Hired Help vs. Elbow Grease: What's the most affordable way to clean?

Is a maid really worth the money?
Is a maid really worth the money?

Cleaning house can be a big chore. It can also be discouraging. Those spider webs on the ceiling may take some stretching and creative problem solving to remove, but a few months from now they'll be back again -- that you can count on. When you don't want to make housework your new hobby (and who does?), finding an alternative to the cleaning grind has some real allure.

You could just move every month or so and hope the dirt doesn't find you. Another option is to bribe your kids to do the cleaning for you. (They may be too smart to take the bait, though.) You could also hire a maid service to do the honors. This last option is becoming a popular choice, especially in two-income households where discretionary time is a precious commodity -- too precious to spend it cleaning baseboards and swamping out the bathroom. That's settled. Hire a pro and free yourself from cleaning duty forever.

Can hiring a pro to clean be more affordable than doing the job yourself? The short answer is no. You may be able to find a neighborhood cleaning service willing to cut some corners and clean your home on the cheap, but the bill will still likely outstrip the cost of supplies -- which is the extent of the basic cost of doing it yourself. Your time has value, sure, but hiring a professional involves more expense than the labor and materials necessary to do the job. Cleaning agencies typically maintain retail and possibly warehouse space. They also carry liability insurance and bond their workers -- at least the reputable ones do. That translates to a safer service for you but also a more expensive service overall. So, how much will it really cost you?

The Cost of Clean

Rates vary from region to region, but expect a typical cleaning service to charge about what it would cost for your family to eat out at a nice restaurant. You may be able to take advantage of a competitive market in some locations, but the cost will still be more than a container of disinfectant, a bucket and a few sponges -- substantially more. You may be surprised at what isn't included in the base price, too. Don't expect an oven cleaning or refrigerator overhaul without paying extra.

Can you just get a neighborhood teenager to clean your home for spending money and your eternal gratitude? Yes, you sure can. You might want to check your state and local laws, though. That tidy teen may be considered an employee under some circumstances -- with tax implications you may not want to contemplate. It's also a good idea to check your homeowner's insurance policy to verify that on-the-job injuries, like taking a tumble down the stairs, are covered.

If you're the designated maid or tidy upper at your house, expect to spend around 10 hours per month scrubbing, dusting and vacuuming. That comes out to two and a half hours a week. While you're scouring the sink that may sound like an eternity, but relative to the time you spend doing other things, it may not be so bad. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has compiled a Time Use Survey for the average American. Based on its estimates, you spend about two and a half hours watching television every day. That TV time won't help get your house clean, but it will raise your risk for a heart attack or stroke. It will also make you more likely to develop diabetes and obesity. There's a lesson here somewhere -- household chores offer you a good opportunity to turn TV time into exercise time.

Are you ever going to love cleaning? Don't hold your breath. Consider turning up the volume up on your flat screen, though. You'll want to hear it over the noise of the vacuum cleaner.

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