The first step in farming out your chores is to decide whether to hire a company or an individual. Going with a company has one major advantage: You don’t have to act as an employer and fill out paperwork and pay various taxes. On the other hand, you may be more comfortable dealing with a single worker for such a personal job. Also, a company’s standard cleanup job may not be good enough if you need help with laundry, shopping, cooking, or childcare.

This section covers housecleaning companies, including tips for hiring one and ratings of area services for quality and price.

Because we receive lots of negative feedback on housecleaning companies, be cautious when choosing one. Most complaints relate to sloppy work, but we also often hear about quality of work deteriorating over time. To help you find a good outfit, our Ratings Tables include information on area housecleaning services.

Review Reviews

One way to start your search for a high-quality housecleaning service is to ask friends and neighbors for recommendations. Our Ratings Tables summarize the experiences of many area consumers (primarily Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers) with area housecleaning operations.

Our surveys ask customers to rate housecleaning services “inferior,” “adequate,” or “superior” on several questions: “doing work properly,” “starting and completing work promptly,” “neatness of work,” and “overall performance.” For each company that received at least 10 ratings, our Ratings Tables report the percent of surveyed customers who rated it “superior” (as opposed to “adequate” or “inferior”) on each question. Our Ratings Tables also report the percent of surveyed customers who rated each company “adequate” or “superior” (as opposed to “inferior”) for “overall performance.” Our customer survey and other research methods are further described here.

Check Complaint Histories

Our Ratings Tables also show counts of complaints we gathered from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for a recent three-year period, the number of complaints on file with the Consumer Protection Division of the Illinois Office of the Attorney General for a recent two-year period, and complaint rates relative to the volume of work companies do. Click here for more information on reported complaint counts and rates.

Ask What They Do and When They Can Do It

Before contacting housecleaning companies, decide which services you want them to do. All will dust, vacuum, take out the trash, mop floors, and clean kitchens and bathrooms. If you want them to perform other tasks, check whether prospective companies will handle them. Most companies will not shampoo carpets and rugs, wash window exteriors, or do laundry.

Also decide how often you want service. Companies generally want to schedule regular periodic service, but some are willing to come only as needed, say for a move in or move out. Some offer only weekly or biweekly service. (Some companies charge somewhat more per visit for less-frequent visits.)

If you want service on a certain day, check whether companies are available on that day, especially if you want someone to come on Fridays or Saturdays.

Compare Prices

Call several companies for estimates. To help guide you, our Ratings Tables report price comparison scores. We calculate these scores using price estimates our undercover shoppers collected by calling area companies at different times and providing clear job descriptions.

For each company, the price comparison scores are intended to suggest the price a customer might expect to pay for regular housecleaning services that would cost $100 at the “average” company. A price comparison score of $110 for a company, then, means that its prices were about 10 percent above average; a score of $90 means that its prices were about 10 percent below average.

Our price researchers requested separate estimates for four hypothetical homes from each company they called. Most companies indicated they charge more for the initial cleaning session than for follow-ups—not surprising since the first visit may require taming total squalor.

As you can see on the table below, prices quoted for the same job vary dramatically. Since differences of $50 per visit ($2,600 per year) for weekly housecleaning services are common, getting three or more estimates is well worth the trouble.

Our Undercover Shoppers Were Quoted Big
Price Differences by Cleaning Services1

Description of job Low price Average price High price
Weekly cleaning of house
Two-story house with three
bedrooms and two bathrooms
$79 $113 $171
One-time cleaning of empty house
Two-story house with four bedrooms,
3 1/2 bathrooms, and finished basement
$139 $267 $400
Semi-weekly cleaning of a house
Two-story house with three
bedrooms and 2 1/2 bathrooms
$60 $150 $306
Semi-weekly cleaning of condo
Apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms
$65 $104 $140
1For each job, companies were given additional detailed specifications and instructions.

Since most housecleaning companies provide free estimates, shopping is relatively easy. While some businesses offer binding price quotes only after inspecting worksites, most give estimates by phone for routine weekly or biweekly cleanings. Phoning for estimates lets you compare prices quickly, but keep in mind that if you have a broad range of tasks, or your job requires more work than usual, phone estimates might not be meaningful. When workers arrive from a company you’ve hired based on a phone estimate, confirm the work that will be done and the price to do it before they begin.

To avoid disputes over what work is to be done and how much it costs, ask prospective companies to inspect your home and provide written price quotes. When arranging for an in-home price quote, stress that you want only a price; otherwise, you may answer the door to a crew ready to work.

Tell the company’s estimator everything you want them to do. Some tasks may seem obvious, but too much detail is better than not enough. Make sure the estimator signs and dates a written description of all the work requested along with the price. A piece of paper with a dollar amount scribbled alongside a vague work description leaves too much room for misunderstanding.

Ask whether you have to provide cleaning equipment and supplies. While some companies stipulate that homeowners provide it, others bring their own stuff, and some charge extra for it.

Get Proof of Proper Insurance Coverage

Ask any housecleaning company you hire to provide proof that it carries both general liability and workers’ compensation insurance. Although some companies advertise that they are bonded, this does not protect their customers. The type of bond available to housecleaning companies for their employees is a fidelity bond that protects the company from theft by its employees. Customers who are victimized still have to collect from the company or the employee.

Stay Home for the First Visit or Two

During the first few visits, plan to be home to oversee the work. Supervise, but be sensible; don’t follow workers’ every moves. For one-time jobs, or when your regular company sends a new worker, wait until a section or room is done, examine it, and immediately point out any problems. Perform a final inspection to be sure all work has been done properly.

Before a company comes to clean, store cell phones, jewelry, and other valuables in a safe place, and secure out of harm’s way any heirlooms, china, or other fragile articles apt to be knocked over, spilled on, or otherwise damaged.