Apartment Cleaning Checklist for Before You Unpack

You’ve been thinking about how great your mid-century modern coffee table is going to look in your new apartment since you saw the rental listing.

But here’s a hot tip before you go charging in with all your belongings: Your new apartment will never be easier to clean than when you’re holding the keys for the first time. Take advantage of the empty space and follow this easy cleaning checklist to make your place a tidy home for youself—and all your beloved stuff.

1. Start from the top.

When it comes to giving your new home a deep scrub, it’s best to clean each room from the top down. Because, gravity. Start by dusting the ceiling fan, ceiling corners, and overhead lights. (Globe-shaped light figures are notorious for collecting dust, so be sure to give them a good clean.) Then start working your way down—walls, baseboards, and finally, the floors.

2. Work toward the door.

Here’s another way to order your cleaning in a room: Start at the farthest point from the entryway. This is especially important when it comes to floors. You don’t want to trod over freshly-vacuumed carpet in your dusty house-cleaning shoes!

3. Deep clean the closets.

Once the closets are full of your odds and ends, it’s unlikely you’ll ever take them all back out to clean in there. Dust out the corners, and consider lining shelves with vinyl or decorative paper (just be sure it isn’t permanent). Shelf lining looks good, is easy to clean, and covers up mystery marks and gross stains left by previous tenants. It’s a win-win-win.

4. Replace the toilet seat.

You’re bringing your own recliner and couch, and those aren’t even as hard to keep clean. You’ll spend a lot of time sitting on your apartment’s toilet, and it’s arguably the most important seat in the house. Do yourself (and your guests) a favor by giving your toilet a fresh start.

5. Disinfect the bathtub.

You’re much more likely to enjoy a soak in the tub after you’ve disinfected away all trace of the last person who soaked there. For an easy cleaning hack, use dish soap and a sponge to wipe down the bathtub—though you may need to enlist a more convensional cleaner to fight tougher stains. Prefer a natural method? Equal parts baking soda, borax, and kosher salt make a great cleaning scrub without any impossible-to-pronounce chemicals.

6. Clean your appliances.

Yes, even your dishwasher needs help getting clean. Start by running a cycle with only a cup of white vinegar in the top rack—using the hot water setting if your dishwasher has one. Afterwards, sprinkle a cup of baking soda on the bottom rack and run a second hot cycle.

Disinfect the microwave (inside and out), then hit the fridge. Remove all the shelves you can, and wipe them down—you can even let them soak in the sink or bathtub. A solution of vinegar and water works great as a food-safe, all-purpose cleaner.

Finally, the oven. If they fit in your dishwasher, toss the buttons, racks, and drip pans in for a deep clean. If the racks are caked with black grime, you can soak them overnight in a sealed bag of ammonia. And don’t forget about degreasing the oven hood!

7. Make the floors shine.

Your floor is going to get gross enough under your own feet. You’ll definitely want to clean away the last tenant’s footprints. Steam mops are a quick and easy way to clean hardwoods, laminate, and tile. If you’re using a regular mop on hardwoods, make sure that it’s damp rather than sopping, and use a cleaner that works with the floor’s finish.

For carpeted areas, you can usually rent carpet cleaners from grocery and hardware stores—or you can call in the professionals if it’s a serious job. Depending on your lease agreement and the state of the carpet, you may even be able to talk to your landlord about a reimbursement.

8. Kill all the germs.

Every surface you touch in your new apartment—from the thermostat to the light switch—has been touched thousands of times by the previous tenants. Blast your favorite playlist and spend time disinfecting everything you touch on a regular basis. This includes countertops, knobs, dials, buttons, locks, and anything with a handle.

9. Don’t forget the cabinets.

You’re going to eat off of those plates. Don’t plunk them into the cabinets until you’d eat off their surfaces, too. Wipe them down, scrub away anything suspicious with baking soda and water, and add a liner for good measure.

10. Show your baseboards some respect.

Baseboards are often neglected on monthly cleaning checklists, but if you only do it once, move-in is the time. Kitchens and entryways get hit especially hard by dust and grime, so do the baseboards in these rooms first. Anything from an all-purpose cleaner to baby wipes can make a big difference.

Originally published February 23, 2016; updated January 18, 2018.

What are your favorite home-cleaning methods? Share them in the comments below!

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