How to Make a House Seem Clean in 5 Minutes (Without Actually Cleaning Much)

This post is for a certain kind of homeowner. A homeowner that likes a clean home, sure, a homeowner that maintains their house and mows the grass and gives the whole home a nice cleaning once a week or so, but, you know, doesn’t necessarily keep it that way all the time, and has company coming over at short notice.

This is not — we repeat: not — advice for actually maintaining a clean home. This is advice for making it look like your home is clean, when faced with an emergency situation, such as the in-laws coming by on short notice.

Pick Up Clutter

This is obvious, and we won’t spend much time on it, but clearly the first thing you need to do is put out of site anything that doesn’t belong on the floor, the coffee table, the couch, etc. A trash bag works great for this. Just go through and toss any clutter you see into a trash bag, and hide that thing in a closet until the emergency is over. Then you can go put the stuff where it actually belongs.

Light a Candle/Spray some Pine Sol

The smell of your home goes a long way in determining whether visitors perceive it as clean or not. So light a scented candle or two, and then wet a rag with your most pungent cleaning product. We recommend Pine Sol, but the world is your oyster here. Hit some of the major surfaces in your place with this cleaner — countertops, a couple key spots on your tile floor, your bathroom sink, etc. While you’re at it, if you spot some dirt or grime, scrub it off, but remember: Time is of the essence, and this is about perception, not reality.

Create some Vacuum Lines in the Carpet

If you have carpeting in a prominent area, whip out your vacuum cleaner and run it over the carpet just long enough to create those pleasing track marks in it. If you actually bother to turn the vacuum on (which we recommend), you’ll wind up doing some actual cleaning, here, which is a bonus. Just don’t spend too much time on it. You should be working very quickly.

Dust Coffee Table

Odds are, if somebody is stopping by on short notice, they aren’t planning on staying long. That means they’re probably going to spend most of their time in your living room, near a coffee table. Hit that with some furniture polish (assuming it has a wooden top) or some glass cleaner (if it’s glass). Once it’s clean, place a candle on the coffee table for an even more convincing look.

Close Interior Doors

In your rush to create the illusion of a clean home, you hopefully have ignored any room that is not part of the main living area, because it would be a waste of time to pick up a spare bedroom when somebody is only staying long enough for a cup of coffee. Close the doors to the bedrooms and any cluttered closets, and be sure your guests know exactly which door leads to the bathroom, so they don’t go stumbling into your clutter.

By now, your five minutes is probably up, but with the smell of limony cleaner and warm candles in the air, some nice track marks on your carpet, and a freshly glossed coffee table, your guests are sure to wonder how you manage to keep your home so clean at all times. Look at you: On top if it, organized, unstoppable. That’s what they’ll say.

And as soon as they leave, clean it for real.