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How to Clean Your Apartment Before Moving Out

Lilly Milman

By Lilly Milman

Jun 23, 2023


When you decide to move out of your apartment and sign a lease for a new place, it’s easy to fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality about your current unit. But if you’re thinking “who cares?” about the mess in your soon-to-be former apartment, the answer is your landlord. And if you care about getting your security deposit back, it’s in your best interest to care, too. 

That’s right — in some states, your landlord can take a cleaning fee out of your security deposit when you move out. In others, like Massachusetts, this is illegal. Check your state laws and rental agreement to figure out exactly what you need to do in order to get your deposit back. 

Many landlords require renters to leave their apartments in the same exact state as when they moved in as well — so if you painted or hung pictures on the wall, your to-do list may extend beyond cleaning.

In this article, we cover how to clean your apartment from top to bottom in our Room-by-Room Guide to ensure you get your full security deposit back. Plus, we provide sone natural DIY cleaning hacks that can replace many standard cleaning supplies like bleach. If you’re just moving into a new apartment and want to do a deep clean as well, read on — because these apartment move-out cleaning tips will also apply when you’re moving in. 

For a quick overview, scroll down to our interactive Cleaning Checklist to make sure you covered every room.

How clean does my apartment need to be when I move out?

The state that your apartment needs to be in at move out depends on your state laws, lease agreement, and landlord. In some cases (likelier in bigger buildings run by property management companies), a member of the maintenance or building team may walk through your apartment with a checklist as part of a move-out inspection. If you weren’t offered this checklist in advance of your move out, ask your building management if you’d be able to see it. In other cases, your landlord may be less strict about everything looking exactly as it did when you moved in.

As mentioned above, in some states, you can be charged a fee if the state of your apartment does not meet the standards set by your landlord or property management company when you move out.

While it’s always courteous to clean your apartment before you move out (Remember: Your current landlord is who you will be asking for a reference from when applying to future apartments!), check your lease terms and state laws before moving out if you are worried about your security deposit. 

When should I start cleaning my apartment? 

If you are planning to do an intense deep clean, you can start cleaning your apartment a couple of weeks before moving out. Typically, it’s best to clean a room that has no furniture in it — but you can start tasks like removing picture frames and patching up holes before you move your furniture out. You can also focus on decluttering and cleaning less-used areas of your place, like some cabinets or closets before removing furniture. At the minimum, you should start cleaning two to three days before moving out to make sure you’ll have enough time to get everything done. 

If you are hiring a professional cleaning service to deep clean your apartment for you, you will want to start calling companies and getting quotes a few weeks before move out as well.

A Room-by-Room Guide to Cleaning Your Apartment

Each room of your apartment will have different cleaning requirements — and cleaning on a room-by-room basis will allow you to gradually get your apartment back to the state it was in before you got there rather than packing it all into one or two days.

How to Clean Your Apartment Before Moving Out

Kitchen

Clean the inside and outside of the refrigerator. About a week or two before you move out, it’s likely that you will have stopped buying as many perishable groceries and that your fridge will have less clutter inside. This is a perfect time to clean and disinfect it.

  • Start by removing all items (even if only temporarily); throw out anything that’s expired, that you likely won’t eat, or that you won’t be taking with you to your next apartment.
  • Remove all shelves and drawers and wash them in your sink with warm water and dish soap. Dry them with a dish towel or leave them on a drying rack.
  • Take a disinfecting wipe or a paper towel and disinfectant spray and wipe down the inside of your fridge before putting any of the drawers or shelves back in. Make sure to get out any stains or food residue.
  • Replace the shelves and drawers where you found them.
  • If your fridge still has a strange smell from old or rotten food by the time you’re done, place an open container or uncovered bowl of baking soda on one of the shelves until you move out.
  • Replace any perishable food that you will be keeping, taking care that nothing spills or has any residue that will undo the hard work you did cleaning.
  • Wipe down the outside of the fridge with a disinfecting wipe or a paper towel and disinfectant spray. If you have a stainless-steel fridge, use a cleaner made for stainless-steel appliances.

Clean the stove. If you cook on the stove often and didn’t clean it weekly, there’s likely to be some grease buildup around your burners. Once you clean your stove, try to refrain from cooking food with oil on it to avoid any more mess — or make sure to wipe it down after once it cools down.

  • If you have a gas stove, remove the burner covers or burner grates. Wash them in the sink with warm water, a sponge, and dish soap to remove all the grease buildup. You may need to use steel wool if it is not coming off with a sponge. Dry them with a dish towel or leave them on a drying rack while you clean the rest of your stove. Then, you can wipe down the stove top with either a cloth and spray designed for gas stoves or a DIY dish soap and water solution. If grime is not coming out, try using a sponge with an abrasive pad. Replace dry grates or burner covers.
  • If you have an electric stove, unplug it and make sure it is cool before starting to clean. You likely won’t need to clean the coils themselves — as they tend to burn off stuck-on food. If necessary, you can wipe them down with a damp cloth. The coils should never be submerged in water. Then, clean the stove top with either a cloth and spray designed for electric stoves or a dish soap and water solution. If grime is not coming out, try using a sponge with an abrasive pad. Replace coils.
  • If you have a glass stove, make sure it is turned off and cool before you start cleaning.
  • Make sure to clean around the outside of the stove as well, using a soapy water solution and sponge or washcloth.
  • If you have a range hood above your stove for ventilation, clean off grease and grime with warm, soapy water and a sponge as well.

Clean the inside and outside of the cabinets. This task may have to wait until a few days before your move in date, as you will likely be using items in your cabinets until then. However, once you pack up most of what is in your cabinets — like pots and pans, nonperishables, spices, etc. — you can start cleaning the inside and outside of them.

  • Remove all items left in the cabinets, and decide what you are going to keep and what you are going to throw away. Remember to check the expiration dates on all of your spices.
  • Now it’s time to wipe down the cabinets. If your cabinets are made of wood, you’ll want to use a gentle cleaner on them. Mix equal parts vinegar and warm water in a spray bottle, and use that solution along with a microfiber cloth to wipe down the inside and outside of all cabinets.

Clean the kitchen sink. You’ll want to clean your kitchen sink pretty close to your move-out date, since you’ll most likely be continuously using it until then.

  • Of course, start by ridding it of any dishes — whether that means transferring them to a dishwasher or washing them by hand.
  • Measure out one part baking soda and two parts white vinegar – keeping the two separate. Pour the baking soda down the drain, then slowly pour in the vinegar. Wait about 15 minutes, then pour boiling water down the drain.
  • To clean the interior of the sink, sprinkle baking soda in the sink, and soap up a sponge with dish soap and warm water. Scrub down the sink until it is clean, then rinse. Use the same solution to clean the faucet.

Clean the floor and walls. Once you’ve finished cleaning the rest of the kitchen, it’s finally time to tackle the floor and the walls. I know what you’re thinking — “The walls?” Yes, you’ll likely need to clean them — especially around the stove, where cooking oil or grease may have splattered on them.

  • To wash the walls, start by mixing together equal parts warm water and dish soap. Before you start using it to clean the walls, you may want to lay some towels down on the floor. Soak a washcloth in the solution, and wring it out so that it is not dripping. Gently clean the wall, taking care to adding as little moisture as possible, as this can damage the paint or wallpaper. Once you’ve gotten the stains out, dry the areas you cleaned with a towel. You can use a microfiber cloth, paper towel, or dish rag and a small amount of all-purpose cleaning spray to wipe down light switches and doorknobs.
  • To clean the floor, start by sweeping up the kitchen with a broom or by vacuuming. Then, make a cleaning solution that you will use to mop. Either combine warm water with vinegar or add a few tablespoons of dish soap into a gallon of warm water (unless your kitchen has laminate flooring, which can be distorted by dish soap and/or too much moisture). Then, use this solution to mop the floors. You can use a microfiber cloth to wipe baseboards.

Wipe down countertops. You’ll want to do this right before you leave if you plan on using your kitchen again before your move-out date. If your countertops need a deep clean, plan to do this in the week leading up to your move along with the rest of your cleaning. If not, you can wipe them down the day before you move with an all-purpose cleaning spray or a water-vinegar solution.

How to Clean Your Apartment Before Moving Out

Bathroom

Clean out the medicine cabinet. The day before your move-out date, you’ll want to start packing up all of the non-necessary items from your bathroom. Go through your medicine cabinet and pack up everything that you won’t need until you’re in your new place.

  • Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle to make a cleaning solution. Spray the solution onto a microfiber towel, and use this to clean the mirror on your medicine cabinet if it has one. You can also use this method to clean the inside of your medicine cabinet, the rest of the mirrors in the bathroom, and any counter space. The use of a microfiber cloth is necessary for ensuring a streak-free clean of your mirror.

Clean the toilet. It’s not appealing, but it’s necessary. The week before you move out, you’ll need to clean the inside and outside of the toilet. We’ll help you make this process as quick and painless as possible.

  • Put on some gloves and start with the outside of the toilet, spraying it down with a disinfectant spray or solution. You’ll also want to get the inside and outside of the lid, as well as the top and bottom of the toilet seat. Wipe it down with a rag or paper towel.
  • Using either toilet bowl cleaner or a sprinkle of some baking soda, wipe down the inside of the toilet bowl as well with a toilet brush until it’s clean.

Clean the bathtub/shower. One of the more laborious parts of getting your bathroom ready for your move-out date is deep-cleaning your bathtub and/or shower. As you’ll likely be using the shower until you move out, save this task for the end of your move-out cleaning regimen.

  • Remove anything that’s in or around the shower/bathtub, like soap or shampoo bottles, and remove any hardware that you added, like shower racks. Pack away anything you won’t need immediately.
  • Follow the drain-cleaning instructions given for the kitchen sink to unclog the drain in your shower or tub.
  • Use a specialized bathroom cleaning spray or an all-purpose cleaning spray to spray down your tub or shower, and then scrub any areas with a buildup of soap scum or gunk with a small cleaning brush, abrasive pad, or small cleaning brush. Wash everything away with hot water. Wipe down the shower or tub, as well as any surrounding tile, with a rag.

Clean the bathroom sink. Follow the above instructions for cleaning the kitchen sink.

Clean the walls. If your bathroom walls are made of tile, spray them with a disinfectant or water and vinegar solutions, then scrub away any soap scum. Then, wipe them down with a rag. If the walls are not made of tile, follow the above instructions for cleaning the kitchen walls.

Clean the floors. Start by removing any bathmats or towels from the floor and throwing them in the washing machine. Follow the above instructions for cleaning the kitchen floor. If your grout has stubborn stains, use a toothbrush to scrub them away.

How to Clean Your Apartment Before Moving Out

Common Spaces and Bedrooms

Remove all furniture. Your living room will be difficult to deep clean if there is still bulky furniture in place that will be difficult to clean around.

Dust ceiling fans and blinds on windows. Use a microfiber cloth to remove excess dust from any surfaces like ceiling fans, window sills and blinds, or built-in shelving that you will be leaving behind when you move out. Use a duster to remove any cobwebs and to clean hard-to-reach places, like the tops of light fixtures.

Clean walls. Start by removing any wall art or added hardware, like wall sconces or hooks. Ask your landlord if they would like you to fill any holes in the wall from nails. If they say yes, fill them with drywall spackle, which you can find at most hardware stores. Put a small amount on the tip of your finger, and spread it over the holes, then smooth it out with a putty knife or another, similar tool that you can use to scrape off excess.

Clean the floors. Follow the instructions for cleaning the floor of your kitchen, unless you have wood floors or carpet. For wood floors, you will want to use a special wood cleaner and hardwood mop that will protect them while you are cleaning. Ask your landlord about carpet cleaning, if applicable. They will most likely be okay with vacuuming, and will handle calling a professional carpet cleaning company on their own. This is the last thing you’ll want to do during your cleaning process, to avoid getting the floors dirty again after you already cleaned them once.

Move-Out Cleaning Checklist

There’s a lot to keep in mind when you’re getting ready to move out of your apartment. We created an interactive cleaning checklist that will make clean up easy, and help you get your security deposit back.

Kitchen

  • Throw out all expired food, including spices.
  • Pack up any nonperishables that you will be taking with you to your next apartment.
  • Clean inside and outside of refrigerator, including shelves and drawers.
  • Clean stove and range hood (if applicable).
  • Clean inside of kitchen sink and clean drain using baking soda and vinegar.
  • Wipe down all appliances.
  • Gently wash grease/grime off walls, especially near stove.
  • Vacuum and mop floor.

Bathroom

  • Pack all non-necessities.
  • Clean out medicine cabinet, and wipe down inside and outside of it.
  • Clean inside and outside of toilet.
  • Scrub down bathtub/shower and surrounding area.
  • Clean the sink and unclog using baking soda and vinegar.
  • Gently wash and dry walls.
  • Wash all bathmats and towels.
  • Vacuum and mop floor.

Common spaces and bedrooms

  • Remove/pack all furniture, rugs, curtains, etc.
  • Dust all surfaces, including top of ceiling fans, window blinds, and any built-in shelving.
  • Remove all hanging art/nails/hardware and patch holes with drywall spackle.
  • Gently wash walls if necessary.
  • Vacuum and mop floors (if not carpeted).

The Bottom Line

While you are only legally allowed to be charged by your landlord for cleaning fees in some states, deep cleaning your apartment before you move out is a best practice. If you want to not only ensure that you get your security deposit back, but also that your landlord will provide a good reference in the future, follow this guide to make your old apartment spotless before you move into your new home.

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