Last Minute Tips & Tricks for Making a Messy House Seem Cleaner!

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It's not an if, it's a when. Mistaken appointment times, last minute guests, friends and family who love to just drop in - you never know when you'll be stuck with a less-than-tidy home and just a few minutes to get it into shape, but you DO know it will happen, sooner or later. Our readers come to the rescue once again with their wise and witty tips for faking it 'til you make it, clean home edition!

My friend's mom had the best trick ever. She would wheel the vacuum cleaner into the room right before guests got there and would say OH you caught me in the middle of cleaning! They inevitably just assumed she was in the middle of a cleaning flurry, thus the mess. -lizziepeony

Over the last two years, we had our house on the market for about eight months, total. Here's what we learned for last-minute cleaning when someone was coming to view the house - most should apply to quick-cleaning for visitors:

1. Dishes go in the oven (if you don't have a glass door)! This is a great trick and you'd be amazed what can go in there. In fact, any kitchen clutter can go in the oven or in the dishwasher, or even in the fridge if you have room. 
2. Keep fabric surfaces like couches and beds covered with cheap blankets if you have pets; toss the blankets under the bed or in a closet (or even in the dryer, if you have one) to get a quick pet-hair-free surface. 
3. Keep a basket in the den/kitchen empty for paper clutter. Toss everything in and then stow the basket on top of fridge, in closet, under bed, wherever it will fit! This was essential because we didn't want strangers seeing our bank statements lying around. 
4. Grab a swiffer in your hand and swipe the TV, counter top, bathroom floor, and any little corners where pet hair might accumulate. This can be done quickly and will get up a lot of gunk. - snakeophelia

I quickly run to the kitchen and grab a container of leftovers and throw it on a wall to distract the guests from the mess everywhere else. Works and is a great point of discussion. - Ben Win

I've never before admitted this but here goes...
I have three cats and if I don't let them sleep on the sofa they all want to sleep on me. I keep an inexpensive throw on the sofa to keep their fur and paw prints at bay. I keep some nice toss cushions in a drawer in my sideboard. When company is on the way I stuff the kitty throw in the drawer and put the pillows on the sofa. It's a very convincing 30-second trick. If I get busted mid-switch I just pretend I'm bringing the blanket in from the clothesline and take it upstairs to stash. - Famous Amos

I like to incorporate all the senses:
Clean surfaces that get the most visual attention (mirrors, table tops, toilets, and floors)
Think about what gets touched and give it a quick wipe down or wash(sofa cushions, throws, handrails)
Create a nice aroma (candles are fine, but good cooking/baking works well too)
Switch the laptop or ipad to your favorite Pandora station (nothing to do with clean, but creates an environment nonetheless)
And for taste? It's really hard to say negative things about a home with a candy bowl... - Boo the Bully

My husband and I do a three song clean. Works wonders. - Mama Gigi

Slap small saucepan on stove with about 1 inch of water inside, turn burner on high. Stow all dirty dishes in oven as per above while water is heating. When water boils sprinkle 1-2 tsp cinnamon into it, turn burner down to medium, then wipe down counter tops. Turn burner off, leaving sauce pan in place. Kitchen looks neat as a pin, whole house smells nice! This will cover the strongest odors - guaranteed. - princess savi


~ All-Purpose Spray Cleanser: Spray kitchen & bathroom counter, faucets, sinks & toilet & let it work while you ... 
~ Microfiber Cloth #1 (damp!): Dust mirrors (first), TV, tabletops, etc. 
~ Microfiber Cloth #2 & 3 (wet!): Wipe, rinse & polish/dry previously sprayed surfaces with clean microfiber cloth (separate one for kitchen) 
~ Vacuum if there's time: High traffic areas (carpet vacuum stripes make a room look so fresh & so clean). Vacuum works great on hard surfaces, too; so, skip the broom in a pinch. - life abundant

If it is an evening visit, use candles and dimmers on your lights. Our housekeeper was on a two week vakay and since we are super busy cleaning was not done. A friend recently stopped over one night unexpectedly called, and came so we just dimmed all of the lights and lit a few candles. Kept it bright enough not to seem like a love den but low enough to hide the fact that the carpets were a mess with dog hair from the three dogs we have and every inch of surface had dust on it. Our friend commented about how clean our house always is. - designerdude

I usually wipe the hardwood floors with Bona cloth and spray some Mrs. Meyers around the house to make it smell like I've been cleaning! Don't underestimate the power of suggestion. - Parnassus

Laundry baskets + Bathtub = Vanished clutter. There are times when the clutter just has to GO AWAY, so I keep handy extra laundry baskets. I go around the house and toss in whatever doesn't belong there. Then into the bathtub and close the curtain. (If guests are going to open my shower curtain, then they don't need to be my friends anymore!) - LisaGay


This happened to me and my husband about two weeks ago. We try to keep things neat, but after a late-night call from two friends who were having drinks in our neighborhood and were now a couple of blocks away I looked around and wasn't pleased that things weren't perfect. All I could do was quick-clean the bathroom and great them warmly as my husband opened a bottle of red. When they were gone I looked around at the paperwork on the dining room table and the stuff being sold on Craig's List that was collected in a granny cart by the bar and just accepted what had happened. I love my friends - I thought it was a treat that they wanted to see us and don't think they judged us at all. - happycamper2168

On the flipside - I have moments where I would like to visit friends without necessarily making plans in advance but don't bother calling cause i'd feel bad about puting them in a 10-min cleanup rush. So, instead of having a good time together, we both end up staying in our own dirty houses alone when in reality no one really cares how clean the other's house is! 
- Jonimhoff

My biggest tip, though, is noticing cobwebs and dustbunnies when visiting my friends' houses, realizing I don't care, think no less of them, and am just glad to be seeing them, and realizing they probably feel the same at my house. :) - Kat88

Please share your tips and tricks in the comments and most importantly, try to relax and enjoy when you have unexpected guests - a mellow home is a welcoming home! 

(Image: Adrienne Breaux / From the tour of the very un-messy Christi's Creative & Crafty Austin Apartment)

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Janel Laban is the Executive Editor of Apartment Therapy and has been working here, at the dreamiest of dream jobs, since March 2006.

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