THE QUESTION of how to get the house clean without actually doing it is an old one.
People who work away from home have a hard time finding time to hire and supervise help. Most people can't afford to offer full-time work so they find it difficult to attract good professional cleaning workers.Even those people who keep house full-time occasionally find they need bailing out, temporary help, when they're moving into a new house or moving out of an old apartment, having a big party or marrying off the daughter. And there are souls who feel better able to face the change of the seasons, if someone will come and scrub the place.
To answer these needs, cleaning house has become a well-organized business. Some 10 to 20-odd cleaning companies each can be found in the Yellow Pages of the District, Maryland and Virginia.
For the worker there can be greater security in working for one of these companies than working directly for the housewife. Social Security, Unemployment Compensation and Workman's Compensation are assured. And paid vacations are usually included. Such benefits are often not possible for the cleaner who works by the day in several houses.
The householder is spared the bother of checking references, the fuss of hiring and firing. And if one cleaner is sick or on vacation, another can fill in. The householder is also spared the paperwork that today goes with employment. The campanies provide transportation for the employes. And the employer is insured against damage theft.
There are disadvantages, of course. The close understanding between employer and employe doesn't have the chance to develop. There is much more of an impersonal feeling. And the employer may feel that the company cleaner doesn't understand the house's specific needs as well as devoted longtime employe.
Maid in America in Virginia and the District - but not in Maryland - has a flat charge for the numbers of rooms to be cleaned. For a five room house, one day a week, the charge could be as low as $19. It only takes two or three hours to scrub floors, dust and vacuum rugs.
But for larger houses with more rooms, 2 1/2 baths and more than two bedrooms, the charge could run from $25 to $50 and take much longer of course.
Los Baldwin, manager of Maid-America, says his staff of 32 people, both cleaning women and drivers to take them around to jobs, works only four days a week: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays - never over the weekends or Mondays.
The women, usually older, average $120 for their four days of work, and the men drivers average $130. All state and Social Security taxes deducted from their pay, so they know exactly how they can count on each week.
Maid-to-Order does 7,800 cleanings a year, operating out of the main office in Silver Spring. It fuctions in Maryland and the District but not in Virginia. With a staff of 50 people, it specializes in one day for the average house, around five hours at $30 for the day.
John Garves, the manager, says that his firm concentrates on getting new homes ready to be occupied by new owners or new tenants. They scrub floors and wax them, clean out gutters and windows. For realtors this firm does more than $100.000 worth business a year. In houses and apartments which are occupied, the Maid-to-Order staff does laundry and all the other regular cleaning, but does not polish silver. They have specials on housecleaning every spring and fall. They work for hospitals and doctors, too.
A firm with an international connection is Service Master of Greater Washington. This is a part of a worldwide service that does a $200 million business in 25 foreign countries and all 50 states.
Thomas Gandee, the local manager, says that Service Master is the largest cleaning firm of its kind in the world, cleaning hospitals and offices as well as private homes. Servicemaster has been in business in the Washington area for 24 years and overall 32 years.
All prices are based on the size of the house and range from $50 to $75 for a small house and may run up to $100 to $150 for the larger houses. This takes in all kinds of cleaning from washing windows (inside only), waxing floors, cleaning out kitchen cabinets and washing down walls and cleaning rugs. One customer with a small house is on a weekly program, but most are on a monthly or semi-annual basis at spring and fall housecleaning. Washing windows is a separate deal but only done when other services are hired. The charge can be from $8 to $10 for a large picture window - inside only.
Employes work a 40 hour week. They clean offices at night every Wednesday and Friday.
When specific jobs, like cleaning rugs and washing windows, are needed, it may be cheaper to get work done by specialists in these fields.
Thoroclean Carpet Service, listed in the Virginia telephone book, cleans rugs all over the area. Jay Narron, company president, says that he and his staff clean curtains and upholstery as well as rugs. Their price for rugs is 15 cents per square foot, $1 per plest for curtains, and a three-piece sofa can be cleaned for $55. Thoroclean brings its truck to the door and from it a long hose into the house with the dirt disappearing into the truck outdoors.
The McLean Window Cleaners, which serves only Northern Virginia and is based in McLean, has a minimum charge of $35 to clean all the windows of a house, inside and out. The average charge per window runs from $3 for a 6-by-6, double hung window to $5 to $7 for picture window, depending on how easy it is to reach.
The firms mentioned here are only a few examples. There are many more good cleaning firms operating in the Washington area.