Fake a Clean House in 30 Minutes

The holidays are prime time for the unexpected drop-by, so here are some shortcuts to getting your home guest-ready. 

Living Room: 8 Minutes

The clock starts here! 
This room just needs a cursory spot clean, not a deep clean. Your main objective? Clearing clutter, fluffing pillows and general tidying up.

Disguise clutter.
“Small and large baskets help hide visual clutter and are a great way to organize. Have loose categories and throw things inside so that you’re not moving them from the living room but guests aren’t seeing them either. And they’re an easy tool for kids to use to help clean up too,” says Melissa Maker, host of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube.

Zero in on things people touch.
Tables, surfaces, the remote and chairs all need to be cleaned, explains Courtenay Hartford, author of The Cleaning Ninja. Dust or grime will be less noticeable on things guests won’t be touching, so prioritize. Wipe side tables, coffee tables, the arms of chairs. That’s where a lot of dirt builds up.

Feather duster for the win.
Its light touch makes this tool very shelf-friendly. “Run it over anything shiny that might draw the eye,” says Hartford. “It will brighten the whole room and takes about 45 seconds.”

Clear the coffee table.
“It’s not just for presentation! Guests need a place to put down drinks or snacks,” says Donna Smallin Kuper, author of Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness.

fake a clean house

Photo by Kate Sears

Photo by Kate Sears

Do a quick declutter. “Grab a laundry basket and toss in anything that doesn’t belong or that just looks messy. Stash it in a room you know guests won’t be going into. Here’s the big thing, though,” says Maker. “When guests leave, you have to clean out the basket.”

Focus on the rooms guests will actually spend time in. It’s easy to get distracted, but remember: Guests won’t be heading into your bedroom when they’re over. 

Vacuuming strategies, by the minute

10 minutes: Don’t dig into every little corner. Focus on just the high-traffic paths. And be sure to vacuum last. You don’t want to get crumbs or dust on a clean floor. 

5 minutes: Run a handheld vacuum. Small, yes—mighty, definitely. The real beauty is that you can use it to suck
up crumbs from other surfaces, like countertops or tables. A handheld can reach anywhere! 

No time to vacuum: Use a lint roller or damp rubber gloves to pick up pet hair on furniture or upholstery. 

Shoes Off
80% of dirt and dust comes in from the outside. Ask people to remove their shoes to save yourself from vacuuming.

Rally the troops! This isn’t a job for just mom or dad. You’ll be amazed by what more than one person can get done in 30 minutes. Plus, if everybody is contributing to the mess, they should help clean it up! 

Kitchen: 9 Minutes

Guests just can’t help hanging out here. Clean counters are the key to a spotless look. 

Clear or corral paper clutter.
“Paper has a tendency to collect in kitchens. Creating a place to gather it all will do wonders. Wire mesh baskets or small bins work well for this,” says Smallin Kuper. “You need to give paper a place to go so that you can find it again.” If your counter space is too valuable, try hanging a plastic pocket for papers behind a cabinet door. 

Microfiber is your friend.
The structure of the cloth works to trap and lock in dirt. Use damp microfiber cloths to clean the counters, table and refrigerator. 

An empty table is ideal.
“A clean table has the same effect as a freshly made bed in a bedroom: It makes the whole room look clean,” says Hartford. 

Got a stack of dirty dishes in the sink?
“This is one of my favorite tricks: Fill the sink with hot water and dish soap until you have suds, then in go the dishes. Stuck-on gunk softens, and guests won’t be able to see the pile,” says Hartford. 

Bathroom: 8 Minutes

Do whatever you can to keep guests out of your personal bathroom. A small powder room or half bath should be the designated spot for visitors. 

Don’t forget these items:
Extra toilet paper, hand towels, hand soap and any cleaning supplies. Storing these items in the bathroom allows you to straighten up in minutes. 

Spot clean your surfaces.
Grab the hand towel you’ve got out, spritz it with water and wipe down the mirror, sink and any other dusty or grimy surfaces, including inside the sink. “I love doing this because it forces me to put out a fresh hand towel. There’s nothing worse than seeing a wet, dingy towel hanging in a bathroom,” says Hartford. 

Always clean the toilet!
“Add a few pumps of hand soap to the bowl and give a quick scrub with the toilet brush,” says Hartford. “Grab a wad of toilet paper and wipe down the toilet seats, then toss it in the bowl and flush it.” 

Keep bathroom surfaces clear.
All you want is a nice decorative soap, a candle and/or a few flowers in a bud vase. Don’t leave anything personal out. 

Do a floor check.
“I always like to make sure there’s not a weird hairball or debris floating around,” says Maker. Most times you can just pick up what’s here and there instead of getting out the vacuum cleaner. 

Trick the senses into believing “clean.”

A home that smells clean, feels clean.
“Lighting a candle or infusing the home with a pleasant scent makes guests feel like you’ve got it all together,” says Hartford. “Bonus points if you choose a scent that smells clean, like fresh laundry. But when in doubt, go for vanilla.”

Turn on the lights.
A dark house feels less clean! “Turn on a few extra lights. It makes everything feel lighter and brighter. The light also bounces off reflective surfaces, making them look cleaner,” says Hartford. 

Maintain the cleanliness. 
Letting clutter and dirt build up is what got you into this mess to begin with. “I use the two-do rule: If something is going to take two minutes or less, do it right now,” advises Smallin Kuper. “The idea is that it’s easier to keep up than to catch up.” 

fake a clean house

Photo by Kate Sears

Photo by Kate Sears

Straight lines and sharp angles look tidy. People are so visual that just creating straight stacks of books, leveling pictures and placing your pillows upright can create the illusion of tidiness, explains Maker. Crooked or scattered items instantly read as untidy. 

Entryway: 5 minutes 

You’re in the home stretch!

Small but important, the entry gives guests a first impression of your home. Keep it clean and minimal. 

Clear out excess coats and shoes.
Let’s face it—you’ve probably got five pairs per person piling up. Move what you don’t need to your bedroom. “Make use of storage benches or coat racks,” says Smallin Kuper. “Just get things up off the floor. If you don’t have space, put coats in a guest room or bedroom.” 

Mats matter.
Make sure you have a doormat both outside the front door and in your entryway. Give the rugs a quick shake outside to remove the majority of the dirt and debris.