- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Thelma Epperly knows the importance of keeping a clean house, especially during the holidays. At a time when unexpected guests could drop by at a moment’s notice, it would be embarrassing to have footprints on the kitchen floor and cobwebs on the living room coffee table.

As manager of Maid Brigade in Rockville, Ms. Epperly gains many new customers around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“People want to have free time with their families and children, instead of spending half a day on Saturday or Sunday cleaning,” she says. “It frees up their time.”

Although most people don’t like to clean the house, it’s a task that needs to be done. When the job becomes overwhelming for family members, outside help can be hired for a price. However, families don’t want to let just anyone in their homes, Ms. Epperly says. Most reputable cleaning services have a business license. Companies also should be bonded and insured in case items are broken or stolen, she says.

Interested clients can check with the Better Business Bureau’s Web site (www.bbb.org) for complaint records.

“If it’s anything valuable, we ask the customer to put it away,” Ms. Epperly says. “We try to pick up all the knickknacks, clean under them and put them back. We don’t always get every single one, but that’s our goal.”

Cleaning services also should offer worker’s compensation in case of injury to their employees, she says.

Employees with Maid Brigade do whatever the customer requests, as long as they don’t have to stand on anything higher than a two-step stool, Ms. Epperly says.

Customers are billed by the hour. It costs $70 per hour for a two-person team to clean the home. A three-person team costs $105 an hour. A price is given for the initial cleaning Then, a schedule is set for future cleanings, usually on a weekly or monthly basis.

Generally organizing the home before the workers from the cleaning service arrive enables the employees to do their job faster, says Beth Mannix, owner of Mermaid Inc. in Alexandria. Her business charges $35 per hour, with a two-hour minimum.

The company does a free in-home visit with the clients before sending workers, Ms. Mannix says. The employees inspect the home, as well as ask questions to prevent any problems. For instance, if there are pets in the house, customers should clarify whether they are allowed outdoors.

“We ask them specifically if there are any items that move in a funny way, or they look like one piece but are actually two,” she says. “One of the biggest things overlooked by people is they use toothpick nails to hang a heavy piece on the wall, and you touch it and it goes bang.”

The two dirtiest areas of the home are usually the kitchen and the bathroom, Ms. Mannix says. Grease builds up on the kitchen stove. Mildew starts to grow in the bathroom, which can cause the grouting to deteriorate.

Another major culprit is dust, she says. Even though it might seem harmless, dust can make people sick, especially those with allergies and asthma.

“Dust is really overlooked,” Ms. Mannix says. “The cleaner your place is, not only the healthier your environment, if you have a clean home, you just have this sense of well-being.”

Passing the “white-glove test” is crucial after employees finish cleaning a house, says Oscar Moncada, manager at Personal Touch Cleaning Services Inc. in Fairfax. His company charges $30 per hour for each cleaning person who works in a home.

“If you put on a white glove and touch all the surfaces where we cleaned, you’re not supposed to see any dust or dirt on the glove,” Mr. Moncada says. “If we have to clean certain areas of the house with a toothbrush, that’s what we’ll do.”

In addition to cleaning inside the home, taking care of the outside of the house is important, says Augusto Zuniga, owner of Total Home Care by Maid Easy in Gaithersburg. His company offers standard indoor services, plus carpet, upholstery and ceiling cleaning.

Power-washing decks, siding, patios or furniture is also a popular request of clients. Customers also usually ask for their gutters to be unclogged, which makes the water run away from the foundation, preventing damage in the basement. His employees also perform “handyman” services, such as painting, as well as restoration after fire or water damage.

Package deals are created around the needs of the customer, especially when a client is selling the home and wants to make it look its best, Mr. Zuniga says. Prices range from $500 to $1,000, depending on the size of the job.

“Sometimes, houses that haven’t been cleaned in long time, it damages the cabinets and floors,” he says. “It damages the grout. Many times, we have to remove the grout and do the caulking. If you keep it clean, it prevents bad things from happening.”

As grime builds up, it invites unwanted critters into the house, says Ammu Ausara, service manager of Home Team Pest Defense in Alexandria. The company removes various creatures, such as ants, roaches, spiders, crickets and rodents, with either chemical sprays or gels. The cost of their services depends on the size of the home.

“A crumb to us, that we can’t even see, is like a mountain to an ant,” Mr. Ausara says. “It’s good to vacuum on a regular basis. If you have a very dusty place, it’s a good environment for spiders. Spiders like dusty, dry areas to build webs.”

Pests will enter a home to get at sources of food and water, he says. If people keep their homes clean, these unexpected guests are less likely to come for a visit.

“The cleaner your home, the less likely you are to have bug problems,” Mr. Ausara says. “Some homes we go into, you can pull the stove out and find food laying back on the stove, grease caked on the ceiling area. That’s a good environment for roaches.”

Whatever area of the home needs to be made immaculate, most people would love a little extra assistance, says Janet Fahar, owner of Molly Maid of Western Fairfax County in Chantilly.

Having a clean house lifts the spirit and makes people feel better about themselves and their surroundings, she says. It costs about $90 per cleaning to do a three-bedroom, 2-bath house. The price is based on the type of service required.

“People find they are very rushed and have a lot to do if they’re working, especially two-income families with children,” Mrs. Fahar says. “It’s a wonderful stress reliever to have someone come clean your house for you. One of our slogans is ‘You’ll love coming home to a clean house.’”

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