AFTER a less-than-pleasant experience hiring a live-in maid for his mother, Mr Mike Chia decided his family would be more comfortable with part-time help.
"(The maid) was quite homesick and could not focus on work. It's hard to predict the chemistry with an additional person living in the house," said Mr Chia, 42, a casting director.
He and his wife, a primary school teacher, have a daughter who turns two next month. The child is in infant care on weekdays, so Mr Chia finds it sufficient to have a housekeeper clean their four-room flat once a week.
"Tuesdays are happy days because at the end of the day when we come home, everything is so neat," said Mr Chia, who pays $240 a month for the service from Laundry Maid.
Demand for part-time cleaners is rising as families look to hassle-free, cheaper options compared with full-time stay-in domestic workers.
Out of 10 companies providing such services that The Straits Times spoke to, eight have seen interest in their services rise over the past few years, with demand growing by 5 per cent to 15 per cent a year.
The majority of customers are young working couples with no children, or people whose children have grown up, bosses said.
The rising demand and difficulty in finding people willing to take up the job - as well as changes in regulation of the cleaning sector - are pushing up the fees of part-time cleaners. Companies said they charged around $10 to $15 an hour five years ago, depending on the size of the home to be cleaned. Now, prices are around $15 to $20 an hour.
"We try to pick jobs nearer to the housekeepers' homes to cut down on travelling time and expenses," said Starmaid owner Thomas Tan.
Most housekeepers are women in their 40s and above, who enjoy the flexible hours of the job.
Madam Michelle Yeo, 48, switched over from her marketing coordinator job a year ago as she needs to take her elderly mother to a day-care centre on weekdays.
"I'm used to doing housework at home so it's not difficult, and the boss and clients have been understanding when I have had to change the days I work," said Madam Yeo, who works at Spick n' Span International.
While awareness of housekeepers is growing, their image is not squeaky clean, as some customers find them unreliable, especially freelancers who may simply decide to stop showing up.
Accountant Lilian Chua, 54, decided to switch to part-time help 10 years ago as her two children were older. "It's not easy to get part-time help as sources are very limited... and they can be quite patchy," she said.
She has had four different helpers in the past two years.
But despite the trouble, she does not plan to stop using the service. "I realised I'm not a superwoman. It's hard to juggle work with all the housework."