A less-than-clean home can cost you thousands off the sale price or completely turn away potential buyers. In fact, according to our survey of over 900 top-selling real estate agents across the country, a deep clean alone can add nearly $2,000 in resale value.
A messy house is a red flag for many buyers, who’ll suspect repair problems lurking beneath the dirt. A spotless home sends the unspoken signal that yours is a well-maintained property.
It’s not as simple as tidying up for a dinner party either. Buyers are coming in to kick your home’s proverbial tires.
As they decide if your house will meet their needs, they’ll open closets, explore out-of-sight corners and may even shift furniture. A good deep cleaning at the beginning will make it easier to keep your place tidy for showings the entire time your home is on the market.
Hiring in a cleaning crew is one option to get the job done. Depending on the square-footage and cleanliness of your house, you could be looking at a full day job for a multi-person team. Angie’s List puts the average hourly cost at $20 to $45 per cleaner, which can add up into the hundreds to get the job done. Plus, there are certain tasks a professional crew won’t take on, like reorganizing your shelves or paring down closets.
If you take on the job yourself you not only save money — you also get a jumpstart on tackling the biggest distraction to buyers: clutter.
Roll up your sleeves, get the cleaning supplies out, and follow along. We’ve put together this easy-to-follow guide for deep cleaning a house while it’s on the market.
By the end of this tutorial, you’ll know how to:
So, let’s get down to business.
Take a stroll through your home and appraise the place as if you were a guest instead of a resident. Fresh eyes will find those untidy paper stacks on your desk, the mantel overflowing with photos, the basket of laundry waiting to be folded.
All those precious keepsakes and to-do tasks that transform your house into a home are a distraction for potential buyers.
The best way to help buyers see themselves living in your house is to remove most of the visible reminders that someone else already does. That doesn’t mean you need to completely depersonalize your home.
Dart says, “The idea of someone having personal things in their house is okay with me because at the end of the day it is their home. As long as it’s not overwhelming or offensive.”
How do you decide the balance between an acceptable level of personalization and too much clutter? The key is to turn the task of de-cluttering into an opportunity to get a jumpstart on your packing.
Moving from one home to another is a massive undertaking. It’s never too early to start the process..
Dart advises his clients, “When you’re moving, you’ve got to establish three different piles. The first pile is made up of things that are going to go to charity, the second pile is what’s going to the dump, and then the third is what you’re going to pay to have moved to the next property.”
As you sort through your belongings to decide what to save and what to let go, keep the expense and effort of moving at the forefront of your mind.
At this stage, can’t pack up the whole house, but you want to reduce the clutter in two main areas: open and storage spaces.
Open areas include all visible spaces that can be seen without opening any doors or drawers. This includes knick-knacks and everyday items on shelves, tables, countertops, walls, desks and dresser tops.
When de-cluttering, you want to purge or pack away most of those precious keepsakes, leaving out just a few to ensure your home still looks decorated.
Tuck everyday use items, like hairbrushes or coffee makers, neatly out of sight in drawers and cabinets.
Pro-Tip: Have a handful of decorative items destined for donation? Leave those items out on display for the open house and pack away all those you intend to keep. Donate those items after your property has sold and you’ll be left with less to pack when moving day arrives.
Declutter Storage: Closets, closets, closets!
The storage areas we’re concerned with for open house readiness are those that come with the property. Leave moveable storage items, like dressers and armoires, for later and concentrate on cleaning out all built-in closets and cabinets throughout the house.
When you reduce the contents of built-in storage spaces, the areas appear spacious and appealing to buyers. It’s recommended that you box, sell, donate, or otherwise remove remove 50% of the items originally crammed into your closet.
Donate or dispose of seldom-used items, and store items you intend to keep, but that aren’t currently needed (such as out of season clothes), in labeled boxes, taped and ready to move.
Once you’ve moved all of that clutter out of the way, you’re ready to tackle the deep clean.
Before you get started, take another look around your home to assess any special materials or surfaces, like leather, brass or granite that might be damaged by traditional cleaning solutions.
Also make note of any areas that might need extra help, such as dingy grout or stains on upholstery and carpeting, and determine if you’ll need specialty tools or solutions to tackle them.
Once you know what you’ll need, ensure that you have all the right cleaning supplies so that nothing stops your cleaning mode momentum when you’re deep clean operation is underway.
Here’s a list of all the deep cleaning supplies you need for the job:
Your deep clean essentials supply checklist:
- Buff Microfiber Cleaning Cloths
- Scotch-Brite® Tub Scrubber
- Playtex Living Reusable Rubber Cleaning Gloves
- Soft Scrub® All Purpose Cleaner
- Eco-Me Natural Multi-Surface Floor Cleaner
- Mr. Clean® Magic Eraser Extra Durable
- Glass Plus Glass Cleaner
- Endust Streak Free Duster 2-Pack
- Pledge Multi Surface II Antibacterial Cleaner
- Easy Off® Professional Fume Free Max Oven Cleaner
- Scotch-Brite® Non-Scratch Scrub Sponge
- Kleenex® Viva Paper Towels
- Hoover WindTunnel 3 High Performance Pet Bagless Corded Upright Vacuum
- O-Cedar EasyWring Microfiber Spin Mop Bucket Floor Cleaning System
- O-Cedar Angler Angle Broom With Dust Pan
Optional Supplies for the Die-Hard Cleaners:
Swiffer Wet Jet
The Wet Jet is safe for all sealed wood and laminate flooring as the fine mist cleaning spray means minimal dampness and little chance of floorboards swelling. Not recommended for unsealed wood floors.
This is the recommended cleaning treatment for unsealed wood floors, furnishings, and cabinetry.
Carpet and Upholstery Stain Remover
In 2010, Good Housekeeping recommended Hoover Platinum Collection Professional Strength Instant Stain Remover.
This is great for cleaning some high end tile and counter tops, like granite or quartzite, but not all. Check out the needs of your specific counter top material at the North American Tile Cleaning Organization.
Guardsman Water Mark Remover
If you’ve got water spots or rings on your sealed woods, Guardsman can take care of them.
Time to dive into the deep clean
Tempting as it may be to tackle one room at a time from top to bottom, this isn’t the best way to use your time most efficiently. According to the experts at The Good Housekeeping Institute, in their Household Encyclopedia, there are some tasks that are best to complete in one shot throughout the entire house, such as dusting, vacuuming and mopping.
That way you’re only carrying the supplies for one task throughout the house at a time, rather than hauling all of your cleaning tools to each room at once.
Don’t try to knock out the big whole-house jobs first though!
As you take on the smaller cleaning jobs in each room, chances are you’ll kick up dust and dislodge dirt as you clean. If you vacuum and dust the whole house first, you’ll have to do it again once you’ve thoroughly cleaned each room.
Step 1: Countertops
Remove everything from the countertops and anything hanging on the cabinets or appliances.
Step 2: Appliances
Scrub down the appliances, cabinets, and counters, including the cabinet pulls, by spraying them with the multi-surface antibacterial spray designed for glass and metals, not the dusting multi-surface spray.
Spraying directly on the surfaces softens hardened or sticky stains, making them easier to wipe away with the paper towels, microfiber clothes, or non-scratch sponges.
Note: if you have a specialty countertop material like marble or granite, you’ll want to skip the antibacterial spray on your counters and follow proper stone care procedures.
Step 3: Declutter
Next, restock the countertops, making them look as neat as possible. This includes tucking smaller appliances, like blenders and coffee pots, into cabinets in order to maximize your counter space.
You should also consider arranging countertop items in small, attractive groups using the interior design rule of threes.
Step 4: Fridge
Empty out your refrigerator so you can wipe down the interior and exterior with soap, water and a sponge. Bring in the non-scratch scouring pad for any stuck-on stains, then finish up with the disinfectant cleaner.
Restock your fridge after tossing any old or seldom-used products.
Step 5: Stovetop and Oven
For baked-on messes in the oven, one option is to run the automatic oven cleaner which heats the interior up to 900 degrees to burn off any spills, leaving only ashes to be wiped out with a non-scratch sponge and water once it’s done and cooled.
According to The Kitchen Professor, this option can be hard on the appliance and cause excessive smoke. If you do opt for this method, make sure you remove the oven racks before running the cycle or risk them discoloring or becoming hard to slide.
When in doubt, leave the racks out. Also leave out the oven cleaner if you’re using the automatic setting, as the heat can release toxic fumes from the cleaner or cause cleaner residue to bake onto your oven.
As an alternative to your oven’s auto-clean setting, consider using an oven cleaning solution and a non-scratch sponge. Let the cleaner set on stubborn drips and stains for several minutes to soften up set, baked-on spills before wiping them away.
Step 6: Dishwasher
Scrub out the dishwasher just as thoroughly as you cleaned the refrigerator and oven, taking the time to remove and clean the racks as well.
If you’ve got an issue with dishwasher odor, Sears recommends running an empty cycle with a natural deodorizer, such as a cup of baking soda, a cup of vinegar or several lemon peels.
Step 1: Toilet
First, coat the interior of the toilet bowl with the toilet bowl cleaner, letting it sit for several minutes while you’re at other tasks so it can dissolve any tough stains. Then scrub the bowl with a toilet brush and flush the remaining cleaner.
Step 2: Sink and bathtub
Spray the multi-surface antibacterial disinfectant spray directly onto the sink and the exterior of the tub and toilet. Wipe them down, moving from the sink to the tub exterior to the toilet, to ensure that you don’t transfer any harmful bacteria from the toilet to the sink where you brush your teeth. Disposable paper towels are advisable over microfiber cloths for this task for the same sanitary reasons.
Step 3: Mirrors, glass, and faucets
Use glass cleaner on shower doors and the mirrors for the best streak-free results. Wipe the surfaces down with paper towels, then polish the sleek surfaces with a microfiber cloth.
Glass cleaner is a great way to give faucets an extra shine once they’ve been disinfected.
When you’re performing one cleaning task throughout the house, it’s best to take them on in a logical order. You don’t want to clean something and then mess it up as you make your way through the house. The ideal order of operations in a home’s deep clean is:
- Scrub the Walls
- Dust All the Things!
- Sweep the Floors
- Vacuum the Carpets
Here’s how to get it done
Step 1: Scrub the walls
Start out with a bucket of soapy water and a large sponge to wipe down all the baseboards, door and window frames. As you work, check the walls from floor to ceiling so you can wipe out any noticeable dirt. Bring along the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser too and take out scuffs as you find them.
Step 2: Dust all the things!
Next, you’re ready to dust the whole house with the multi-surface dusting cleaner and microfiber cloths. Thankfully, you won’t need a separate cleaner for every surface type, as Pledge Multi-surface II Antibacterial Cleaner is safe for sealed wood, metal, electronics, plastic, and laminates. Just don’t use this one on unsealed woods, and while it’s safe for glass it does tend to leave streaks.
Unlike cleaning in the hard surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom, for this job you need to spray your cleaner onto your cleaning cloths, not directly onto surfaces.
The excessive dampness caused by direct spraying can leave stains on wood and leak into vents, causing damage to electronics.
Work high to low, starting with ceiling fans and the tops of bookshelves on down, so that any falling dust bunnies won’t land on anything you’ve already cleaned.
Pro-tip: You can use the electronics duster on more than just electronics. Bring it in to blow dirt out of small crevices everywhere, from electronic fan vents to the dirt trapped in sliding door tracks.
Step 3: Sweep the floors
- Sweep hard surface floors first, then vacuum after to catch any dirt kicked into carpeted spaces after sweeping. Utilize the vacuum’s hose and attachments to go after any hard to reach areas.
- Use the extendable wand on ceiling cobwebs, to grab dirt under heavy furniture and to pull crumbs out of furniture cushions.
- Use the upholstery attachment to pull dust out of furniture and to freshen dusty drapery.
- Wrap up by mopping all floors with the mop, bucket, and the cleaning liquid for floors as per the directions on the packaging. Note that this is only for tile and linoleum floors as wet-mopping is too damp for hardwood and laminate floors.
- Move from living spaces to the kitchen and wrap up in the bathroom for optimum sanitation.
- Remember, if you’re not using a disposable mop head, sanitize the mop once the bathroom floors are finished.
In the hours before any prospective buyers and their agents show up, spot check the entire house and tuck away any clutter that’s made its way back out of hiding.
Before you do anything else, make sure to:
- Make all beds
- Straighten the throw pillows in the living room
- Put away your shoes, jackets, papers, toiletries, and other sundries
Got that stuff all straightened up? Good.
Now, give all kitchen and bathroom surfaces a quick wipe down with a microfiber cloth, and check mirrored surfaces to eliminate last-minute streaks.
Spot vacuum all carpets and rugs, and sweep up any visible dirt on hard surface floors. In your final walkthrough, check that you’ve hidden away any fragile or valuable items so they aren’t broken or lost during the open house.
- Clear out the most obvious signs of your non-human friends! This will expand your pool of potential buyers to include non-pet owners.
- For the open house, remove your pets and their paraphernalia, such as beds, food dishes, beds, cages and litter boxes from the main areas of the home. Wash pet beds with an enzymatic cleaner like Rocco and Roxie or MisterMax.
- For pets that shed, remove as much hair as you can with one of these vacuums recommended by Groom and Style.
- Sprinkle baking soda on trouble spots on your carpet and furniture, let it sit for 30-60 minutes, and then vacuum it up.
- Refer to our guide featuring 16 products to stock up on when you’re selling a house with pets.
- Deodorize the rest of the house by attacking the root cause.
Phew! That’s a job well done
Deep cleaning might seem like a massive undertaking to tackle on your own but with the right supplies and a strategic plan you’ll have your agent asking which cleaning crew you hired to get your home so sparkling clean.
The simplified house cleaning checklist
- Wipe down all exterior surfaces – including countertops, cabinets, appliances, tables and chairs
- Empty and clean refrigerator – wipe down all shelves and inside drawers, too, especially if the fridge is selling with the house
- Clean inside the oven – using the oven’s self-cleaning function or with an oven cleaning solution
- Clean dishwasher interior
- Organize cabinet and countertop contents
- Scrub out toilet bowl
- Clean tub, toilet and sink surfaces
- Scrub down tub interior and tile
- Polish mirrors, faucets and all glass and metal surfaces
- De-clutter tables, dressers and other surfaces
- Organize built-in storage areas (including closets and cabinets)
- Straighten all throw pillows, blankets and bedding
- Wash walls and baseboards
- Dust every surface
- Sweep all hard surface floors
- Vacuum (carpets, upholstery, and drapery)
- Launder all small rugs (air dry non-slip rugs to prevent dryer heat from disintegrating rubber backing)
- Clean mirrors and windows
- Mop all hard surface floors
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