Domestic Fairies to Do the Dirty Work

Maria Saltykova, who has lived in the same apartment all 28 years of her life, found that every time she tried to clean the place, she never got further than finding her mom's old letters or her own high school diaries in a dusty corner and sitting down to read them.

So she looked for a professional cleaner who could help her keep her apartment orderly without waxing nostalgic.

Muscovites' recent prosperity and lack of spare time accounts for the growing volume of agencies offering help in hiring housekeepers, cleaners, nannies, gardeners and personal drivers, said Natalya Korneyeva, who works at one such agency, Mazhordom (

Housekeepers and cleaners charge anything from 500 to 1,500 rubles per visit. The price depends on the size of the apartment to be cleaned, the type of cleaning (regular upkeep versus major cleaning sessions), additional housekeeping services such as ironing and cooking, and the cleaner's experience and professionalism.

On average, a professional will charge 1,000 rubles to clean a two- or three-room Moscow apartment.

Lower prices are generally charged by acquaintances or out-of-towners, while professional cleaners, often hired through staffing agencies, are expected to know how to use cutting-edge vacuum cleaners and other appliances, and charge more for their knowledge.

Major agencies teach housekeepers how to use state-of-the-art cleaning equipment, how to clean high-quality furniture and rugs and how to iron expensive clothes, said Yelena Arutyunova of Nadyozhniye Lyudi agency (

Agencies typically question prospective clients about their preferences and requirements, then set up interviews with several candidates for the job. The client signs a yearlong contract with the agency, which promises to find another candidate for free if things between the client and the housekeeper don't work out.

Agencies charge the worker's monthly fee as commission for their services but may round it up, assuming five weeks in a month. For example, if the housekeeper is to come once a week, charging 1,000 rubles, the agency's fee will be 5,000 rubles.

Despite an abundance of agencies, many people still prefer to look for a housekeeper by asking friends for a recommendation, thus avoiding agency fees.

For their money, clients can expect a housekeeper from an agency to have had her references checked, to have been tested by a staff psychologist and to have been checked for any criminal connections, said Alla Averina, head of Prestizh agency (

Arutyunova of Nadyozhniye Lyudi said her agency kept a file for every employee, including passport information, reference letters and medical records.

Housekeepers are generally paid per visit, but clients might decide to pay a valued housekeeper for missed time if they are leaving on a short vacation and won't need her services, Arutyunova said.

Natalya Lipkina, a manager who calls her housekeeper her "domestic fairy," said she and her friends, who use the same housekeeper, preferred to pay the housekeeper for missed sick days or during their vacations rather than force her to look for more clients.

"If she's sick and can't come I'll pay her anyway, but later I know I can count on additional help," such as cleaning a balcony or doing major spring cleaning rather than regular maintenance, Lipkina said.

Some clients prefer to be present during a housekeeper's visit, while others trust their hired help with the house keys. Agencies guarantee that housekeepers they send over have already worked in rich families' apartments, Korneyeva said.

She said that although no agency could give a 100 percent guarantee that a housekeeper wouldn't steal, having prior recommendations was a 99 percent guarantee. Surveillance cameras around the house can prevent stealing, catch a thief or demonstrate a housekeeper's innocence, Korneyeva said. She also warned against "provoking" hired help to steal by leaving money lying around.

Korneyeva and Arutyunova complained that the hired help market was currently unregulated. Because most housekeepers are employed unofficially, not paying taxes on their cash-in-hand income, any disagreements between the housekeeper and the employer can only be resolved through the police and courts.

Agencies also warn against molding the relationship between the employer and the employee into a friendship, saying it affects the quality of the housekeeper's work and ultimately leads to animosity.

Saltykova said her first two housekeepers, both older women, had tried giving her life advice, so now she was using the services of someone closer to her own age.