“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.
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.
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.