Cleaning Tips When Last-Minute Guests Come Calling

You've just collapsed on the couch when the phone rings. Company is on the way, and of course, the house is a mess.


What do you do? Leave it a mess and hope they love you anyway? Run desperately about, cleaning in a mad frenzy?

The best answer is, a bit of both. So, how much time have you got?

5 Minutes

Don't just sit there. Run!

Stack as much clutter as you can gather in one minute in a sturdy pile under the coffee table. It doesn't have to be neat, it just has to not collapse while you're entertaining. Grab a tablecloth and put it over the coffee table to hide the mess. Fold it neatly so it looks like a fashion statement instead of camoflogue.

Now run (RUN!) to the bathroom, closing the doors to all the other rooms as you go. Grab the hand towel and wipe the sink, faucets, mirror and toilet tank. Toss the towel into the tub and close the shower curtain. Assess your appearance in the mirror and make the most crucial adjustments. Then, if any time is left, either straighten the shoes in the front hall or toss the bag of stinky garbage out the back door.

And if your guests offer to help with anything, be sure to say, "No, please sit, I'll get it."

15 Minutes

Triage! Quickly decide what looks worst and fix it in the fastest way possible. Then fix the next worst thing. Repeat as often as time allows.

Here are some likely suspects:

  • Shoes by the door: Line them up neatly.
  • Scattered newspapers, papers, or magazines: Make tidy piles and move them out of the way.
  • Pizza boxes and dirty dishes: Toss the trash and either load the dirty dishes into the dishwasher or stack them neatly in the sink.
  • Basket of laundry waiting for folding: Put it in a bedroom and close the door. In fact, close the doors of all messy rooms.
  • Dirty windows: Dim the lights or close the sheers or blinds (but don't close heavy curtains if it makes the room gloomy).
  • Glass-topped coffee table: Spritz it with window cleaner and dry it with a paper towel.
  • Bathroom: Close the shower curtain; put away personal items wherever you can; use the hand towel to wipe the sink, faucets, mirror, countertop, top of the toilet tank and anything else that needs it; toss the towel in the laundry (or linen closet) and put out a fresh towel.

30 Minutes

The goal is to create the illusion of cleanliness, because there's not enough time to actually clean and slap on deodorant. This list is in priority order; get through as much as you can:

1. Tidy up. In each room guests will be in, shove as much clutter out of sight as you can. These being desperate times, shortcuts such as stuffing the newspapers behind the sofa are acceptable. Don't stuff them under the cushions, because newspaper makes a telltale crunching sound when sat upon. Think twice about what you throw in the front hall closet, if people will hang their coats there.

Next, grab a laundry basket and speed through each room again, putting the rest of the clutter in the basket. Put the basket in your bedroom and slam the door shut.

2. Living and dining rooms. Straighten the cushions and fold blankets. Brush crumbs from the cushions into your hand and throw them in the trash — or under the cushions if they won't crunch when sat on. Push in the chairs around the dining room table. Wipe off any obvious dust and sticky spots on the most noticeable flat surfaces, such as the coffee table. We recommend a damp cloth, but using your sleeve is acceptable if you plan to change your shirt. (Using spit on stubborn spots is a personal choice on which we take no official position.)

3. Bathroom. Attend to whatever personal hygiene requires attention and then put away toiletries and personal items. Use the hand towel to to wipe the sink, faucets, counters and mirror. Throw that hand towel in the laundry and put out a clean one.

Make sure the toilet is flushed (those kids!). If the toilet paper is running low, put on a new roll, or at least set it on the back of the toilet so it's easy to find. Use a disposable wet wipe to clean the underside of the toilet seat and the rim.

Use whatever is handy — wet wipe, used towel, mini-vacuum — to collect the hair from the floor. Don't forget the space behind the toilet because, trust us, someone will look. Close the shower curtain to hide the bathtub, especially if you stashed some of the clutter from the living room in it.

4. Kitchen. Put away food. Load dirty dishes in the dishwasher. If you don't have one or it's full, the cupboard, oven or pantry are short-term solutions that you might consider (not that we'd officially recommend such a thing).

Grab the dishtowel hanging on the fridge door and wipe the sink, countertops, and stovetop. Throw it in the laundry and put out a clean one. If the garbage smells, put the bag outside the back door. Move the bowl of pet food where no one will step in it (you'd be amazed at how many people can't see a pet bowl that is perfectly obvious to you).

5. Entryway. Hang up coats and line up shoes. Make sure there are enough hangers/hooks for your guests and, if needed, a place for drippy boots — even if that place is just a beach towel (nicely arranged, so people don't think it's been there for three months).

6. All other rooms. Turn off the lights to discourage entry and close the doors tightly.

And remember to greet your guests with a smile!

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