The 2020s have forced most of us to spend a lot more time at home, and the results have not been tidy. Dust coats every surface (where does it come from?!). There’s schmutz all over the bathroom. The kitchen looks as if it regularly hosts food fights. You can vacuum, wipe, scrub, mop, and dust to exhaustion, or you can find help to restore order.

The first step in getting someone to do your dirty work is to choose whether to hire a company or an individual. If you go with an individual, a major disadvantage is the added legal responsibilities you’ll assume as an employer. Many families who hire household workers either are unaware of their legal obligations or choose to ignore them.

Hiring a company relieves you of employer responsibilities, especially paying taxes and obtaining unemployment insurance coverage. But you may prefer getting to know an individual whom you can work with to establish a long-term, trusting relationship.

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You are also more likely to get better work from an individual you hire than from a company. A survey conducted by Delaware Valley Consumers’ Checkbook found that area residents who employed companies were less satisfied than consumers who hired individuals.

Individual housecleaners received “superior” ratings for “overall performance” from 71 percent of their surveyed customers; companies received such favorable ratings from only 49 percent.

Prices varied widely among local companies. For example, quotes obtained by Checkbook’s undercover shoppers ranged from $80 to $179 to clean a two-story, three-bedroom house with two baths on a weekly basis.

For a semi-weekly cleaning of a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo, prices ranged from $60 to $155. 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.

If you decide to hire a company, phone estimates can provide an idea about which ones are reasonably priced. Before contacting 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. 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.

Over the phone, be sure to supply detailed information about your home—number of floors, bedrooms, bathrooms, types of floor coverings, how large, etc. Then be sure to have any company you are considering out to your home to give a written estimate with a description of exactly what work is to be done and how often.

Also ask companies to provide you with certificates of insurance—liability and workers’ compensation. If a company tells you it is bonded, know that doesn’t mean much: The bonds that housecleaning services buy protect the company, not you.

If you prefer to hire an individual, keep in mind that paying an individual to help with housecleaning differs substantially from hiring a company. You must negotiate pay and benefits. Get referrals from friends and neighbors who are satisfied. Talk with them—and other references from the individual—about your priorities, your pet peeves, and the strengths and weaknesses of the person you’re considering.

When you’ve narrowed the field, have the candidate to your home, explain and list tasks, describe your expectations, and invite questions and comments. Make sure you describe jobs you are picky about or that could be considered out of the ordinary. Discuss the terms of employment—pay, schedule and benefits—and put them in writing. Specify a probationary period to get acquainted.

Regarding how much to pay, Checkbook found no solid rule of thumb. Surveyed consumers who employ individual housecleaners reported paying anywhere from about $15 to $50 an hour.

Finally, remember that this person will be your employee. That means you’re responsible for verifying work eligibility, payroll taxes, paying into unemployment insurance funds, carrying workers’ compensation insurance, and handling various other requirements set by your state and municipality. (Philadelphia, for example, since May 2020 requires all household employers to provide workers with written contracts, meal and rest breaks, paid and unpaid leave, and other benefits and rights.)

No matter whom you hire, plan to be home during the first cleaning visit. Do a full walk-through of your home describing your expectations. Try to arrange to have the same crew for each cleaning, and always store valuable and/or fragile items in a safe place.

Delaware Valley Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. We are supported by consumers and take no money from the service providers we evaluate. You can access Checkbook’s ratings of local housecleaning companies until Sept. 5 at Checkbook.org/Inquirer/Housecleaners.