Moving out soon? Cleaning your old place may be the last thing on your mind, but it should be as much a priority as anything else on your apartment moving checklist — especially if you’re expecting (or hoping) to get your security deposit back. When I’ve got a lot to juggle, I find it especially helpful to make a list of everything that needs to get done, one-by-one. Creating a move-out cleaning checklist — and getting to cross it off as I go — is one of the best ways to get quick hits of satisfaction and accomplishment during this tedious moving task.
Having done the dirty work myself more times than I care to count, I’m ready to pass on the nitty-gritty details for what you need to clean, as well as where, how, and why. Armed with this handy rental move-out cleaning checklist, you’ll have the best chance of not only getting your security deposit back but also avoiding getting slapped with surprise fees.
I’ll also answer the most common questions, like whether it’s worth hiring someone and how much you might expect to pay for a professional move-out cleaning. By the end of this blog, you’ll have the know-how to get your apartment in sparkling move-out condition, so you can move on to what you’re really looking forward to — having fun getting settled into your new place.
Your Essential Move-Out Cleaning Checklist: The Top 11 Things To Do in Every Room Before You Move
Getting an apartment, duplex, townhome, or house back to the condition it was in (or better!) when you rented it is part of a standard lease agreement. Just as you wanted to do an initial walk-through of the home to make sure everything was up to par when you moved in, your landlord will want to do a final walk-through when you leave to make sure the home is still in great shape for the next tenant. With that in mind, here are 11 steps to take before moving out that will make your rental look spic and span. You don’t have to follow them in any specific order, though we recommend working from top to bottom — ceilings to floors — to avoid having to clean up more than once.
1. Remove all nails from the walls and patch holes.
Decorating your walls is one way to make a space your own, and you’re taking all those wall decorations with you to the new digs, right? So what does that leave behind? Damage to the walls. The same goes for any extra fixtures you used to jazz the place up — think towel hooks, hat racks, clocks, furniture anchors, shower caddies, etc. And remember when it took you a few tries with the drill to get those holes just right for the TV mount? Yeah, they’ll be pretty obvious when you take it down. Case in point: You’ll need to fill in all those holes, repair any damage to the sheetrock or other wall surfaces, and then touch up the paint.
2. Repaint, if needed.
Most rentals use standard, neutral paint colors in their units, so if you’ve changed the paint colors to suit your color preferences a little more, it’s totally understandable. However, now’s the time to bring those walls back to their former glory for the next tenants. This is a requirement in most leases in order to get your deposit back, since non-neutral paint colors could affect the appeal (read: rentability) of the home. Now, if your landlord says it’s okay to keep the custom colors, by all means, keep it colorful — just get that approval in writing to avoid any miscommunication.
Pro Tip: If you can’t figure out the original paint color after patching, take a sample to a paint store and have them mix up a small batch of a custom match.
3. Wipe down all doors and door frames.
Doors are household items that often get neglected in routine cleanings. But simply wiping down the doors and their frames has a big impact on the sparkle factor for your walk-through. And we’re not just talking about doors to rooms. This goes for kitchen, bathroom, and other permanent fixture cabinet doors, as well. You may not even notice how grimy they are until you see how clean they get!
4. Dust the ceiling fans.
If you’re like me, you avoid dusting ceiling fans as much as possible during your normal cleaning routine, but it’s a must-check area to clean before you move out. To make it an easy task, simply attach your duster (temporary tape will do) to something with a long handle, like a broom. Bonus points if your duster is bendable! That way, you don’t have to hunt down a ladder just to reach the blades.
(Source: Khaligo via Pixabay)
5. Clean windows and mirrors.
It’s such a small detail, but spotless windows and mirrors give a totally new vibe to any place. Don’t forget to dust any blinds and clean the sills first, and use newspaper to get a streak-free finish.
6. Clean out all the cupboards and cabinets.
Empty every single cupboard and cabinet in the kitchen, bathrooms, laundry room, and closets. Remove any crumbs or gunk and then wipe them down. Don’t forget to remove any pest bait, sticky traps, or air fresheners, as well.
Pro Tip: If you have cabinet liners that have seen better days, go ahead and trash them while you’re purging items. The cabinets will look cleaner afterward, and the next tenant will likely appreciate the fresh start.
7. Deep clean any sinks, tubs, showers — and toilets.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. This may be a no-brainer, but you should certainly deep clean the showers and tubs, removing as much muck in the grout and drains as possible and scrub down the sinks, including the faucets, until they shine. Toilet bowls should be scrubbed, as well, lids lifted and cleaned, and the outside wiped down.
8. Make your appliances look like new.
Well, if you can, that is. This is where you’ll need to really get that elbow grease working — or hire someone else to. It’s no secret that appliances can get a bit grimey over time. Make sure you remove EVERYTHING from the refrigerator. And you’ll need to put in the effort to make your stove, oven, microwave, refrigerator, dishwasher, and anything else look like you’ve kept them clean the whole time. (Shhhh! We won’t tell!)
9. Dust and clean baseboards and trim.
Run a wet rag or duster along all the baseboards and trim. You’d be surprised how neglected these areas can get — and what a difference a little cleaning can make for the final look. And, don’t worry. I’m not talking hands and knees, Cinderella-style scrubbing on those baseboards. Simply take a flexible dust mop, and bend it up on one side. Bam! Now you can clean your baseboards without breaking your back.
Pro Tip: Want to do double duty? Make your place smell fabulous while you’re cleaning by using a dryer sheet as a duster along your baseboards and trim. The best part? The dryer sheet will help to keep future dust at bay!
10. Sweep, vacuum, and mop floors.Most cleaning checklists might tell you to leave your floors in “broom clean” condition, which basically means you just sweep and that’s it. I rarely find that this is enough, though. It’s best to thoroughly vacuum all carpets and mop up any tile, hardwood, or other floors with a hard surface. If you have a furry friend, be sure to remove all the fur that’s probably accumulated, especially in the corners and under the furniture that’s no longer there. Look for any “accidents” on the carpet and spot-clean to remove the evidence — if not clean the carpet in its entirety.
11. Take out the trash.
Don’t forget to dispose of all your trash. You’d be surprised at how many people just leave that last bag sitting in the middle of a room. Don’t be that person.
Pro Tip: Take photos of your apartment after it’s cleaned, preferably during the walk-through with your landlord. This will create a good record of the move-out condition that can be referenced in case there are any issues when it comes time to get your deposit back.
Apartment Move-Out Cleaning Q&A
You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Read on to find out whether it’s worth hiring someone else to do the dirty work, what that might cost, and what you can expect them to take care of.
Q: Should you clean before or after moving?
A: Both! This is kind of a trick question because most places will require you to do some type of move-out cleaning in your old home or apartment after you’ve moved out, and we always recommend cleaning your new home before you move in. Just remember: There’s no better time to clean a place than when it’s empty.
Q: Should you hire a cleaning company to do your move-out clean or do it yourself?
A: The answer really depends on your budget, schedule, stress level, and degree of disdain for cleaning. Hiring someone to do the work can be helpful, especially if you’re on a tight timeline, and it can be worth its weight in gold at the end of a tiring move. But if you don’t choose a reputable company, you might find yourself cleaning up whatever they missed.
Pro Tip: Hire a cleaning service with the money you saved on hiring hourly moving help or by using any of the other money-saving tips on the PODS Blog — like scoring free moving boxes!
Q: What’s included in a move-out clean?
A: All companies are different, but at the very least, a move-out clean should include wiping down cabinets, deep cleaning appliances and bathrooms, wiping down windows, baseboards and doors, and doing a decent vacuuming and mopping job on the floors. When vetting a cleaning company, ask for a list of everything they include and the prices for extras. (For example, you’ll save money by removing all items from the refrigerator because cleaning the fridge usually doesn’t cover hauling out all that food.)
Q: How much should a move-out cleaning cost?
A:The truth is the cost of hiring a move-out cleaner varies greatly depending on location, size of the rental, and level of work involved. That said, you can typically count on a median hourly rate of about $50-$75. According to the service booking site Angi, the average cost of a move-out cleaning service in 2023 is around $360.
Here’s a look at ballpark prices for move-out cleaning services, depending on the size of your home, not including extras. Keep in mind that services will often quote higher average prices for houses over apartments. Homes between 1,000-1,500 square feet will have an average cost between $120-$260, while homes with 1,5000 to 2,000 square feet can quote up to $300. Larger homes between 2,000 to 3,500 square feet can set you back up to $420.
Q: What types of cleaning services involve extra charges?
A: You know all that stuff you didn’t want to haul out of the garage? Or the mold that you let fester in the shower grout for months? Or how about the multiple stains left on the carpet from all your attempted Pinterest craft projects? If you want a company to take care of those things, it will cost you extra. According to HomeAdvisor, additional services — like junk removal, tile or grout cleaning, and carpet cleaning — add an average of $150 to $390 to the total cost of a move-out cleaning.
Q: How long does a move-out cleaning take?
A: When moving out, cleaning times can vary. They’re not just based on the size of your home or on how many people are cleaning; they’re also based on how much actually needs to be cleaned (that is, how dirty the place is to begin with). Similarly, if you’re hiring a company to do the cleaning, a reputable company will likely take longer than one with a not-so-fabulous reputation, since they’re likely to be more detailed. You can always do some cleaning yourself, of course, to shave off billable time needed by the pros.
Q: How can I do a move-out clean fast?
A: If you have a tight turnaround between leases, you can use a PODS portable storage container to move and store your belongings to buy extra time or to clean room-by-room as you pack. Get your free PODS moving quote online now or call for a customized long-distance moving quote at (855) 706-4758.
Q: How clean does my apartment need to be when I move out?
A: Check your lease and ask your landlord for any specific cleaning checklists they may use when they inspect the apartment during the walk-through, just to make sure all your bases are covered. Barring that info, it’s a good rule of thumb to bring it up to the condition it was in when you moved in or as clean as you would like to find it if you were moving in, whichever is higher.
Whether you hire a move-out cleaning service or do it yourself, following this checklist is sure to get your apartment into prime move-out condition. Remember a job well done won’t guarantee a 100% refund (a lot of things factor into how much of your security deposit you’ll get back), but it can help grease the wheels with your landlord. The better job you do on your move-out cleaning means less work and money for them — and more for you.
Alex Keight is a frequent contributor to the PODS Blog who has moved 20+ times because she loves to experience new places.