What is the Difference between a Maid and a Housekeeper?

Use the right terms when you're looking for cleaning help.

maid cleaning sheets

What is the difference between a maid and a housekeeper? There is no right or wrong answer to that question. The connotation of the two terms has changed over the years, and continues to evolve depending where you live.

According to Tara Lynn Quick, of Twisted Sisters Green Cleaning in Wellington, Colo., "It all depends on the situation to which you are referring."

Here are three different takes on the terms and their meanings.

  1. Evolution
    In the same way the term "stewardess" has evolved into "flight attendant" and "secretaries" are now known as "administrative assistants," so too has the title of someone whose profession it is to clean homes progressed from "maid" to "housekeeper." Today, some people who clean houses may even be offended to be referred to as maids.

    Quick explains that, "The definition and use of the word 'maid' also seems to be changing and fading as time goes by." She feels the term has a derogatory feel, as if you are referring to a servant. "People are using "maid service" less and "house cleaners," "housekeepers" or "cleaning service" more."

    Housekeepers come to your home and do the cleaning chores you don't want to do or are unable to do, either due to time restrictions or physical limitations. Lauren Brownell, author of "Zen and the Art of Housekeeping," believes the word "maid" is an old-fashioned term that harkens visions of "The Help" or Halloween costumes with short aprons. "In today's world, the vast majority of us take great pride in being the keepers of our own homes," says Brownell.

  2. Geography
    Denver-born Toni Kukuchka, a former housekeeper, knows from personal experience that in many parts of Europe, the maid, like the butler, holds a higher status than the housekeeper. European maids are often people who do more than clean houses. "They take on other responsibilities such as cooking for the family and taking charge over the entire household staff," she says. "If a home is large enough to warrant more than one person on staff, the main staff member would be called the maid or the butler, while the general cleaning employees are considered housekeepers."

  3. Personal Opinion
    The connotation changes with each person you talk to and the part of the world you live in. Aleta Antoinette, who used to own a cleaning business in Upland, Calif., says she thinks of a maid as the full-time employee of a wealthy family who has the support of staff under her authority. She adds that, in her mind, a maid is, "Someone who will be there to clean more than one day a week, and would be at the lady of the house's beck and call."

    Yet, interestingly enough, Palmer, Alaska homeowner Marcie Austin Jenkins sees the definition as just the opposite. She asks the question, "Wouldn't a housekeeper also be in charge of grocery shopping, overseeing laundry and live in the house as a salaried employee?" This would mean a "maid" would be more like an hourly, part-time employee.

Whether a maid or a housekeeper, it's clear the meaning is a matter of perception. When posting a job for cleaning help on Care.com, most people say they're looking for a housekeeper. Then you need to explain what that means to you and the tasks involved. But no matter which term is used to describe the profession, the most important consideration is that your employee is comfortable with the title of his or her job.

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