This post is from staff writer Sierra Black. Sierra writes about frugality, sustainable living, and raising children at Childwild.com.

Last month I wrote a post on do-it-yourself beauty and personal care products. That touched a nerve with a lot of people: some loved it, some hated it; it seemed like everyone had something to say.

Swabbing the floorsAt the time I’d planned to follow up with a post on do-it-yourself cleaning products for the home, but I’ve decided to take a step back and look at the bigger question: What is a clean house worth?

Everyone puts some resources into keeping their home clean. Whether you spend hundreds of dollars a month on professional cleaning services or struggle to pay for soap, you’re going to have to shell out cash, time, and effort to have a healthy, clean, happy place to live.

Should You Do It Yourself?
For some, having your house cleaned by a professional seems like an unthinkable luxury. To others it’s just part of the cost of running their household, like paying the electric bill.

The thing to remember when deciding whether to do your own cleaning or pay someone else to do it is that you always have to spend something on keeping your house clean: money or time. Time is a finite resource, too, just like money. If you decide to do it yourself, you’re committing to spending a chunk of time every week doing chores. If you pay someone else, you get that time back in exchange for your money.

House cleaning isn’t cheap. In the area where I live, you’ll pay a house cleaner $70-$100 for biweekly cleaning of a moderate-sized apartment. If you want a really deep cleaning or have a large house, it can cost a lot more.

That price tag is worth it to a lot of professionals. They look at the value of their own time and decide that it’s worth their while to pay someone else to wash the floors and scrub the tub. The time they don’t spend cleaning their own house they can spend working or relaxing.

In the days before I had kids, I lived in a shared apartment with four other adults. We all worked full time. With five salaries coming in and no one with a lot of time on their hands, hiring a house cleaning service was clearly the right call. We never had to fight over whose turn it was to do those cleaning chores, and we were all happy to spend money rather than time on keeping the house clean.

As a stay-at-home mom, that equation changed. Suddenly I was drowning in time and scrambling to come up with enough money to pay my bills every month. Housekeeping services were one of the first things to go.

Every household has to do their own math and figure out how much time and money they’re willing to spend on keeping the house clean.

How DIY Do You Want to Be?
Even if you hire a cleaning service to take care of the big stuff, you’ll still do a fair amount of housekeeping yourself. There will always be spills to mop up, dishes to wash, laundry to do, and garbage to haul to the curb.

When you’re going about your household cleaning, you have a lot of choices to make. What products will you buy? What tools will you use?

There are probably as many individual answers to those questions as there are houses being cleaned. Here are some popular strategies that people use to keep costs down when they’re cleaning their homes:

  • Make your own cleaning products. I know, I know, some of you are tired of the hippie stuff. But this one isn’t mine. Trent at the Simple Dollar has done all the math on how much you can save by just making your own laundry detergent, and it adds up to a decent chunk of change.
  • Do away with disposables. Try using rags instead of paper towels to clean up messes, or buying refills for your handsoaps instead of whole new containers. Every time you can eliminate waste in your cleaning process you’re cutting costs as well as helping out the environment.
  • Buy in bulk. Cleaning products last for a long time, if not indefinitely. You can buy bulk containers of things like laundry soap, handsoap, and all-purpose cleaner. Typically, the per unit cost on these is lower than if you buy just a regular size bottle at the drug store. Watch out for shopping momentum, though. Only buy bulk items you really need and will use.
  • Use coupons. A lot of people make out like bandits byclipping coupons and taking advantage of sales to stock up on their favorite cleaning products.
  • Keep it simple. There’s a dizzying array of cleaning products on the market, making competing offers and boasting features you never knew you needed. Stick to the basics.

Have a Cleaning Plan
Cleaning the house can be an intimidating prospect. Where do you begin? How do you know when you’re done? Without a plan, you can wind up spending a lot more time, frustration and money than you really need to.

Some of the best cleaning advice I ever got was this simple truth: Do one thing at a time. Don’t set aside Saturday as cleaning day and think you’re going to rock the whole place into a state of pristine order like a team of professional house cleaners might.

Qiqi Chore Chart 12-23-09 -- Dec232009_1324Instead, pick one task or one room and get it done. Some people get a lot of mileage out of chore charts. (And, of course, there’s J.D. and his silly chore cloud.) In my house, we used to use a chart that listed out all the chores that needed doing. When someone did a chore, they’d initial the chart with the date, so everyone knew when the floors had last been swept or the windows washed.

After nine years of living together, my husband and I are past the days of chore charts. We both know pretty well what needs to be done and how often it needs to happen. We have our routines, and we’re comfortable with the cluttered-but-clean living space we share. The chart was invaluable for helping us work out those routines in the early days, though, and I’m thinking of bringing it back in a different form for my kids’ benefit.

How do you keep your house cleaning without breaking your back — or the bank?

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