Is spring cleaning - the annual rite of home purification embraced by good housekeepers and neatniks everywhere - an anachronism? Does this ancient ritual still have a place in the busy two-career household of today?
Let's face it, even those weekly surface cleanings are hard to squeeze in. Unfortunately, homes still get dirty, and the job still needs to be done.
The answer? Delegate.
Bring in the house cleaning professionals, who will purge homes of a winter's buildup of dust, grime, mildew and dirt, at surprisingly affordable prices.
From washing windows and cleaning drapes to carpet and upholstery cleaning to washing mini blinds, these cleaning specialists will tackle your most formidable tasks. Here's a step-by-step guide to finding the cleaning people and help you need.
Windows are a particularly delicate issue. Proper equipment (as well as courage) is required to wash the higher ones and skylights.
Look for window washing companies that advertise being insured. This will protect you from liability should an accident occur, including ones involving injury to a worker.
You'll want to select a professional cleaner that's reputable, establish what the window cleaning services entail, and get an estimate of the window washing cost before work begins.
If your home has a second or third story, confirm that the company is willing to clean the higher windows (some won't go above a second story), and find out whether there is an extra charge for those windows.
Don't assume anything, and tell them exactly what you want. If you want the window ledges and screens cleaned, make that very clear. Most window washers charge by the hour for a cleaning that usually includes streak-free cleaning of both sides of the window, the window sills and tracks. Screens, however, are often extra.
To keep the cost down, do some of the prep work yourself. Move smaller end tables away from the windows and move desks if possible - or at least clear away a lot of the stuff on them. Whatever you can do to save time will save you money.
Mini. Micro mini. Macro. Venetian. Wood. Duette or pleated shades. Vertical.
No matter which variation of mini blinds you have, all have one thing in common: They're magnets for dust, animal dander, kitchen grease and soot. Mini blinds should be cleaned at least once a year - more often if they're in the kitchen.
Look for a professional cleaning company that has been in business a while. Ask specifically what the cleaning entails, request references and check the company's status with the Better Business Bureau.
Many companies include basic repairs and troubleshooting as well as washing mini blind. Cleaners check cords for frays or straighten bent blind sections. Fees are usually levied on a per blind basis. Duets and wood and cloth blinds, which are more difficult to clean, cost more.
Many companies use a high-tech ultrasonic cleaning machine that cleans quickly and effectively with sound waves. And some companies still do it the old-fashioned way - scrubbing by hand.
Whether the approach is high tech or low tech, mini blind cleaners often include taking down and rehanging the blinds in the cleaning cost, although some may charge a small fee.
Hand-washing companies usually do the job on site. For ultrasonic cleaning, mini blinds are usually taken to the company's shop and returned in a day or two. Many companies offer same-day service.
To find a drapery cleaning service, you may not need to look much further than your neighborhood dry cleaner. If you elect to use the dry cleaners, you'll probably need to take the drapes to the shop, where they will be cleaned and pressed.
Some companies that specialize in cleaning drapes offer pickup and delivery service (including taking down and rehanging the drapery.) Per-pleat prices vary by company. For drapery with no pleats, the charge is usually by the pound or by the amount and type of fabric.
Most experts recommend that drapery be professionally cleaned annually, more often is there are pets or a smoker in the home. Many residential carpet cleaning companies also offer upholstery cleaning. Some can even provide heat and air-conditioning duct cleaning. (Ducts should be professionally vacuumed every three to five years).
Whether your floors are wood, tile, marble, linoleum or slate, experts recommend an annual cleaning and refinishing. This protects the surface from the grinding in of dirt that could permanently mar the surface.
Dirt acts like fine sandpaper, wearing down the finish and the floor material itself when you walk on it.
Floor cleaning companies use a professional machines and buffers - or a great deal of elbow grease - to strap away layers of wax, polish and dirt and replace the sealer or wax. The per-foot price reflects the type of surface and cleaning methods.
Get at least three estimates from floor cleaning companies with local references before you decide what to do. Experience is a plus - so be sure to check how long a company has been in business.
There are lots of different floor surfaces, and you'll want to make sure the person you choose is knowledgeable about all of them and has been in the industry awhile.
Residential carpet cleaning companies vary almost as much as the methods they employ.
From hot-water extraction (also called "steam" cleaning) and foam cleaning to absorbent compound (also called "powder" cleaning) and the carbonation method (in which bubbles agitate dirt and other particles, causing them to bubble up to the surface, where they are vacuumed away), the methods will be dictated by the type of carpet you have.
Ask a professional cleaning service whether the method planned for your home is compatible with your carpet's warranty. A carpet cleaning company should have available the toll-free numbers or website information of carpet manufacturers so you can check before work begins.
Beware of companies with sales pitches such as "Any room, $X.XX" as rooms are different sizes and charges should be based on the square foot amount of carpet cleaned.
When using a company that charges a very low price for a room, be ware that the price probably doesn't include a full carpet cleaning service. You can be charged extra for pretreating or heavily soiled or spotted areas.
Cleaners should also move your furniture at no extra charge, although you should move breakables and other valuables beforehand. Most carpet cleaners charge per square foot, guarantee their work and provide an estimate prior to starting the job.
Finally, check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure whatever service you decide on has no complaints on file.
For all those other spring cleaning chores - from scrubbing bathroom nooks and crannies to clearing out the attic cobwebs, try the house cleaning professionals who regularly service homes but are also available for spring cleaning only.
Many charge a three-hour minimum fee, usually between $75 to $150, and an hourly fee thereafter. The cost is sometimes a bit less for regular customers.
Spring is the time to do the detail work: moving the furniture, taking apart the range hood and cleaning it - things you just don't get to on a weekly basis.
And most cleaning service will clean just about anything you deem worthy of a spring once-over - as long as it's moral and legal.