11 Things House Guests Notice—and 10 Things You Don’t Have to Worry About
Time is precious, especially when you're getting ready for house guests to arrive. Here’s what experts say you definitely need to clean and what you can totally skip.
What should you clean before house guests arrive?
In a perfect world, our homes would be sparkling clean, neat and organized every day of the year. Unfortunately, this isn’t a reality for most of us, even when we do our best to stick to a cleaning schedule. As a result, entertaining house guests can be more than a little stressful, whether they’re visiting for a few hours or staying with you for a few days. And, of course, the stress goes up a notch on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Well, we have some good news for you before you spend hours washing the windows, cleaning the baseboards and scouring each and every appliance in your home: You don’t have to deep clean—or even clean—everything before your house guests arrive. Yes, you read that right. While there are definitely certain spots that visitors will notice are dirty, there are others that they won’t notice. (Really.) We got the scoop from cleaning experts on the best way to clean your kitchen, bathroom and the rest of your home to save yourself a ton of time and energy. You’re welcome!
Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for more cleaning, travel, tech, humor and fun facts all week long.
Do it: Check for mold
House guests’ eyes will immediately go to those telltale black spots wherever they appear—and they really can appear anywhere, from bathrooms to bedrooms to basements. Mold can grow wherever there’s moisture, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s very common. Still, that doesn’t mean you should have it in your house. Not only is it a sign that you haven’t cleaned, but some types of mold can also be toxic. Find out what pink mold is and how to stop this icky shower slime.
“Often, mold can develop behind curtains or shower curtains,” says Alicia Sokolowski, president and co-CEO of AspenClean, but leaks or high moisture levels can also cause it to develop near windows, vents, air conditioners and more. To remove mold quickly and easily, Sokolowski recommends mixing 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 2 cups of water in a spray bottle. Douse the mold with the solution, then gently scrub and rinse the area. If you live in an area with high moisture, you might want to invest in a dehumidifier to stop problems before they start.
Do it: Vacuum and mop the floors
House guests will make their first impression of your home the minute they step through your front door—and more often than not, they will look straight down at your floor. “They will definitely notice if there is any dirt or dust on the floor,” says Sokolowksi. While you don’t have to go to extremes, you should do a once-over with a vacuum or broom to get rid of any obvious dirt and debris.
After vacuuming or sweeping, get rid of any marks left behind, including mud, spilled drinks or streaks. This is where a vacuum-mop combo can come in handy, pulling double duty to halve your cleaning time. But if you’re going old school with a traditional mop, opt for damp mopping over wet mopping, says Sokolowski, since the latter will take longer to dry and, as a result, could leave streaks behind. Simply wring out excess water from your mop to avoid over-wetting the surface. Also make sure to give your floor enough time to dry before guests come over. You don’t want them slipping on a wet floor!
Do it: Dust visible spots
While you don’t need to worry about dusting every nook, cranny and surface of your home, a little bit of dusting in high-profile, visible areas will go a long way. Your top priority should be the entryway console, glass display shelves and other eye-catching spots. Also, if house guests are staying the night, do a once-over in their bedroom. On the other hand, don’t worry about areas where guests won’t get a close-up view, like china cabinets or your office bookshelves. Pro tip: Microfiber cloths will quickly pick up all the dust without leaving behind lint.
Kinga Krzeminska/Getty Images
Do it: Clean the bathrooms
Whether your house guests are just stopping by for a few hours or staying for a few days, it is essential for your bathroom to be as clean as possible. Not only are unclean bathrooms a haven for germs and bacteria, but guests will also absolutely notice the grime and dirt here. Of course, you need to make sure that the sink, toilet bowl and shower are clean, and Sokolowski also recommends giving door handles a quick wipe. And even if you’ve completed your dirty work earlier in the day, give bathrooms a quick once-over right before your guests arrive—especially if you have kids!
Another spot you shouldn’t miss? Glass shower doors, which can look cloudy after use. Sokolowski recommends using equal parts water and vinegar, spraying it on the surface and letting it sit for a few minutes. Then, wipe it down with paper towels or a dry cloth. It helps to remove hard water stains from your shower screen and will make your bathroom sparkle.
Do it: Declutter
While you don’t have to organize excessively, guests tend to notice everyday clutter more than you might realize. This could include piles of mail or documents sitting on your kitchen counter, piles of shoes or backpacks by the front door, tons of products littering a bathroom counter or miscellaneous items strewn across your coffee table.
“Having clutter is not necessarily something that may impact your guest’s stay,” says Sokolowski. “However, I would encourage you to keep the entrance, bathroom and bedroom clutter-free.” You can do this by simply putting everything away in its right place, ensuring the laundry is folded and put back, hanging up coats and tidying other random belongings by the entrance. You should also make room on the coat rack for your house guests’ jackets.
Do it: Get rid of pet hair and odors
If you have pets in your home, you more than likely will have pet hair all over said home. Before your guests arrive, you shouldn’t just vacuum your floors—you should also vacuum your couches. Try one of these top-rated, editor-approved vacuums for pet hair or do a quick sweep with a pet hair roller. (Our favorite is the ChomChom Roller, and it’s extra handy when guests are already there, in case you find an issue and want to take care of it quickly and quietly.)
“Additionally, I would place any bedding or blankets your house guests may use into the wash,” Sokolowski says. “Add a tablespoon of baking soda or oxygen bleach to your load to help remove pet odors.” Here are more ways to get rid of dog smell anywhere in your house.
If you have a cat, empty the litter box prior to guests arriving and consider temporarily moving it out of sight (though still accessible to your pet). If there is a lingering pet smell in your home, you can light candles prior to your guests’ arrival.
Do it: Freshen up the air
Before all else, guests will notice the smell of your home. “Since you live in your home, you may become accustomed to the smell and may not realize if it needs a little freshening up,” Sokolowski says. For example, some old homes may smell musty, the homes of smokers smell smokey and if you cooked recently, your home may smell like food. And, as mentioned above, even the cutest, most well-groomed pets can leave behind odors.
Sokolowski suggests making an all-natural, DIY air freshener—which is a lot faster and easier than you might think. “Rosemary and lemon combined are a great way to balance the scent of your home and make it feel clean, crisp and comfy,” she says. Simply slice a lemon and add it to a pot of water with some fresh rosemary. Boil for an hour or so to infuse your home with the smells of these ingredients. “You can also take 1 cup of this water, mix it with 1/4 cup of alcohol and put it in a spray bottle,” she adds. “Then spray on mattresses, cushions and couches.”
Do it: Clean windows and mirrors in the front of your home
Even before guests step foot in your home, they will notice a few things—including a dirty front door or majorly streaked windows. That’s why it’s a good idea to wipe down any filthy surfaces on the front of your home. “The easiest way to do this is by washing the front windows to ensure they look super clean and streak-free,” advises Sokolowski. Hosing off the siding will also get the job done quickly.
Next, wipe down the windows from the inside, and move on to any mirrors. “I would always recommend cleaning the mirrors, especially the ones in the entrance hall and the bathroom, making sure to remove any toothpaste splatters from the bathroom,” says Sokolowski. A simple natural glass cleaner and microfiber cloth will do the trick. Here are more tips to steal from professional house cleaners.
Do it: Launder and change linens
Have you ever gone to someone’s house and dried your hands with mildewed towels? Or gotten into bed and noticed pet hair or stains on the sheets? Yuck. Dirty towels and bedsheets are something your house guests will absolutely notice, in both the guest bathroom and bedroom if they’re staying over. Even if you think towels or sheets are clean because nobody has used them, they still might smell if they’ve been sitting there for a while.
“Before your house guests arrive, pop linens into the washing machine with natural laundry detergent and some oxygen bleach,” says Sokolowski. “This will help to whiten and brighten your towels and sheets and remove any unwanted odors.” Then, fold towels nicely in the bathroom and make sure to change bed linens.
Do it: Empty trash bins
Again, smell is one of the first thing house guests notice when they walk into a home. One of the biggest culprits? Rotting or smelly food in the trash. Empty trash and recycling bins in the kitchen before guests arrive to prevent odors and flies from developing. In general, says Sokolowski, you should also clean the inside of your bin at least once a week to keep smells at bay. She suggests using a mix of warm water and dish soap with a drop of your favorite essential oil. Don’t forget to empty and clean bathroom trash bins as well!
Do it: Give your kitchen a once-over
Because guests have a tendency to congregate in the kitchen, you should give it a little extra cleaning love. While you don’t need to sterilize the entire kitchen, a few simple tasks will go a long way. Wipe down the exterior of appliances, including your stove, where there might be some lingering spills. Also, wipe down all countertops and make sure there isn’t a pile of dishes in the sink. If there’s any clutter on the table, clear it off. You might want to consider lighting a candle to banish lingering smells.
Skip it: Cleaning your bedroom
A lot of people make sure their bedroom is spotless prior to having guests over. But unless you’re giving a room tour or hosting overnight guests, you can skip this task. “Obviously, we recommend keeping your room tidy and changing your bed linen every week,” Sokolowski says. “However, it is more important to prioritize the guest’s room over yours [if they’re staying over].” If they’re not, you can quickly make your bed and get rid of some clutter—or simply shut the door and lock it.
FG Trade/Getty Images
Skip it: Organizing your refrigerator
It can be tempting to organize your fridge before guests arrive. However, this really isn’t something your guests will notice. “As long as they have easy access to milk and orange juice, you can skip this task,” Sokolowski says. One thing you might want to do? Wipe down the inside of the refrigerator, as old spills aren’t exactly pleasant to look at. Also, if something is stinking up your refrigerator, clean it out. This is also a good time to throw out any expired or rotten food.
Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images
Skip it: Cleaning inside appliances
Most guests will be sitting in your social areas for a short period of time, not rolling up their sleeves and helping you cook. That means they won’t be opening your appliances or examining them. While you might want to wipe down the inside of your microwave since splatters really show up, you can skip the dishwasher, the oven and certainly the washing machine for now. Deep-clean them another time, when you have the time. For now, just focus on the outside of the appliances, making sure they’re clean and fingerprint-free. Thousands of Amazon reviewers adore this stainless steel cleaner—and for good reason.
Skip it: Organizing toys
Most families who have children or pets have toys scattered around. If you fall into that category, your guests won’t judge you for those odds and ends sitting around. Translation: It’s OK not to pick up every last toy. Really. That said, you also want to make sure your guests don’t leave your house with an injury. “I would recommend tidying the ones that may be left in high-traffic areas,” Sokolowski says.
Of course, it’s a good idea to tidy up a bit, especially depending on the state of your house and the mess that your kids have made. An easy way to do this? Toss toys into bins and stash them in a closet or even in the corner of a family room if the bins are attractive.
Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images
Skip it: Cleaning the laundry room
If you have a designated laundry room, consider skipping it altogether and simply shutting the door prior to your house guests’ arrival. However, there is one exception. If your guests will be staying long enough to require doing laundry, you should tidy it. While you don’t have to go to extremes, wipe down any areas of the room where lint has gathered and stash away unfolded laundry.
Skip it: Completing home-improvement projects
Being aware of how visitors see your home can make you panic about the things in your home in need of revamping. But don’t worry about painting that wall or fixing that leaky faucet just because you’ll have people staying with you. “The idea of having house guests can trigger a lot of things for people,” says Maeve Richmond, founder of the organizing company Maeve’s Method. “It’s great if the idea of having guests motivates you to complete a project, but it doesn’t make sense in terms of a short-term house guest.”
Warn your guests of things like faulty doorknobs so they don’t think they broke something, but don’t stress about remodeling before they come. Save that for another time … when you actually have the time.
Skip it: Cleaning out closets
A lot of us keep our extra clothes or shoes in the guest-room closet, and you can leave them there when guests come over. “As long as guests have somewhere to leave their suitcases and hang their coats, they will rarely look inside the wardrobes,” says Sokolowski. “As long as unwanted clothes are tidied away behind the cupboard doors, the neatness levels of it will not matter.” You should also make sure that overnight guests have a drawer or two for their personal items, as well as some room (and a few hangers to use) in the closet.
Skip it: Making sure everything is spotless
Prioritize comfort over obsessive cleaning. “It’s not stressing out about the fine details,” says Laura Bonucchi, an interior designer and the founder of DTSH Interiors. “It’s about paying attention to the overall common comforts that people expect when they’re staying somewhere.” For example, stashing extra rolls of toilet paper in the guest bathroom is a must.
That said, if you’re feeling uncomfortable because you haven’t dusted in a while or cleaned your baseboards, do it because it will make you feel more comfortable as a host. But remember, Bonucchi says, “Your guests are not there for your home—they’re there for you.”
Liudmila Chernetska/Getty Images
Skip it: Professionally cleaning your carpet
Unless they are seriously soiled, you don’t need to have carpets or rugs professionally cleaned before guests arrive. While guests are likely to notice floors with lots of accumulated debris, such as dog hair and food crumbs, as well as mud-streaked surfaces, they are less likely to pay attention to or judge you for regular wear and tear. Simply clean your carpet as best you can, and you’ll be all set for the visit.
Kemal Yildirim/Getty Images
Skip it: Putting away books and magazines
Don’t worry about putting away all the books and magazines in your home. Leaving your current weekend read or your favorite magazines lying around can spark conversation and be a good icebreaker for guests. “Guests like to step into a home and see things that are real,” says Richmond. “To take away magazines and piles of books, you’re not representing who you are, and you’re actually detracting from the experience of interacting with guests.” You should even consider leaving a few current magazines in the guest room and bathroom. Check out these ideas from authors and TikTokers to organize your books beautifully.
Additional reporting by Marissa Laliberte.
- Alicia Sokolowski, president and co-CEO of AspenClean
- CDC: “Basic Facts About Mold and Dampness”
- Laura Bonucchi, interior designer and founder of DTSH Interiors
- Maeve Richmond, founder of Maeve’s Method