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What a Professional Housecleaner Will Clean (and What They Won’t)

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Hiring a house cleaning service can be hugely helpful if you’re busy, unorganized, or in a rush, but there is some etiquette you have to know before hiring a stranger to clean up your messes. For instance, there are some things a professional cleaner shouldn’t—or can’t—clean. Sometimes it’s a time or efficiency issue, sometimes it’s a safety thing, but no matter what the reason, it’s good to go in with reasonable expectations. To avoid confusion or agitation, here are some things your cleaner can tackle and some things they can’t (or won’t), according to the pros.

What you can ask your cleaner to take on

James Penn, a professional cleaner in New York City with 12 years of experience, told Lifehacker that of course, your cleaner can and should handle the basics: dusting, mopping, vacuuming, scrubbing walls, etc. Before they arrive, you should outline which areas are most important to dust or scrub, especially if they haven’t been to the home for an extended period of time, but these basics are kind of the bread and butter of what you’re paying for.

“Organization is also something to ask for if you’re willing to learn to trust who they send,” he added. Communicate in advance about whether your cleaner is willing to, say, organize your shelves or closet, but typically, it shouldn’t be an issue as long as you say clearly that’s something you’re looking for.

Penn noted there are a few unexpected tasks that cleaners are usually fine with handling, too, like cleaning and unclogging vents.

“Professional house cleaning team members typically have the best tools, products, and experience to tackle the home efficiently,” said Vera Peterson, president of Molly Maid. It’s not unreasonable to ask them to pack long-handled dusters for your ceiling fans or crown molding, for instance. You can reasonably expect a professional cleaner to be able to take on the following:

  • Your kitchen, including your appliances, countertops, chairs, and tables, and floors
  • Your living room, including dusting, vacuuming, and getting under your cushions
  • Your bedrooms, including baseboards, window sills, picture frames, and mirrors
  • Your bathrooms, including your tub, shower, mirrors, countertops, sink faucets, and toilet

What not to ask your cleaner to do

“Anything pertaining to ladders” is off-limits, Penn said, so if you’re looking for someone to dust a high ceiling fan or spruce up your curtains, don’t expect a maid service to help. It’s dangerous for them, so even if you and the company have insurance, they’re not likely to want to put themselves in harm’s way.

Further, he added, “some companies and people won’t even consider your home if you have pets, excessive pests, a foul odor, too much clutter, and the list goes on.”

This is why it’s important to look up your service in advance, communicate with your assigned professional, and understand what they will and won’t do. For instance, there are specialized services that handle biohazard cleanup or serious hoarding situations, but your standard maid company is not one of them.

Peterson added that professional cleaners are not equipped to take on mold, air ducts, chimneys, or carpet deep-cleaning, and you should seek out specialists for these tasks—especially mold and air ducts, as handling them right is a safety concern.

Cleaning teams also generally don’t pick up clutter, clean kids’ toys, wash dishes, or do laundry, Peterson said, though you can check with your cleaner in advance to clarify if they might. They may do the inside of cabinets, your stove, and your fridge, but again, these are specialty requests that need to be worked out in advance.