Can a cleaning service replace your foreign domestic worker?
Keeping your home clean can be a challenge, especially for older residents, or dual-income families where mum and dad both work.
There are plenty of services in Singapore that can help with this - but they mainly fall into the categories of FDWs (Foreign Domestic Workers), or conventional cleaning services. Which one saves you more money, and which is better suited to you?
Costs of cleaning services
Cleaning services often charge either a one-off fee (one-time cleaning), or a monthly fee, for those who need ongoing services.
For one-off cleaning, fees range from $25 to $55 per hour. As a rule of thumb, most homes of 970 to 1,100 sq.ft. (four and five-room flats) will take at least three hours for a “deep clean”. Larger landed properties could take as long as half a day, so it gets pricey.
For monthly cleaning, the cost is usually just above $300 per month, for a unit the size of a four or five-room flat. For larger landed properties, it’s possible for the monthly bill to climb past $1,000.
Costs of hiring a Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW)
In terms of service fees alone (i.e., excluding medical check-ups, maid insurance, food, and so forth), almost all FDWs cost at least $450 per month. FDWs from the Philippines generally cost more; a common justification is that they’re better versed in English; and you could be paying upward of $570.
FDWs that see the highest demand are transfer maids. These are domestic workers who are already working in Singapore (hence the term transfer, as they are transferring the contract to you). These domestic workers can command salaries of above $800 per month.
However, this comes with the significant advantage of better communication, and knowing their way around Singapore (e.g., they can handle taking your children to and from school, and getting them fed at the local coffee shop, from day one).
Beyond service fees, there are variable costs for domestic workers that are difficult to estimate. For example, you need to provide food for your FDW, as well handle agency fees (there are often administrative charges), and medical check-ups and healthcare. Maid insurance can provide coverage to alleviate some of the more serious costs (see below).
How do you decide which service to use?
Your decision should be based on the following:
● Your exact requirements from the service
● Affordability issues
● Effort in direction / instruction
● The frequency of the service needed
● The extent of cleaning required
1. Your exact requirements from the service
A cleaning service does only cleaning, and nothing else. They will polish up your appliances, mop your floor, steam your carpet, etc.
But they definitely won’t pick up your children from school, or escort your elderly parents to the hairdresser. These other jobs are the province of FDWs (that’s why the latter costs so much more).
If you need someone to handle such jobs, simply hire a FDW, and you can get the cleaning services thrown in as well. If all you need is a clean house, then it’s probably excessive to hire a FDW - just call in the cleaning company as and when you need them.
2. Affordability issues
A FDW is always going to be more expensive than the cleaning company. This is because you need to pay for maid insurance, provide food, and handle all the other costs.
As such, consider the FDW or cleaning company under your monthly expenses. As a rule of thumb, you want to avoid taking on monthly costs that exceed 50 per cent of your monthly income (inclusive of other costs like food, transport, etc).
As such, sometimes financial prudence requires that you forego a FDW and use a cleaning company instead.
3. Effort in direction / instruction
How do you feel about having to give briefings, every time you want cleaning done?
In general, FDW will come to know what you expect, and how you want things to be cleaned (e.g., what can or can’t be machine washed, or how to clean the precious marble tiles without leaving scrape marks). FDWs don’t need as much constant supervision, as after a while they can manage on their own.
With cleaning services, you can’t count on getting the same crew each time - not even if you use a monthly service. This means you may need to brief and direct the cleaning crew, each and every time they do a job. For some hirers, it’s not worth the time and effort (not to mention the risk, if they damage something valuable in the house).
4. The frequency of the service needed
As your FDW lives with you, they’re ready to clean up the spills and breakages when they happen. They are, for example, on the spot with a mop and towels the moment your child knocks a soft drink bottle onto the floor.
With a cleaning company, they only come at the appointed time or when called. As such, they’re not on hand to deal with day-to-day accidents. Sometimes, you could have a major incident (e.g., your toilet pipe burst and the bathroom is a nightmare), but find out you’re forced to wait a day or two before the cleaners can show up.
5. The extent of cleaning require
FDWs are not as specialised in all areas of cleaning. Some cleaning companies can, for instance, disassemble the inside of your oven to clean it - or they can steam clean a massive carpet the size of your entire living room.
It’s not reasonable to expect your FDW to perform on that level, as expertise and special equipment is needed. It’s sometimes possible that, even after you’ve hired a FDW, you’ll still need one-off cleaning services; just for more specialised tasks like polishing countertops, or special treatment of wood surfaces.
If you look after your own children and parents, and just need someone to clean, then it’s more economical to approach a cleaning service.
If you can already manage these tasks, then you don’t really need a FDW. Save yourself some money, and just call in cleaners as and when you need them.
If you absolutely can’t be home, and need someone to watch your dependents, then a FDW might be a necessity. If this is the case, then be sure to get proper maid insurance to help manage the costs.
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