The Washington Post – Surprise! Your friendly neighbour/nosey mother-in-law/neatnik best friend is stopping by your place in 30 minutes. But your entryway is piled with flip flops, your kitchen sink is stacked with pizza-crusted dishes, and your cat’s hair is blanketing the sofa.
How can you fake a clean house if you’ve got no time – and no live-in help? “If you’re in a hurry to make things look acceptable, it’s really about perception,” said Becky Rapinchuk, who runs the Clean Mama blog and online housekeeping course. “You want to concentrate on where people will be, not on a whole house cleanup.”
Here are the hacks that she and other experts deploy to fake a sparkling space in a flash.
Consider who’s coming – and why
Before going on a directionless cleaning spree, “think about how you can make your guest comfortable in the space”, said KC Davis, a counselor and author of the book, How to Keep House While Drowning. “I worry less about dust on the floor or a ring in the toilet than about getting pet hair off the sofa if someone is going to watch a movie with me,” she said. Keep a lint roller handy to quickly remove cat or dog fuzz from upholstery.
Cut the clutter
Clutter doesn’t pose a health risk like dirt and grime might, but it can make visitors think your place belongs on a hoarding show. The fastest way to zap it, say cleaning pros, is to grab a laundry basket or other large container and start tossing things in.
“The hot spots are the entryway, the living room and the kitchen,” said Caroline Solomon, a professional organiser in New York City who creates cleaning-hack TikToks as @neat.caroline. “You can put everything into a catchall basket in an emergency.”
Davis picks up rooms in her house by grouping clutter into five categories: trash, laundry, dirty dishes, things that have a place, and things that don’t have a place.
“It puts your brain on auto pilot,” she said. “You can work on the first four categories quickly, and then toss all the things without homes into a lidded bin to deal with later.”
In a rush, you can hide your bin of stuff in a room or closet that guests won’t be using, or – as Rapinchuk sometimes does – the trunk of your car.
Turn up the lights
Studies have shown that people perceive well-lit spaces as cleaner than dimly lit ones. One 2013 experiment found that people even believed litter looked cleaner in bright light.
“It goes back to ancient times, when sunlight was associated with health,” said Vincent P Magnini, a professor of marketing and hospitality management at Longwood University who has researched the perception of cleanliness.
“Natural light is best – open up your blinds!” Still, he cautioned that bright lighting can backfire if you haven’t recently dusted, so be mindful of obviously dusty spots.
Spiff up the soft stuff
Put clean hand towels in the guest bathroom, and fold them nicely. Then fluff up the pillows on your sofa and fold up any blankets in your living room. If you think someone might peek into your boudoir, make the bed.
Do a surface wipe
While picking up or putting away your stuff goes a long way, it can’t hide the dust bunnies frolicking on your floor or the mysterious goop on your kitchen counter.
“People really notice if you wipe down the most visible surfaces – floors, kitchen countertops, get the soap scum off the powder room sink,” said co-founder of the American House Cleaners Association Grace Reynolds. “Plus give attention to anything that has a sheen or that can show smudges – mirrors, the glass on your front door.”
Pay attention to scent
Though you probably don’t need scientific research to tell you that a lemon scent often signals freshness, a series of 2005 Dutch studies indeed showed that subjects connected citrus with cleaning. To create the same association in your home, consider lighting a lemon- or orange-infused candle.
Reynolds counsels: “My former mother-in-law had a great trick where she’d rub high quality cleaning product on the inside of the front-door frame” so the scent would immediately greet guests.
Aromatherapy, however, won’t hide the stench of an overflowing kitchen garbage can or last night’s fish dinner. So, also be sure to empty the trash, turn on the ceiling fan and “air out your home by opening the windows”, said Solomon.
Add a plant or flowers
A study Magnini co-authored in 2021 found that people thought indoor spaces with plants and other greenery were cleaner than those without. “It’s not rational, but indoor plants have some crazy psychological power over us,” he said.
Many housekeeping pros also believe adding fresh flowers to your home helps the space sparkle. “If you are going to pick up chips and dip, get a bouquet, too,” said Solomon. “That will make things feel finished and make it seem like you have your act together.”
Prepare for next time
Not to sound like your parents, but if you set up a system to keep your house clean and your clutter at a minimum all the time, it’ll be quicker to make things look company-ready in a pinch. “My premise is to do a little bit every day so you aren’t spending your whole weekend cleaning,” said Rapinchuk. “I assign specific tasks to specific days of the week – floors one day, bathrooms another, laundry once a week.”
When you’re rushing to clean things up, it’s tempting to go after everything with a pack of bleach wipes. But simpler, less corrosive products and essential oil cleaner for most jobs – are both effective and less likely to damage surfaces such as stainless steel or marble.
“And don’t be afraid to use tools to make things simpler for yourself,” advised Davis. She often uses disposable toilet brush heads (like Clorox ToiletWands) to scrub down the exterior and the interior of the toilet. “Just do anything you can do to get a little time back.” – Jennifer Barger