Springtime may mean the start of baseball season to you, but to homeowners it also means the annual ritual of overhauling the house. It's time to do battle with the legacy of the past year--dust balls under the refrigerator, cracks in the footpath and chaos in the garage.
Giving a home a spring face-lift doesn't have to mean hard work. With a little time invested in phone calls and a judicious dip into the cookie jar, you can get annoying small jobs done without ever breaking a sweat, simply by hiring someone else to do it all for you.
THE BIG CLEAN
A day is all it takes for a thorough top-to-bottom housecleaning. For $300 to $500, a maintainance company will dispatch a coordinated team of three to seven workers to you to clean the oven, wash walls, scrub mini-blinds, shampoo carpets, clean baseboards, strip and wax floors, vacuum furniture, clean windows and even wash light bulbs.
The larger companies that put together such spring-cleaning teams are usually bonded and insured, since most of their workers are subcontractors. Spring is high season for them, so consider booking a week or so in advance. Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturdays are usually the best days to schedule a major job. Ask about special services, like washing skylights or cleaning out the garage. Some companies use a high-pressure water gun to give the outside of a house a good scrubbing. Others specialize in cleaning silk plants.
If the idea of a team invasion doesn't appeal to you, a single housecleaner can do a thorough job but may need a couple of days to get it done. Since many people who have suddenly found themselves unemployed turn to housecleaning, make sure the person you hire is licensed and bonded in case of damage and breakage. Better still, ask for references and check them.
A single person may be easier to work with if you have specific jobs in mind, such as straightening closets, cleaning kitchen cupboards or polishing brass or silver. Many of these independents are loathe to quote prices over the phone and prefer to do a walk-through before talking money. Rates vary from $30 to $60 a day, depending not only on the work but on the space and maneuverability. Tightly packed furniture and endless bric-a-brac that needs to be moved can greatly affect speed. Ask if the cleaner uses his or her own cleaning products: It could mean big savings on a large job.
CARPETS, DRAPES AND UPHOLSTERY
A good rule of thumb is that, given normal use and wear, carpets should be deep-cleaned once a year, while drapery and upholstery should be cleaned every two years. Companies that have become experts in the technology of fabric care can clean your carpets, upholstery and drapery in one job.
Carpet cleaning is fertile ground for bait-and-switch pricing tactics. An advertised price of "$19.95 per room" rarely works out to be the case. Once inside your home, such companies often insist that they can't guarantee the job unless the carpet is spot-cleaned first. Not surprisingly, this, along with stain-proofing, stairs and split-level rooms, costs extra. Most reputable companies will clearly qualify their quotes over the phone.
Carpet-cleaning options run wet and dry. For homeowners who don't want to be inconvenienced by wet carpet for a day or two, the answer is the new chemical-cleaning methods which leave carpets dry in about two hours. Although traditional extraction cleaning is usually a little less expensive, repeated washing with hot water can weaken carpet backing and cause fiber separation. Ensure that carpet shampooing will be a two-step process in which all detergent residues are rinsed out, otherwise the carpet will quickly resoil.
It pays to shop for expert help when it comes to cleaning antique or Oriental carpets. Many of the dyes used in such carpets are not colorfast, so a small portion of the fabric should be tested to ensure that the carpet and cleaning method are compatible.
Consider calling in expert help to fix seams, repair damage and recolor stains. Carpet tinting can add years of extra wear to a faded carpet, and dyeing carpet a new color can give a room a face-lift for about a third of the cost of buying new carpet.
Bear in mind that dyeing is really a blending of colors, and that the original carpet color will determine the end color. Test the new color in a little-seen area, such as inside a closet, before taking the plunge. Although the dye is fixed upon completion of the job, count on the carpet remaining damp for one to five days.
Upholstery cleaning is also subject to the bait-and-switch ploy. Reputable firms are unlikely to quote a price over the phone. Prices for cleaning a sofa can vary, from $25 to $200 depending on the fabric, degree of soiling and construction. If you are looking to clean such temperamental fabrics as velvets, silks or "bleeders," technical expertise should be your top priority.