The Busy Woman’s Guide to Last-Minute Cleaning

Do you adhere to a cleaning system for your home? Have you hired a cleaning professional or cleaning service? And — if you only have 3 minutes to clean your home before a new visitor walks into your home, what do you clean? 

We’ve talked before about the wonders of hiring a cleaning professional, and talked about our general cleaning systems and methods before — but something we’ve never talked about is total last minute cleaning. As in, “I wasn’t expecting my friend to come over after dinner and now I have two seconds to run in and make the place look vaguely presentable!” quick cleaning hit list.  (I’m half-remembering a quote from Working Girl where Harrison Ford’s character warns Melanie Griffith’s character that if it’s a day or two before his cleaning professional is due to come, it can be pretty bad…. I totally agree!) I’ve adopted my own systems, and read some other things, so I thought it might be an amusing conversation today.  (Pictured.)

Given limited time, I clean:

  1. Whichever bathroom sink a guest might use (if you only have one bathroom the answer is clear!)
  2. The toilet in that bathroom (and a quick Lysol wipe of the toilet seat, too)
  3. If time permits I wipe the bathroom mirror down if it needs it
  4. If time permits I put any dirty dishes in the sink instead of the counter

I read in Apartment Therapy years ago that you should dust your TV at the last minute, but I often feel like with toys, shoes and a zillion Amazon Prime boxes sitting around, the TV is the last of my worries — and I’d much rather people know I’m messy than suspect my house is a petri dish.

So how about you, ladies — what does your last minute cleaning routine look like? (I now see that we haven’t really talked in general about cleaning since 2012 either — so let’s discuss! Do you have a cleaning professional come on a regular basis? How often, and how did you find him or her? (Any tips on cleaning for your cleaner — organizing everything so surfaces are clear enough for them to be sprayed and cleaned?) Do you adhere to the Fly Lady system or anything else? If you have roommates or a partner, do you like the current division of labor or do you feel like it’s a work in progress?) Another fun topic we haven’t ever discussed — do you have a similar “cleaning quick hit list” for your office if your office is on the messier side(2017 Update: whoa, this Buzzfeed video is pretty awesome too, although it’s more like a “thorough last minute cleaning” than “quick,” but hey.)

"If you only had 3 minutes to clean your apartment, what would you hit? Find out Kat's top 4 (and hear the other readers' ideas) on the blog!


  1. Marshmallow :

    All of the above, but we’re also guilty of letting clean/folded laundry and unsorted mail pile up on our coffee table. I just dump all of it together into a laundry basket, put it in the bedroom closet, and close the door. I may or may not have found a box of mail about a month old under my bed recently….

  2. It’s easier to stay relatively clean than have a messy-clean-messy cycle. Skipping cleaning the bathroom one week because ‘it doesn’t look that bad’ guarantees that the next week it will look gross and there will be mold on the shower curtain, making the task more than 2x as miserable, plus you have to live with an extra dirty bathroom for the week.

    Last minute visitor? I agree to focus on the bathroom… if you clean regularly there shouldn’t be too much wiping to do, but that comes first. Then I’d make sure there’s nothing out in either bathroom that I wouldn’t want them to see (sometimes we have like, sports bras/workout clothes draped over the shower curtain rod, tampons / ovulation kits out depending on time of month, etc.).

    • Pshk, I always have my tampons out #teamgivenofcks

    • Anonymous :

      I have no problem with tampons being out. In terms of what a guest might need while in the bathrooms, they are no different than having toilet paper out. FWIW, I also keep the plunger and baby wipes in the guest bathroom.

      When I am a guest in a home, I consider a bathtub with a closed shower curtain off limits. I have many friends who use the extra bathtub for storage or clothes drying.

    • Minnie Beebe :

      This. Just keep things tidy. I spend 15-20 min daily just putting things away, I try to stage items that need to go upstairs at the bottom of the stairs, items that need to go downstairs at the top and grab things as I go up and down. Kitchen gets cleaned after making dinner, bathroom stays tidy because everything has a place and I’m in the habit of just putting things away as I go. I basically try not to set something down twice. I’m either using it, or it’s put away. I’m not perfect, not by any stretch – laundry often sits folded for a week before I put it away. The sink occasionally has dishes in it overnight because the dishwasher filled up too soon, etc. But keeping things tidy on a daily basis means that actual cleaning doesn’t take too long, since I don’t need to clean up before I clean.

      For guests (I have some coming tonight) – I definitely clean the powder room, and make my son pick up (most of) his toys. Also, I put away shoes – If I could figure out how to deal with shoes, I’d be so happy!

      • IKEA shoe cabinets at our entry have been a game changer. They were a great space saver in our condo and I’ve put two in the entry to our sfh. We throw scarves and cold weather gear into it also.

  3. My bathroom stays pretty clean so that’s not usually a concern for me. I put dishes in the dishwasher, pick up all the dog toys and fold the blankets on my couch/fluff pillows, and clean off the dining room table (when you walk in, you see the dining room and living room). I’ve been known to hide messes in closets until someone leaves though, and then I’ll actually go through and clean everything.

    Hack for keeping mail organized – I’m good about opening mail but not always filing it timely. I got a 2 slot hanging magazine rack (one for me, one for DH). Once something is opened, I put it in my slot and then I can keep my front table (where the mail accumulates) clear. When DH ignores all mail, I put his in his slot and then nag him about once a month or so to go through his papers (joking on the nagging but I do remind him). It works really well.

    • I have my cleaneing lady come at least 1x per week, down from 2x per week when I was dateing Sheketovits. By haveing her come EVERY Tuesday, she cleans and washes everything, so if I make a mess over the weekend, she does everything top to bottom, includeing my laundry, bathroom, kitchen, bedrooms and liveing areas. It is ONLEY in this way that my apartement look’s so nice all the time. When I do ENTERTAIN (right now onley family as I have NO boyfreind), I have her come in both BEFORE and AFTER my affair so that the place looks good before, and is clean right after. Of course this DOES cost money, but that is why I work for a liveing. YAY!!!!

  4. Baconpancakes :

    When guests are coming over, I make sure to wash at LEAST one plate, knife, fork, and cup per guest. Let me tell you, they are always super impressed at how hygienic I am when serving food, and they’ve remarked on how amazing it is to eat on a table that isn’t actually a stack of old pizzas.

  5. Sydney Bristow :

    Discussions like this always make me feel like I’m not doing enough. We keep our apartment clean on a day to day basis. I feel like unexpected company wouldn’t be a big deal. When we have a party, normally it just means doing a little extra tidying, making the bed*, and doing our regular bathroom/kitchen cleaning.

    I grew up with a mother who was an extreme hoarder and could never have people over. Perhaps that pushed me far in the other direction but I think my apartment is reasonably clean for guests at all times.

    *Not being required to make the bed is one of my husband’s favorite things about being an adult. Since I get up and leave the house before he gets up usually, our bed is never made. Until we have a party and need the space for guests to lay down their coats.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      Granted, we live in a small 1-bedroom apartment and don’t have kids. That probably makes things easier.

    • Anonymous :

      Our bed is never made except for on laundry day. Then bed is made so we can fold clothing on it… Learned that lesson after finding a sweater hiding amongst the sheets and blankets.

  6. Miz Swizz :

    I wipe down the kitchen counters/island (we always seem to congregate around the island) and don’t worry too much about clutter. I figure someone won’t mind a little clutter but sticky counters where we’re all snacking/drinking is kinda gross. The bathroom counter can usually be quickly wiped down and I keep some Clorox toilet bowl cleaner in the hall bath so I can dose the toilet really quickly before doing my other cleaning.

  7. Anonymous :

    If I really only have a couple of minutes? I just put my bras away. I tend to leave them all over my house. Otherwise, generally I clean my house reasonably thoroughly every 7-10 days, so there really shouldn’t be anything awful that needs to be addressed, and if there are a few dishes in the sink I really do not g.a.f.

    For a bigger party with more time to prepare, I usually quick-clean the bathroom and vacuum the common areas, but really, my friends wouldn’t be my friends if they cared if my house was a little dusty or I had some dishes in the sink.

  8. Teeny tiny bachelor suite, reporting in:

    – Wipe down kitchen and bathroom counters, sinks and toilet. Throw rag in laundry.
    – Put a load of laundry in so it’s out of sight. Kitchen rags, hand towels, etc.
    – Same logic applies to throwing all dishes in the dishwasher, including the toothbrush cup from the bathroom and any random water glasses or sticky coasters.
    – Open the window and light a candle.

    Any loose mail/papers on the counter get stuck in a clip on the fridge and everything else gets thrown in the closet.

    Despite renting a small space (240 sq ft), I’ve been truly blessed with in-unit laundry and dishwasher.

  9. I’m in a studio, so I make the bed, completely clear off either the kitchen island or dining table (and tidy the other one if covered in mail), and whatever clothes have accumulated on the couch go in a hamper or get hung up depending on time. I’ll do dishes if I have them, or just leave them in the sink if they’ve been rinsed and stacked. As long as there are snacks and drinks, no one really notices if I need to vacuum or if the recycling is full?

  10. 2 bed 2 bath apartment with a male roommate who has very different (lower) cleanliness standards than I do.

    When friend come over, it’s a scramble to clear mail/clutter off the kitchen table and make my bathroom presentable (usually this means putting away nylons that are hanging to dry, wipe down the sink/counter, and scrub the toilet real quick). As I have ventured into adulthood (I’m early 20s and in my first apt), and as I have made more friends who come over on weeknights, I have realized the importance of having my kitchen and bathroom relatively presentable quite often. I try to keep up with it even when no one is coming over, but I’m not great at it.

  11. I clean my (studio) apartment once per week and tidy up after myself as I go (make my bed in the morning, put dishes in the dishwasher instead of letting them pile up in the sink, wipe down the bathroom counters 1-2 x/day). As a result, my apartment is always presentable. If I have company coming over that I want to impress, I’ll try my best to clean the dog hair off my bed and sofa and take a swiffer to the floors. There will still be tufts of dog hair blowing across my floor like tumbleweeds, but at least I tried.

  12. SteelCityMagnolia :

    I subscribe to the “pick it up and it won’t pile up” theory of housekeeping. I make the bed every morning, dirty clothes go in the hamper every evening, what doesn’t need washed gets hung back in the closet. I make a habit of making a quick run around the house every evening to put things away, gather up stray glasses and put them in the sink or dishwasher, gather up mail and sort it and pitch the junk, straighten pillows and sofa cushions, and just put things where they belong makes a huge difference. Once a week, I clean the house — dust/vacuum/clean the bathrooms/change sheets/etc. If everything is in its place before I start cleaning, it only takes an hour or two to clean everything and do laundry and the rest of the weekend is mine. My only two issues are shoes — I swear they walk out of the closet on their own, and birdseed and feathers. I have a pet bird and he loves to throw his food out of his dish. He is the whole reason God invented the dustbuster. I’ve burned through two of those things since I got the feather baby. Some people have to deal with dog hair on the furniture, I deal with feathers. I guess it’s a trade off. MOST of the house is clean, but the room where the bird is, well… that’s a whole other story!

  13. All you need to do is to sprinkle some Pine Sol around. Then it smells clean and everyone is fooled.

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