Most people hire a professional housecleaning service because of time and perpetual motion; there just isn't enough of the first to allow us to pursue a set of tasks that seem to be rooted in the second.
That is because the pursuit of housework is eternal.
Sue Ashford, owner of housecleaning firm Ashford Enterprises in Anaheim, believes keeping up with the domestic grime is hard enough when a working couple equally share broom and mop. But she claims that is seldom the case.
"Let's face it," she said. "In most two-income family homes it's the woman who still handles the housework--not the man.
"It really is tough because women are expected to work a 40-hour week and be Miss Suzy Homemaker and be gourmet cooks and be gorgeous and work out at the gym and play tennis. There are not enough hours in the day to do all that, especially with children. A working woman really needs help."
Help can come in the form of more than 70 housecleaning firms ready to wipe, polish and vacuum Orange County's hurried masses into a state of perpetual cleanliness.
Cleaning fees usually run from $45 to $70 a visit depending on house size, frequency of visits and the in-home presence of any unusual sources of filth, such as hoofed animals. Actually, says Ashford, some homes only look as if they've had cattle running through them.
Sometimes new customers calling in for an over-the-phone cleaning estimate are not as forthcoming about the condition of their homes as Ashford would like them to be.
"Usually there's no problem," she said. "But sometimes when we get out to a house, we find that (the owners) haven't cleaned the place in five years."
She calls these polluted abodes "fire hose and pickax jobs, because that's about what it takes to clean them."
Tough jobs and seasonal work such as spring cleaning are generally charged at higher rates than routine home maintenance.
Sarah Bodnoff, owner of Molly Maids in Fountain Valley, says her company charges one-time customers a $40-an-hour rate for a two-maid crew. An average cleaning session for a medium-size home can last two to three hours.
While spring cleaning requests have grown in recent years, regularly scheduled visits remain the popular choice of homeowners seeking escape from the drudgery of dusting and bathtub maintenance.
While most of Bodnoff's 350 residential customers prefer an alternate-week cleaning schedule, she says her firm "can arrange anything, whether every 10 days, three weeks or what."
Semiweekly cleaning for a 2,000-square-foot-home runs about $65, which includes dusting, vacuuming and a complete go-through of the kitchen and bathrooms. Bodnoff even has her maids clean the inside of the microwave.
"But we don't do windows," she said, the exception being the inside of sliding glass patio doors. Nor do her uniformed maids do heavy, janitorial-type cleaning such as washing down walls and ceilings.
Some housecleaning services, however, have yet to meet the window or wall they wouldn't clean--for an extra charge. Ashford's housekeepers, for example, will clean every window and wall in your house for a fee of $11 to $13 an hour, or, if the customer wishes, a pre-quoted flat rate.
"Watch out for fly-by-night (housecleaning) operations," Bodnoff warned. "Don't worry just about getting the best price, but make sure the (housekeeper) you're dealing with is fully bonded and has a state license. Don't be afraid to ask for proof."
Ashford also suggests that a homeowner check references.
"Even if the housekeeper doesn't have bonding, as long as her references check out you'll be pretty safe," she said, adding that after 20 years in the business she knows of only two instances of housekeeper theft, "and both of those were live-in housekeepers. Still, it's a legitimate concern."
By the nature of their work, it is not unusual for housekeepers to come across lost jewelry during their cleaning rounds. Ashford made a memorable find in one home when she discovered a large man's ruby ring under a chair. When the customer returned a short while later he spotted the ring sitting on a side table where Ashford had placed it.
"He was stunned," she recalled. "It was a ring he had lost 15 years before. It must have dropped out of the chair."
But what prompted the sudden reappearance?
"A cleaning lady's trick is to tilt a chair up, vacuum under it, and then let it drop back in place," she explained. "I'd been cleaning this house every other week for a year and a half, and I guess every time I raised that chair and let it drop, the ring was gradually working its way out through the bottom."