Once thought of as a luxury only wealthy people could afford, hiring a cleaning service has become more mainstream as our lives get busier, and it becomes crucial for living and working spaces to be sanitary and virus-free. Whether you’re running a home or a business, you may figure that in a pandemic, a cleaning crew sanitizing everywhere for COVID-19 might be a swell idea provided, of course, that the cleaning crew doesn’t bring the virus in with them.

As you search for a cleaning service, there’s a lot to think about and a lot of cleaning services to choose from. According to IBISWorld, there are over a million janitorial services in the U.S. How do you choose? You start by talking to friends, families and coworkers to get referrals. Look on Yelp and Google to find cleaning services in your area with good reviews. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few, there are some important questions to ask to make sure you’re hiring the best man or woman for the job.

1. How Much Will This Cost?

A cleaning crew supervisor checks the work of housecleaners and determines a price for the owner of the property
New Africa / Shutterstock

If you’re like most people, this question is No. 1 at the top of your list. When considering the cost, don’t just think about the bottom line. You should also have a clear understanding of what you’re getting for your money. According to HomeAdvisor, maid services generally run, on average, $100 to $300 for a 90-minute to three-hour cleaning.

Let’s say you hire a cleaning service, and the agreement is that they’ll come to your home or office for two hours every other week, and for that service, you’ll pay $200. But then one day, the cleaning crew finishes in 60 minutes, and you may well think, “I paid $200 to have my home cleaned in 60 minutes when the cleaners should have been there for two hours? I was ripped off.”

But were you? You probably made out fine if there was a three-person cleaning crew that day, or even better, if four people came in.

In other words, it’s helpful for your sanity not to get too hung up on the time or money equation. Sure, you want to pay some attention to that, but if the cleaning crew is cleaning what you’ve agreed upon, that’s what that matters. You don’t want to punish a cleaning business because they’re figured out how to clean a room faster than you anticipated.

Generally, it costs more for a maid service to do a one-time cleaning than for regular cleanings. The more you bring them on, the less it usually costs on a per-cleaning basis. That’s because it’s always easier to clean a room that was cleaned a week or two earlier than a room that hasn’t seen a broom in months.

2. What Will the Cleaners Be Cleaning?

A housekeeper uses a towel and a sprayer to clean a window
Voyagerix / Shutterstock

This is a decision you need to make ahead of time and clearly communicate to the cleaning crew. At the same time, you can't make assumptions. For example, some cleaning services won't do windows, especially the outsides of windows, because of the time and physical effort it requires.

On the other hand, don't assume that your cleaning service won't do windows. Maybe you've located a unicorn, and yours will. If you have other dirty jobs you want to be done, such as oven cleaning, you should ask ahead of time if the cleaning service covers this sort of task.

3. What Should I Do to Prepare for Your Arrival?

A housekeeper surveys a cluttered room and wonders how she will clean it
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You may find out that you'll need to do some cleaning before the cleaners arrive. Many cleaning services won't clean up your clutter. If your kids leave a bunch of toys on the floor, those toys may end up remaining there. You should make sure cleaners can access the floors and surfaces that need to be cleaned.

If having your clutter put away is important to you, you should discuss that beforehand. Some cleaning services won't organize your things and put them away because they operate on the principle that their job is to clean and not organize your life. They also don't want to get involved with moving your personal possessions.

That's not to say that you're on your own when it comes to clutter and disorganization. If that's what you are looking for, you can hire professional organizers who will help you organize. It's likely that before your cleaners come over, you may have to do a bit of tidying up and putting things away yourself, but they'll handle the deep cleaning. They will do the scrubbing, dusting, mopping, vacuuming and sanitizing for you. Some cleaning services will also do your laundry. But, again, you need to discuss what you're paying for beforehand.

4. Should I Supply the Cleaning Supplies?

A cleaning crew arrives at a home with an ample amount of cleaning supplies
Pixel-Shot / Shutterstock

The rule of thumb is that the bigger the organization, the less likely you'll need to furnish the cleaning supplies. But it's still a good idea to ask.

If you do have to furnish the cleaning supplies, which may be the case if you’re working with a sole proprietor who has a small operation, you might as well go the extra mile and ask for suggestions on what types of products or tools he or she would recommend having. Obviously, the better the cleaning tools, the more effective the cleaning will be.

There's no right or wrong answer here. Whatever you work out with the cleaning service is fine, but if your own equipment or supplies will be used, make sure there’s an adequate amount of supplies and that equipment such as a vacuum cleaner is in excellent working order.

5. Where Should My Pets Be?

A puppy lies on the floor next to a bucket of cleaning supplies
Reshetnikov_Art / Shutterstock

If you have pets and your home is being cleaned, how’s that going to work out? Maybe the cleaning service doesn’t mind having dogs or cats around as long as they’re not unruly, but you will want to discuss that beforehand.

For instance, if you have an indoor cat or dog who thinks it’s fun to give you a heart attack by racing outside and toward the street, you’re going to want to give the cleaning people a heads up to keep the door shut. They may have the door wide open for longer than you’d normally like, while they bring in their cleaning supplies and tools.

If you have a bird that seems afraid of loud noises like the vacuum cleaner, you should cover the cage with a sheet on cleaning days. Cleaning services, especially ones that want to work with you regularly, tend to be happy to fulfill those little requests. After all, they want to keep their clients happy.

You’ll want to inquire whether the cleaning service charges extra for cleaning up after pets. Some cleaning companies will argue that pets are messy and mean more work in cleaning up after them, which is true. Still, you shouldn’t have a problem finding cleaning companies that don’t charge clients more for having pets.

6. What Type of Cleaning Solutions Do You Use?

A woman from a cleaning service bends over a countertop and cleans it carefully, leading to a happy homeowner
Stock-Asso / Shutterstock

Frankly, you probably don’t have to worry too much about asking your cleaning service this question. These days, more and more custodial services are cleaning with green products — that is, products that are safe for the environment.

The question is still worth asking, particularly if you have small children or pets or other family members sensitive to certain chemicals or cleaning supplies. You're going to be inhaling the air in your home or office soon after the cleaners leave, and you do want to be thinking about whether the cleaning service you're using is eco-friendly.

If you're concerned, check to see if the cleaning service holds a certification in green cleaning. For instance, many residential cleaners' websites will have the Green Seal on them. To get and keep that certification, business owners and employees need to get special training. Other organizations offer green cleaning certification. International Sanitary Supply Association is another prominent one.

7. Is Everybody Insured?

A woman balances precariously on a ladder as she cleans a door
Kzenon / Shutterstock

Ask about the cleaning service's liability and workers' compensation insurance. If you decide to hire a well-known franchised cleaning service, it should have both types of coverage. If it's a smaller operation or somebody who cleans homes or businesses on their own, you definitely want to ask about insurance. You shouldn’t hesitate to ask to see proof of insurance if you have any doubts.

The question of insurance doesn't stop there, however. Will your homeowners insurance protect you if a cleaning person gets injured on your property? If you have pets, stairs, high places to clean, or any number of normal household scenarios, it's a question worth looking into.

Cleaning crews come into homes and businesses every day without incident, but you are inviting new people into your home, presumably regularly. You could have a cleaning professional accidentally knock over a priceless vase. Will your homeowners personal property insurance reimburse you for the value of the vase? What if a cleaner causes damage to the structure of your home? Would your homeowners insurance dwelling coverage be used to cover the damage? These are all topics that you should discuss with your insurance agent.

It doesn't take much imagination to create scenarios where there are compelling reasons to ask about insurance. You want to make sure that your cleaning service has good insurance and your homeowners, business or renters insurance is comprehensive and will cover cleaning people in your home or business.

If you don't have great insurance for your home, business or rental property, the answer isn't to forget about using a cleaning service. You'll probably want to look into getting adequate coverage from your current insurance company or comparison shop for better homeowners insurance, search for better renters insurance or look for whatever type of insurance you need.

8. What Do You Know About the People Cleaning Your Home?

A lazy housecleaner is seen sitting down on the job and daydreaming
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There are a lot of wonderful people in the cleaning industry with far more good apples than bad. In the last several months, for instance, at two different schools, school custodians were credited for saving the lives of students choking on food in the cafeteria.

Then there's a feel-good story from last year, where a cleaning lady was credited for saving an 83-year-old man's life. The guy hadn't been heard from that day, and a concerned friend called the man's cleaning lady. She checked on him, found him trapped in a crawl space in his home and promptly called the police.

Still, not every cleaning professional will be someone who saves your life. A few years ago, in Brooklyn, a cleaning person made news for drinking a client's liquor, messing up the property instead of cleaning it and then passing out on the floor. Last year, a cleaning person made news in New Jersey for stealing sports memorabilia, jewelry and other belongings from various clients' homes.

It's not a bad idea to ask your cleaning service about their pre-screening methods when hiring employees. Do they run a background check? What other measures do they take to ensure the person coming into your home is trustworthy?

True, nobody's going to tell you, "Well, I hired this new guy named Phil, and to be honest, he's a little shady. You may want to hide your jewelry."

Still, at least you're signaling to your cleaning service that you'd prefer that they send their best into your home or workplace. If you get a reply to this question or any that you ask that doesn't satisfy you or makes you uneasy, you can always go to another cleaning service.

A cleaning service can help take the pressure off when your schedule is just too busy to clean. For many people, the price of a cleaning service is worth the convenience it provides. There are plenty of excellent cleaning services to choose from, many with outstanding cleaning professionals and some that may even do windows and know the Heimlich maneuver.

About the Author

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist in Loveland, Ohio and a regular contributor to MoneyGeek.