It’s Time to Move Out: How to Clean Your Apartment and Keep Your Security Deposit

Three weeks ago a friend sent an email with the subject line “Odd Proposition.” She was moving soon, she said, and her apartment was dirty.

“Well, I am in need of a good pre- and post-move clean-up and you could use my apartment as a test,” she wrote. “Plus, there’d be photo documentation of how perfect the place is and then my landlord couldn’t hold my deposit!”

I responded, “Totally, sounds like fun!”

As twisted as it sounds, I do love a good cleaning challenge. Plus, I’ve never had money riding on a project like this. I liked the added pressure. Eight hours of cleaning later, I know a lot more about cleaning apartments top to bottom, and I have some tips that will surely make cleaning your own apartment before moving out much easier.

My friend’s apartment was a one-bedroom, one-bath place with hardwood floors – about 600 feet total. First, let’s cover the required cleaning items – then we’ll get to specific cleaning tasks.

  • A powerful vacuum with attachments that can suck up dust from places high and low
  • A mop and two buckets (yes, two!)
  • Non-scratch scrubbing sponges
  • Paper towels
  • Mr. Clean Magic Erasers for cleaning paint scuffs (a four-pack should be sufficient)
  • An all-purpose sprayable cleanser for cleaning sinks and showers
  • Easy-Off for cleaning the oven (it might be noxious, but there’s nothing that works better)
  • Mineral oil for cleaning caked-on grease and dust in high places
  • Murphy Oil Soap or general dishwashing soap for cleaning the hardwood or linoleum floors
  • TSP substitute cleaner for cleaning dirty painted walls.
  • A set of rubber gloves

There aren’t too many required items here, but yes, they are all required. Each one serves a different purpose. Now let’s talk about what each item actually does.

To clean sinks and tubs: Use a scrubbing sponge and the all-purpose cleanser. Although I’ve written about environmentally friendly cleaners in the past, for a situation like this, go with a more powerful bleach-based product. You want to cut through dirt and oil quickly. Pay special attention to soap dishes and sink rims. Scrub until you don’t see grey gunk anymore.

To clean the oven: Spray any caked-on spills with Easy-Off, let it sit for a few minutes, then wipe away. Clean the cooktop with your all-purpose cleanser.

To clean the tops of things in your kitchen, like your refrigerator or microwave: Use the mineral oil and paper towels to wipe away that gross combination of oil and dust. I’ve written about this technique before, and I got to test it big time when cleaning my friend’s kitchen. Her fridge was right next to her stove, so the top of her fridge was covered in a combination of dust and aerated oil. I used the mineral oil and paper towels to wipe away most of the grime, then followed up with the all-purpose cleanser. The top of the fridge went from sticky to smooth.

Bottom of a closet, scuffed and dirty.

After cleaning with TSP.

After cleaning with Magic Eraser.

To clean your walls, and get rid of smudges and nicks: First use a sprayable TSP substitute, then follow with the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. What exactly is a TSP substitute? TSP stands for trisodium phosphate, and TSP is commonly used to prep walls for painting. I have a long history with TSP – when I was a kid my mom made my brother and me clean up our dirty handprints with it. It was the cleaning project I most despised, but I did learn one thing: TSP is a great cleaning agent. Because of environmental concerns, true TSP isn’t widely available, and shouldn’t be used. TSP substitutes (labeled as such) do a comparable cleaning job. Look for this product in the paint-prep section of your local hardware store.

After you’ve moved out all of your stuff, your apartment walls will likely look horrifyingly dirty. To keep your landlord from having to repaint (and charge you for the privilege) clean your walls yourself. Spray the scuff mark with TSP, let it sit for a minute, then rub and scrub with one of your sponges. The mark will practically disappear. (One note of caution: Don’t use TSP on glossy paint – it will lose its shine.)

The kicker is the Magic Eraser. I hadn’t used this product before, but it really is magic. Rub the eraser where the scuff was, and if the TSP hadn’t completely removed it, the eraser will.

The white bucket is the dirty bucket, blue bucket for fresh soapy water.

Even after cleaning an entire apartment, the remaining water in the clean bucket was relatively clear ...

... While the dirty water bucket turned dark grey.

To clean your hardwood floor: This is a two-step project – vacuuming up dust, then cleaning the floors. You want your floors as clean as possible – free of dust, dirt and last week’s spilled cereal – before mopping. This is when a hose attachment with a brush is especially helpful in a vacuum. If you don’t have that, use a dry Swiffer. Just use a small vacuum, like a DustBuster, to pick up dust, dirt and hair before it gets pushed around.

You’ll need a squeezable mop, two buckets and some sort of liquid soap product to properly clean your floors. Murphy Oil Soap is a gentle soap formulated for hardwood floors. Basic dish soap also works – use a couple tablespoons for every gallon of water.

One of my pet peeves is people cleaning floors improperly. If you have dirty floors and you’re rinsing your mop in one bucket, your clean water will quickly turn dirty and you’ll just be pushing dirt around the apartment. Here’s how to do it correctly:

Step 1. Fill one bucket with warm water and soap. Leave the other empty.

Step 2. Soak your mop in water from the clean bucket. Wring it out in the empty bucket (now known as the dirty bucket). Mop a portion of the floor. Wring out the mop again into the dirty bucket.

Step 3. Stick the wrung-out mop in the clean bucket, and let it absorb clean, soapy water. Then move it over to the dirty bucket and wring it out. Now you’ve rinsed your mop with clean water and can mop another section of the floor.

With this process you’re never squeezing dirty water into your clean bucket. Your floor will thank you.

Because my friend moved recently, she won’t know if she’s getting her full security deposit back for at least another two weeks. I’m feeling confident, though. The place looked beautiful when she closed her front door for the last time.

  • Kimberly

    Dude, I am *SO* inviting you to my place when I move!  I’ve been there 7 years and it desperately could use your magic touch post-move out.  Be on the lookout for an e-mail from me …



    • Mark Evitt

      I’ll be there!

  • Anonymous

    AFTER I move?  No way!  I want you to clean my house while I’m living in it!  Why do we clean better when we move, for someone else, than for ourselves?  I guess the security deposit for rentals is one reason, but still…  Anyway, it looks wonderful and the new tenant is starting out with a perfectly clean apartment.  Lucky!

    • Mark Evitt

      I don’t know why we clean better for others than ourselves – pride? I remember in college I cleaned my apartment really well before leaving for the summer. When I returned, of course, it looked terrible. The subletters didn’t return the favor.

    • Melody

      I looked at this article for advice on how to clean my apartment while I am living in it. It needs a proper full cleaning because this is year 2 of living in it.

  • Brett

    Are you available for hire?

    • Mark Evitt

      Under special circumstances, yes.

  • Dangerous Lee

    The Magic Eraser really is a great product. I found if you scrub long enough it will even take the paint off the wall :) I think it is some sort of wet sandpaper.

    • Mark Evitt

      I’ve found the same thing – you definitely have to be careful.

  • randeegf

    I hope you are getting a percentage of the cleaning deposit–or at least a nice bottle of wine!

  • Mom

    Who knew your TSP training would become so useful!

  • sur

    For greener alternatives in your cleaning adventure, do try ingredients like vodka, vinegar (white) and baking soda. They make great multipurpose cleaners.

  • Mao

    I just accidentally stumbled upon your website while searching for a moist cornbread recipe.  What caught my attention is the fact that you’re a man doing housework.  I know, it may sound sexist but I assure I was nor am sexist.  My first thought was: “wow, there’s a guy doing house chores!  Awesome!”  I was secretly thinking that my husband could learn a lesson or two from your example – yes, men can do as much housework as women can, as well as we can and sometimes better too, just like we can in the workforce. 

    Anyway, I’ve been looking around and have found your website to be quite informative.  In fact, I’ve bookmarked it so I can come back to it when more time permits.  I love that you’re writing about something you know about.  I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while to document my experiment with healthier cooking.  We’ll see…

    Lastly, I wanted to thank you for posting this entry.  Our family of 2 adults and 4 kids are moving in 10 months and I will definitely use these tips.  I’m going to Target tomorrow (my husband always teases me about getting a Target experience; it’s therapeutic for me) to get a second bucket for mopping.  I think it’ll be a much cheaper than investing in a steam mop.  Thanks!

    • Mark Evitt

      Thanks! And I completely agree about Target being therapeutic – it’s easily my favorite store that I visit on a regular basis.

  • Samantha Page

    Thanks, dude! About to move out of my apartment, and this is exactly what I needed.

    Now, a question for you: I put carpet strips on the ladder to my loft. And, yes, I (stupidly) used carpet tape. Any ideas for how I can get that stuff off?

    PS – Love the site. I recommend it all the time. :)

    • Nick Bogert

      Just a little WD-40 will take it right off. Use sparingly though.

  • Samantha Page

    Thanks, dude! About to move out of my apartment, and this is exactly what I needed.

    Now, a question for you: I put carpet strips on the ladder to my loft. And, yes, I (stupidly) used carpet tape. Any ideas for how I can get that stuff off?

    PS – Love the site. I recommend it all the time. :)

  • Dmaycillo

    Thank you for your wonderful and helpful articles. I have recommended this site to my friends. Many modern women appreciate the easier way of doing things and rely heavily on TV commercials. I, and my friend in China find your site highly insightful. Again, thank you for your postings

  • MaryAnn Faubion Kohl

    A bit of advice to apartment renters: Don’t let your place get so dirty! Keep it clean as you go and the job won’t require the Manly Housekeeper to come in, though I rather like that approach. Then all you have left is what you couldn’t reach when you lived there. Like 68speedygirl, I think it’s nice to live in a sparkling clean place day after day. No mold allowed!

  • Anonymous

    Yup, absolutely, the two-bucket method.

  • Solovaro

    Yes, when you are moving to a new apartment or a house, clean your previous home it is not an easy task, however it is not easy to find an affordable help with moving services.

  • Apartment for Rent in Tagiug

    Nice tips bro! Magic eraser seems to works very well! 

  • Laura

    Dear TMH,
        I just searched the website of my local housewares store for “mop” and was surprised that almost all of the options are “steam mops”.  There price surely is higher but there is some appeal to not using chemicals or a bucket, as long as they still get the job done.  What are your thoughts? 

    • Laura

      ah no edit function!  There = their!  how embarrassing!

  • cootified

    Thats tops! I have a twisted confession too!
     I like moving to a new (not brand new) apartment every 4-5 years instead of buying a house! I see the rent as a premium of being able to do this to this tip helps tremendously! Thanks Mark!

  • MaryJane

    Are you single?

  • Ctowncheer

    I keep my house very clean– even a neighborhood policeman who was coming to ask questions (apparently I’m the only one home to witness daytime break-ins) commented that it was the cleanest house he’d ever been in.
    That said, your article has blown my mind! I love the two tubs idea when mopping. I had a true “duh” moment. Thank you for all your helpful tips. I’ll be using them all when my quarterly “spring cleaning” happens again.

  • Books59b

    The only problem I see in using your method is in cleaning my walls, I put anything damp on them, the cheap pain comes off and there’s discoloration.

    • baby-paramedic

      We have had great success with sugar soap wipes. Far more expensive than making the sugar soap mix yourself, but far nicer on cheaper paint. 

  • Yaya

    Stumbled here from a post on Pinterest and I’m glad I did! I love these tips! I am a military spouse and former military brat so I am used to having to leave your house in tip top shape when you move out! You wouldn’t believe the number of friends I have helped move out that had no idea about the two bucket mopping. That is my biggest tip to the new spouses that may have never had to clean their own houses before. I personally cannot use Easy Off and found out the hard way (asthma attack and sever allergic reaction, think Will Smith from Hitch) so I use Greased Lightening. A great tip that I have found for bathrooms so you are not breaking your back is to keep one of those sponges with the handles for soap in your shower. Fill it with vinegar and some Dawn and before you get out of your shower scrub your shower doors and your tile (I do this while I let my conditioner sit in my hair for a few). Soap scum will run away afraid of you. Promise. =)

  • Ravi

    [url=]Thank you[/url]

  • Ravi
  • Robin

    I just want to say thanks for this great information.. am a loafer. Till now i don’t clean my home.. Even now also i trust cleaning services calgary, canada..

  • Robin

    I just want to say thanks for this great information.. am a loafer. Till now i don’t clean my home.. Even now also i trust cleaning services calgary, canada..

  • Gold Dust

    As a landlord, what stood out in this blog was 8 hours to clean approx. 600 square feet, a 1 bedroom apartment. (Maybe 7 hours with time out for photos.) Most people underestimate the amount of time it takes to clean when they are moving. I’ve found tenants stop cleaning when they start packing (about 30 days before moving or when they give notice) and the dirt builds up making it even worse after they move out. That is IF they even clean while living in the apartment to start with! :)

  • Henry

    Thank you for you great cleaning tips, here’s some of my tips, hope we can have cleaning tips exchange in this forum:

  • sarah

    Do you have any tips for cleaning ceramic / plastic kitchenn countertop (I dont know what is the actual material used) that’s stained by hard water ? The stain is black colour. I’ve tried scrubbing with all purpose cleaner, anti mold, dishwasher liquid, magic eraser, basically nothing works :(
    any help is much appreciated :)

  • Land Lady

    Oh yea, thank you! I’m a landlady, and jeez, am I sick of cleaning up after tenants! I too noticed the amount of time–7 hours for a 600 sq ft apartment–the one I rent out is closer to 1400 sq ft. I pretty much use the methods you suggest (though the mineral oil one was a new one for me, I’ll have to try that). One other tool on the must have list is a good squeegee–I like the OXO ones, they’re comfortable and last a long time. Squeegees are great for cleaning tile, tubs, windows, even floors if you spill your wash water. Lots of folks asked about steam mops and the answer is NO DON’T DO IT!!! Not many flooring materials will stand up to injections of water vapor–you’ll ruin a wood floor, esp if it is not in perfect shape. A good canister vacuum with attachments will be your best friend, and a decent mop. I like the big 14″ ones I get at a local janitorial supply store–they hold up better, rinse out easier, and hey, they’re like 6″ wider than anything you’ll find at a grocery store. And yea, two buckets. Duh! To make life really easy, put them on a cotton throw rug or bath mat. Then you can just pull the buckets around, and the rug catches any drips or splashes. The rig trick works great for moving furniture, too, and prevents floor scratches.

    • Nita Ostroff

      i love the idea of the rug. thank you!

  • Nancy McBee

    When I go to a new place and it is dirty I definitely don’t enjoy cleaning someone else’s dirt, so when I move out I always clean because it isn’t fair!

  • Marta Ford

    Great advices! I’m telling that as a professional cleaner! I hope more people will see this post and take advantage of your useful advices!

    Best regards!

  • Lab Rat

    At least in California, wall paint has life of 2 to 3 years. If you rent out the place for more than that, you don’t need to clean the wall, no matter how dirty it is.

  • Schultzy beckett

    Good tips provided here as to how to clean up your apartment after you have moved on. It looks like a pretty easy job here and also not much tools are required.But a better option is to keep it clean all the way instead of waiting for moving on rather than cleaning it keeping in view the security deposit.
    schultzy @

  • Barbara

    “Eight hours of cleaning later”
    What drives me insane is when I quote a potential client for a 1 bed/1 bath
    a mere $75 for a one-time deep clean or $100 move out clean like this they look somewhere else. I am seriously under-charging! Especially with an oven/fridge cleaning.
    I am a DIY Queen and make almost all my own products but they still cost money, plus the traveling and equipment, AND, the time it takes to get it “sparkly”.
    What should our dear “Manly” have charged as a professional for hours of hard labor?

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