came last month. She took a much longer time to clean and was more thorough, but didn't do nearly as many of the uber-fancy touches.

I'm very glad that I made the decision that because I'm just *that* cleaning-deficient, it's okay for me to help someone else in this world earn some money by hiring them to clean for me. Also, because my boyfriend and I are both in the apartment when the cleaning person comes, we're pretty okay with it. (It's the dispatch team we're having problems with, though...)

Also, here's my pet peeve about cleaning people: If you have to move something to clean under it, is it really that hard to put it back in the place where you found it?
posted by TrishaLynn 03 February | 20:19
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