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Moving housecleaning checklist

How to get your deposit back

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    couple cleaning house before moving out

    Moving to a new place can be exciting but stressful. It means packing and loading boxes, but you’ll also need to clean each room and leave the place in the same condition it was when you moved in.

    Some property managers provide a list of move-out cleaning tasks. It’s important to adhere to these standards, especially if you have a deposit on the line. It’s also good practice to leave a clean and fresh home for the next occupants to enjoy on move-in day.

    Key insights

    • Ask your landlord for a move-out checklist in advance so you can avoid unnecessary cleaning fees for incomplete tasks.
    • Try to complete some cleaning tasks, like deep-cleaning the oven or scrubbing the showers, before move-out day.
    • Depending on how much wear you’ve added, consider getting your carpets professionally cleaned. It could save you money in the long run.

    6 cleaning tips for moving out

    Start by decluttering your belongings and then gathering the supplies and equipment you’ll need to deep-clean your place. Carve out time ahead of your moving day to start tackling the tasks on your cleaning checklist.

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    1. Declutter and organize

    There may be no better time to get rid of items you don’t use than when you’re preparing for a move. The more you declutter, the less you need to pack in boxes and unpack at your new place, which saves both time and money.

    Start by sorting through your clothes and books (these can take up a lot of precious space in boxes). Prepare three boxes or bags with the labels “donate,” “keep” or “throw away.” Decide where each item you grab should go.

    You can also focus your decluttering attention on certain rooms, like the bathroom and the kitchen. Throw away any expired food or personal care items to save space in moving boxes. Save sentimental items, like photos or gifts, for last — these can take a great deal of energy to sort through.

    » MORE: Moving checklist

    2. Gather cleaning supplies

    Have all your supplies on hand before you start cleaning. The good news is you don’t need a lot of fancy cleaning solutions to get the job done. At a minimum, you’ll need an all-purpose cleaner, some microfiber cloths or paper towels and two sets of cleaning gloves (one for the bathroom and one for the kitchen). A cleaning brush may also be helpful for scrubbing dirt and grime off surfaces.

    You’ll also need a vacuum and a mop to clean the floors. If you have different floor surfaces, like tile and hardwood, you might grab a multisurface floor cleaner. Otherwise, it’s best to mop with solutions specially formulated for your particular floor type so it doesn’t damage the surface.

    In general, the following are your cleaning essentials:

    • All-purpose cleaner
    • Mop
    • Vacuum
    • Floor cleaning solution (multi-surface or other)
    • Microfiber cloths, paper towels and/or sponges
    • Two sets of cleaning gloves
    • Toilet bowl cleaner and toilet brush

    These are optional but helpful:

    • Cleaning brushes
    • Baking soda and white vinegar
    • Duster

    3. Dust and wipe down surfaces

    Before you pull out the cleaning solution and rags, make sure to dust all surfaces (like countertops, especially in bathrooms). This will keep those large clumps of dust from gathering on your wet cleaning cloths. You may want to use a duster with microfiber that can grab the dust instead of sweeping it back into the air.

    Don’t forget commonly overlooked areas, like light fixtures and ceiling fans. Even baseboards and window blinds are magnets for dust.

    Once you’ve dusted, wipe down the surfaces with a cleaner and a towel or cloth. If you’re using a new-to-you cleaning solution, make sure to test it on a small portion of a countertop. Harsh chemicals should never be used on stone surfaces like granite or marble.

    4. Clean appliances

    Cleaning the kitchen may take the most time, so be prepared to allot at least a few hours for this task. You can get some areas of the kitchen sparkling clean well before moving day, which will make your to-do list much easier to manage.

    Cleaning the oven

    There are a few different ways to clean an oven. You could use the self-cleaning feature, which uses high heat to burn off food residue. This can take hours to complete and still requires a wipe-down after — and keep in mind that your house will get warm and the air may get smoky, so you’ll need to open windows and run fans to provide some ventilation.

    If you don’t want your house to heat up, try spot-cleaning the oven with a homemade cleaning paste. Melissa Caverly, founder of Imagine Maids, a residential and commercial cleaning services company, gave us this advice: “First, remove any racks or shelves from the oven and set them aside. Next, mix baking soda and water to form a paste, apply it to oven interior surfaces, and let it sit for several hours or overnight to break down tough stains and grime.”

    Then, she said, “Clean the oven using a damp cloth or sponge, starting from the top, to prevent water from dripping onto the heating elements. Rinse with warm water and dry with a soft cloth.”

    Don’t forget to wipe down the stovetop after the oven is clean. If you have a glass stovetop, you can wipe it down with an all-purpose cleaner. You may need to use a polish to buff out the surface, which can help the stovetop shine after cleaning.

    Clean the oven using a damp cloth or sponge, starting from the top, to prevent water from dripping onto the heating elements. Rinse with warm water and dry with a soft cloth. ”
    Melissa Caverly, founder of Imagine Maids

    If the stove has heating coils, you may need to remove those and handwash the metal pans underneath to remove food or grease. Do not submerge the heating coils in water, though; only spot-clean with a damp sponge.

    Cleaning the refrigerator

    You may want to save cleaning the refrigerator and freezer for closer to move-out day so you won’t have as much food to deal with. Once you’ve removed food containers, use a small handheld vacuum to remove crumbs and dirt. Next, take a warm, damp cloth or sponge soaked in a mixture of dish soap and water and wipe down all the surfaces. Be sure to dry with a towel before putting items back on the shelves.

    Cleaning the microwave

    The easiest way to clean a microwave is to use steam to break up set-in food. Grab a microwave-safe glass bowl or a glass measuring cup and fill it with two cups of water. Add two tablespoons of white vinegar to the mixture.

    Set the dish in the center of the microwave and heat on high for five minutes. After time is up, leave the microwave door closed for another two minutes or so. Then, you can open the door and easily wipe down the interior with a dry cloth.

    Cleaning the washer and dryer

    Dust the washer and dryer surface with a microfiber cloth or duster. It may not be necessary to wipe down with a damp cloth unless there are detergent stains or debris. Empty the dryer’s lint trap as well.

    5. Tackle the bathroom

    It’s important to make sure the bathrooms are especially clean before a move-out inspection. Start by cleaning the toilets and showers so the cleaning solutions can set in while you wipe down other surfaces in the bathroom.

    • Toilets: Apply a toilet bowl cleaner along the inside rim. Most of these require a few minutes to set in before you begin scrubbing, but check the directions. Give the inside of the bowl a scrub with a toilet brush, paying attention to the hard-to-reach area just below the rim. Flush to remove the cleaning solution. Spray the seat with an all-purpose cleaner and wipe with a paper towel. Spray and wipe the top of the toilet, which can collect dust over time.
    • Tubs and showers: Spray the tub or shower with an all-purpose cleaner or a shower cleaner specifically made for certain surfaces (like stone tile). Let the solution set in for five to 10 minutes, then wipe with a cloth. If there’s hard-to-remove soap scum, you might need a heavy-duty cleaner with foam and/or a cleaning brush. Rinse the surface with warm water. For shower doors, make sure to clean the inside and bottom rim of the door, where mold and mildew can build up. A toothbrush is handy for corners and rims.
    • Sinks: Bathroom counters can actually get pretty dusty, so before you clean them, take a duster and remove any dust that’s accumulated. Then you can wipe down the counters: A warm, damp cloth is great because it easily removes toothpaste and other stains. You can finish by spraying an all-purpose cleaner and wiping down the counters with a microfiber cloth. Don’t forget to clean the mirrors too.

    6. Clean floors and carpets

    Floor cleaning strategies vary depending on the type of flooring you have. For the most part, you’ll need to vacuum the carpets and mop hard floors. Keep in mind that hardwood floors may be the most susceptible to damage from harsh cleaning solutions. Carlos Garcia, group managing director for Total Clean, a commercial cleaning company, suggests looking for a pH-neutral cleaner that’s safe for your type of wood flooring.

    Try a white vinegar-water solution for stubborn carpet stains.

    To get linoleum or tile flooring in your bathroom and kitchen sparkling clean, try a mixture of all-purpose cleaner and warm water. Soak the mop head and wring or spin out excess water, and then apply to the floors. The warm water helps to break up dirt or other set-in stains.

    It’s also a good idea to steam-clean your carpet — you can rent carpet-cleaning appliances from some retail or grocery stores.

    For set-in stains, try a carpet spot remover. As Garcia explained, “One effective method to get rid of stubborn carpet stains is to create a homemade carpet cleaner by mixing equal parts white vinegar and water. Apply the solution to the stain and blot it gently with a clean cloth or sponge. Avoid rubbing vigorously, as it can damage the carpet [fibers]. Repeat this process until the stain fades away.”

    If the carpet needs more than just a refresher, consider hiring a professional to steam-clean the carpet for you. Otherwise, your landlord may charge you for these services after you move out.

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      Should I clean before or after moving my belongings?

      You can do some tasks early, and some are better to save for after you’ve moved out. Ideally, you’ll want to clean your floors after you’ve moved most of your belongings out. That way, you won’t have to vacuum and mop the floors again after movers have been in and out of your home.

      » COMPARE: Moving yourself vs. hiring movers

      However, you can still get a headstart on deep cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms even if you haven’t finished packing up. Just remember to give those areas a quick wipe-down each day so dirt doesn’t accumulate before moving day.

      Do I need to clean the walls and ceilings before moving out?

      Giving the walls a good wipe-down can make a big difference in how the place looks after you move out. It may also mean the difference between receiving your deposit back or having to pay to get it repainted. If you have kids or pets, you’re sure to have some degree of dirt or food remnants on the walls somewhere.

      You can use a damp cloth soaked in warm water or a diluted cleaning solution and wipe away most stains without much effort. Don’t scrub too hard, though — you could remove some of the paint. Cleaning the ceiling may not be necessary unless it’s particularly dirty.

      What's the best way to clean windows and mirrors?

      You can spray window-cleaning solution or an all-purpose cleaner on windows and mirrors before wiping away streaks with a paper towel. Paper towels may work better in this case because cloths can leave behind residue. Begin by spraying the top of the mirror and immediately wiping away the solution as you work your way down.

      Can I hire professional cleaners for move-out cleaning?

      You can hire cleaners to take on the daunting task of move-out cleaning, which will leave you with more time to focus on packing and moving into a new home. Fees can vary based on the size of the home, but you’ll likely pay at least $100 or more for cleaning services. If you decide to hire a professional, make sure to book these services well in advance of your move-out date.

      Do I need to clean the garage and outdoor areas too?

      Check with your landlord or property manager for specific cleaning tasks. You’ll need to remove any trash from the inside and outside to avoid fees. Stacy Brown, director of technical training at Real Property Management, told us: “Remember, curb appeal means a lot to landlords. Sweep the entryways and make sure the home looks good on the outside too.”

      Once the garage is cleared out, sweep the floor thoroughly with a heavy-duty broom. If there are stains on the floor, it may be a good idea to mop those areas in particular. In some cases, you could use a pressure washer to clean the garage floor. Exercise caution, though. You don’t want to spray the drywall or ceiling.

      ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
      1. Whirlpool, “How does a self-cleaning oven work & how do you use it?” Accessed Aug. 15, 2023.
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