It’s that time of year when pretty much everyone is entertaining. And yeah, we all know how to run the vacuum and wield a toilet brush (or hire someone else to do it, if you’re lucky), but as the resident Cool Mom Picks neat freak, I’ve got a few pre-holiday party cleaning tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the years to help you get the place in even better shape.

Don’t worry — they’re simple, and they’ll actually make your job easier. [Editor’s note: We like that because uh, not all of us around here are neat freaks who actually enjoy anything involving vacuums or the phrase “cleaning your vents.” That’s why we love Julie!]




1. Focus your cleaning energies on where your guests will actually be

11 tips for cleaning your house for a holiday party | photo: designsponge

Image: Design*Sponge

Growing up, my aunt had a print on her wall that said No matter where I serve my guests, it seems they like my kitchen best. It’s still the truth. Everybody likes to hang out in the kitchen around the food. So with your limited time, don’t worry about the condition of your bedroom closet or the kids’ bathroom upstairs. Yes, we’d all like every room to be design magazine ready, but if you have to focus your energies,  stick with the kitchen–how great is this photo from Design Sponge? That’s what a counter looks like without mail, appliances, and kid crafts on it, for those of us who rarely get that far.

Also focus on the front entranceway (first impressions!), the bathroom guests will be using, the family room or living room–basically wherever you plan on gathering with your guests. Closets: Later!

2. Clean in the morning, entertain in the evening

Ever take a look at all the dust motes lit up by the bright morning sun and think to yourself, There’s no way I can have people here? That’s why I host parties at night. Mood lighting isn’t just easier on our complexions; it does wonders for your home too. If your house could use a new coat of paint in the living room or a good rug cleaning from all those kid spills, consider skipping brunch parties and taking advantage of the long nights of winter instead.

But no matter when you have people over, to get your place in tip-top shape, morning is still the best time to clean. And open those windows or shades! You won’t be so likely to miss a single speck of dirt if you clean in natural daylight.



3. Stage your home

How to stage your home for a holiday party | photo: Apartment Therapy

Image: Apartment Therapy


Staging your home for holiday entertaining: Coffee table books by Jamie Derringer

Image: Jamie Derringer for Eco Salon


How to display ornaments: Use an extra wide vase and pile over the top

Image: Cool Mom Picks

You’re heard of staging a home to sell it, right? While you don’t need to go to actual home-staging extremes — go ahead and leave your family photos up, for example — remove extraneous items from surfaces. The day’s mail, your handbag, the coats, a stack of kids’ artwork–tuck them all away and just leave out what looks pretty.

Put out fresh flowers or plants. Stack a couple of gorgeous hardcovers on a coffee table like above, from Jamie Derringer of Design Milk. Put a beautiful vase or a hurricane full of ornaments next to the bar, like our editor Liz did when setting holiday tables for entertaining. Because hey, it’s the holidays. You can put out a few festive touches without going overboard.


4. Clean from top to bottom

Serious clean freaks probably know this tip, but I start with what’s up high, like ceiling fans, light fixtures, and cupboards, and work my way down to the floor. That way, you won’t have to go over the same ground twice — literally. If you start with the floors, you will regret it.

Related: Our favorite natural household cleaning products

5. Dust, but not always with a duster

Smart, eco-friendly tip for house cleaning: Twist sponges are amazing

My tried-and-true tip is that the brush attachment for your vacuum can really help out. (We’re all big Dyson fans around here.) I’m also a fan of microfiber cloths for detail work. Or, if it’s been a while since you’ve dusted some areas, you may need to use a sponge (except on the lampshades!) with a gentle cleanser. I love Mrs. Meyers‘ multi-surface concentrate; it’s environmentally-friendly, it smells delicious, and it works. Likewise, Twist sponges are another smart, eco-conscious choice.

Besides the surfaces and bookshelves, you want to remember to dust blinds, shutters, lampshades, air intake vents, and baseboards. And don’t forget to dust light bulbs! Long-lasting CFL and LED bulbs are eco-friendly and last longer, but that also makes them dust magnets, you may have noticed.

Also, don’t search “feather duster” online unless you want sexy Halloween inspiration for next year. Just a non-related tip, there for you.


6. Make simple changes to avoid dust in the first place

If you’re in a home, you probably already know about changing your furnace filter quarterly. Doing that helps cut down on the amount of junk circulating through the air in your home–especially important when you have kids breathing in that air. But you can do even more by using electrostatic vent filters in your floor registers. They’re inexpensive, easy to pop in and out, and they really reduce the amount of dust that seems to collect everywhere, especially in the winter.

Plus, a big bonus for parents: vent filters help keep LEGO and other small toys from being dropped into the ductwork if your home is built that way.



7. Clean out the fridge

Tps for cleaning your house for a holiday party:  Fridge Coasters minimize clean-up later and look great

Image:  I Heart Organizing

While your guests probably won’t be rifling through your sock drawer (well, some guests), they are likely to get a look in your fridge when they pop in a bottle of white wine they’ve brought, or go searching for a fresh wedge of brie or some apple juice for the kids. Which is awesome; they’re helping with your hostess duties. So be sure to sop up spills, clear out the kids’ science experiments, and wipe down shelves and bins.

Natural options that are still effective like Mrs. Meyers or  Better Life cleaners can be a big help here, especially since you’re spraying near the food. You can also put down fridge coasters, as seen above, to make drawers pretty and minimize future clean-up.

Also, do the smell test: If you open the fridge and get a big whiff of “what the heck is that?” be sure to find the culprit–Cheese past its prime? Wilted salad mix?–and toss it.


8. Take down the artwork on the fridge. (We know that pains parents.)

Clean house tip: Take down all the artwork and magnets on the fridge. (We know it's hard!)

Image: Design*Sponge

Have you ever heard that making your bed helps keep the whole room looking cleaner? The same is true for the fridge in your kitchen. Take down all the artwork, photos, reminders, mis-matched magnets, scraps of paper and calendars. Store them for the duration of the party (if not forever). You won’t believe what a difference it makes.

The idea is not to make things look sterile; just to acknowledge there will be a whole lot of wine bottles, glasses, dessert trays and more around the kitchen, soon enough. Any clutter, no matter how sentimental, does add to the clutter.


9. Look for fingerprints. Sticky ones. Gross ones.

Our favorite natural cleaning supplies, and other tips for cleaning the house before holiday parties
Take a close look at doors and doorknobs. If you’ve got kids, there’s probably some accumulated grime and sticky food remnants. That Twist sponge and those Mrs. Meyers or Better Life cleaners will come in handy here too. For glass — like storm doors, French doors, or sliding glass doors — I swear by a natural combination of vinegar and water, applied with a microfiber cloth or even a newspaper. (Perfect for streak-free cleaning.) Plus that kind of cleaning helps cut down on cold and flu germs that are rampant this season.

Another really fantastic natural cleaning option is from Branch Basics. It’s wildly inexpensive, and our tough critic Delilah calls it “truly extraordinary,” which makes us all sit up and take notice.

This is one of those recurring chores that can easily be outsourced to the guilty, pre-adolescent parties, by the way. Designate one day per week for doors and doorknobs, and rotate the responsibility among your older kids. When you’re using natural cleansers you can feel pretty good about putting them to work.


10. Clean the air, too.

Simmer Pot Recipe ideas via Apartment Therapy to make the house smell delicious

photo: Apartment Therapy

Open a window (even if it’s cold). Let in some fresh air. If you have pets, be extra sure to do this–you may not smell your best friends, but everyone else will. And if  you want to be sure your home smells delicious, try simmering orange peels and whole cloves on the stove for a few hours which is my own favorite scent–I did it last year in my own home to great effect. Apartment Therapy has a helpful post on 5 simmer pot recipes you can make and there are dozens more ideas in comments there. Great resource.

For a shortcut, you can of course light a candle or spritz with a natural air freshener. A lot of our favorite brands come out with special edition holiday scents this time of year. That wonderful Juniper Laurel Mint scent from Caldrea smells like eucalyptus, pine, and cyprus–it’s great as a countertop spray, or try the yummy candle.


11. Shut the front door. Then open it and look around. Then make it pretty.



11 tips for cleaning your house for a holiday party: Don't forget the front door!

Image: Setting for Four

Gorgeous front door holiday wreath

Image: Winter Woods Wreath via Apartment Therapy

rainbow pine cone garland kids' craft | say yes blog

Image: rainbow dipped pine cone garland from Liz Stanley

One last place that we often forget to get things looking awesome is the exterior of our homes. Set aside a little time to rake the leaves and de-ice the driveway–or better, put the kids to work. (Whoo, free labor!) Consider hanging something pretty and welcoming on the front door whether it’s a pretty wreath, a pair of bells, some mistletoe, or just a fun holiday craft from your kids like paint-dipped pinecone garlands or mini wrapped yarn wreaths.

Another simple idea: Paper snowflakes your kids cut out themselves–we even have 8 impressive patterns you can use if you want to get more fancy.

If you’re an apartment dweller, I know you can’t necessarily control your common areas. But you can hang something pretty and welcoming on the front door or even put a little side table out front filled with ornaments or potpourri.  And one nice way to welcome guests is to set up a rolling coat rack right outside your door (if your neighbors are cool with that) to keep the mess of coats nicely hung, while out of your bedroom and overstuffed closet. That way everything inside looks amazing–which is most important anyway.

Top image: kaiton via Compfight cc