Landlording & Rental Properties

Cleaning Your Rental: A Checklist

Expertise: Real Estate Investing Basics, Real Estate News & Commentary, Personal Development, Flipping Houses, Landlording & Rental Properties, Personal Finance
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Cleaning Your Rental: A Checklist

Charlie Munger is perhaps the most brilliant investing mind alive. If his name doesn’t immediately inspire awe, check out his Wikipedia page to learn more. Let’s just say I think he’s awesome in every conceivable way.

He believes in checklists. In fact, in a speech he gave to the University of Southern California Law School, he said

Checklist routines avoid a lot of errors. You should have all this elementary [worldly]wisdom and then you should go through a mental checklist in order to use it. There is no other procedure in the world that will work as well.”

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Look, if it’s good enough for Charlie Munger – a man who is only NOT a Billionaire because he is 94 years old and has given away most of his money – it is most certainly good enough for me. Still not convinced? That last airplane you rode in only went up in the air because the pilots checked everything off their checklist.

Have you ever packed for a trip and NOT used a checklist? First stop after you landed was the drug store for the toothbrush you forgot, wasn’t it?

Presenting a clean rental property to potential tenants projects a subtle yet strong image – I take care of and value my property, and I expect you to do the same.

So without further ado, here is my checklist for cleaning a rental property so you can show it and rent it to new tenants.

clean-rental

Bedrooms/Living Spaces

So let’s hope that you did proper screening on the tenant that just moved out, and they left the property in ‘broom-clean’ condition. This means different things to different people, but for the sake of this post, let’s assume they didn’t trash your property.

  1. Remove everything they left behind. Double check closets/closet shelves.
  2. Clean ceilings and corners. Wrap a couple of paper towels around the business end of a broom and sweep around ceilings and down the corners where the walls meet.
  3. Remove markings from walls.
    To remove pencil, simply wash walls with dish soap and water.
    Removing ink requires alcohol. Either spray or dab rubbing alcohol onto ink spot, or use hand sanitizer. Dab, do not rub, to remove the stain.
    Crayon may be removed by Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser. ***Note: The Mr. Clean Magic Eraser may discolor the paint, so test in an inconspicuous location before using.
  4. Wash walls with dish soap and warm water.
  5. Wipe lightswitch plate and door handles with cleaning wipes.
  6. Use a microfiber cloth to remove dust from the ceiling fan blades. Don’t forget the top of the blades or else your new tenant may curse you when he turns on the fan for the first time in years and is showered by dust!
  7. Use a microfiber cloth to remove dust from door, window and floor trim. Once removed, rub trim with a dryer sheet to ‘coat’ the trim and prevent dust from collecting in the future.
  8. Wash the windows. Use a side-to-side motion to clean the inside of the window, and a top-to-bottom motion to clean the outside, if possible. If any streaks remain, it is easy to tell which side of the window they are on.
  9. Vacuum the carpets, sweep the floors, mop if necessary. If the carpets are really dirty, consider renting a carpet cleaner. They are cheap to rent for the day from your local grocery store.
  10. Replace the batteries in the smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector.
  11. Replace any burned out lightbulbs.

clean-rental-property

Bathroom

  1. Turn the sink and tub/shower faucet to the hottest setting and run for one minute.
  2. Put a generous amount of toilet cleaner into toilet bowl. Let sit while you clean the drains.
  3. Pour 1/2 cup baking soda down each drain. Follow with 1/2 cup white vinegar. ***Note: This will bubble up ferociously, so do one drain first to see the reaction. This is completely normal and will help remove buildup in the sinks which can lead to clogs. Let sit 5 minutes then run hottest water again for 30 seconds to completely clear out drain.
  4. Clean toilet with toilet brush. ***Note: Ikea sells toilet brushes for $.99.
  5. Spray shower with surface cleaner.
  6. Spray mirror with glass cleaner. Wipe down immediately.
  7. Wipe down shower, paying attention to any mold or mildew that does not easily remove. If caulk is in poor condition, now is the time to redo it.
  8. Wipe down outside of toilet with cleaning wipes, making sure to get top, around edge of bowl, and along the sides.
  9. Clean faucet and sink.
  10. Wash walls with dish soap and water.
  11. Wipe lightswitch plate and door handles with cleaning wipes.
  12. Use a microfiber cloth to remove dust from door, window and floor trim. Once removed, rub trim with a dryer sheet to ‘coat’ the trim and prevent dust from collecting in the future.
  13. Sweep floor.
  14. Replace any burned out lightbulbs.

Kitchen

  1. Remove all items from cabinets/refrigerator/freezer.
  2. Vacuum cabinets.
  3. Wipe down interior/exterior of refrigerator/freezer. Make sure you clean the coils to save on repairs later.
  4. Clean/dust top of refrigerator.
  5. Wipe down cabinet fronts.
  6. Clean stovetop.
  7. Clean oven.
  8. Clean microwave. Soak a sponge and put it in the microwave on high for one minute. Wipe down sides and top of microwave.
  9. Turn the sink faucet to the hottest setting and run for one minute. Pour 1/2 cup baking soda down each drain. Follow with 1/2 cup white vinegar. Let sit 5 minutes then run hottest water again for 30 seconds to completely clear out drain.
  10. Clean faucet and sink.
  11. Clean countertops.
  12. Wash walls with dish soap and water.
  13. Use a microfiber cloth to remove dust from door, window and floor trim. Once removed, rub trim with a dryer sheet to ‘coat’ the trim and prevent dust from collecting in the future.
  14. Wipe lightswitch plate and door handles with cleaning wipes.
  15. Replace any burned out lightbulbs.
  16. Wipe down backsplash.
  17. Sweep/mop floor.
  18. Turn on all the appliances to double check that they are all in working order.

Exterior

  1. Mow lawn.
  2. Pull Weeds.
  3. Trim bushes/trees.
  4. Tidy flower beds.
  5. Sweep the walkways/porch/driveway/sidewalk.
  6. Replace any burned out lightbulbs.

Other

  1. Check non-living areas like the basement, attic and garage to make sure the tenants didn’t leave any surprises behind.
  2. Check the garage door opener.
  3. Check the sump pump.
  4. Check to make sure the furnace and air conditioner are in good working order. Replace the furnace filter.
  5. Check water spigots. If they aren’t the cold weather type and a hose has been left on all winter, these frequently break.
  6. Check the sprinkler system.
  7. Take a look at the roof, making sure shingles are in good condition.
  8. Make sure all gutters are clean and gutter extensions are in place. Water draining right next to the home is a quick recipe for a wet basement.

Once the entire property is clean, assess the condition of the walls and flooring to see if repairs are necessary. Touch-up paint is normal, and if you have the same color as you originally painted it, try covering up just the spots that need it. Sometimes the paint will blend right in and you won’t even be able to see it. (Note, this rarely happens.) If the paint spots look obvious or if there is a large area to repaint, you may have to paint the entire wall.

Now that your property is ultra clean and painted, take a video to document the condition the property is in. Start with a clear shot of that day’s newspaper to establish the date of the video, then walk through the entire home, pointing out the condition of everything you are recording. Another option is to record the day you hand the keys over to the tenant, so not only are they on the video, but you can record them acknowledging the condition of the property.

You are now ready to show it to potential tenants. By presenting a clean, well-kept property, you are projecting to your tenants that you care about your property, and you expect them to keep it in the same condition. How do you get your property ready for the next tenant?

Mindy Jensen has been buying and selling homes for almost 20 years. She buys houses, moves in, makes them beautiful, sells them, and starts the process all over again. She is a licensed real estate agent in Colorado, author of How to Sell Your Home, and the community manager for BiggerPockets.com, where she helps new and experienced investors learn the proper ways to invest in real estate to grow their wealth. Mindy is an alumnus of the School of Hard Knocks and will happily share her experiences with anyone who asks. When you can get her to stop talking about real estate, you can find her on her bike or adventuring in the beautiful mountains of Colorado.

    David Roberts from Brownstown, Michigan
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Very useful. Thanks
    Mindy Jensen BiggerPockets Community Manager from Longmont, CO
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Thanks for reading, David.
    Tristan Cortez Rental Property Investor from San Antonio, TX
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Thanks for the great info!!
    Mindy Jensen BiggerPockets Community Manager from Longmont, CO
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Thank you, Tristan.
    John Yarenis Real Estate Professional from Park Ridge, New Jersey
    Replied about 4 years ago
    This is a great piece of information.
    Mindy Jensen BiggerPockets Community Manager from Longmont, CO
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Thanks, John.
    Dawn A. Rental Property Investor from Milwaukee, WI
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Good checklist. The only things I would add: a) Not only clean the ceiling fan but if you have light fixtures, take down the glass and clean it and put back up. b) Open the windows and clean inside the sills. Those can get dirty too. It’s hard to find a good cleaning person. I’ve gone through several and can never find anyone who does a good enough job.
    Mindy Jensen BiggerPockets Community Manager from Longmont, CO
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Thanks for the tips, Dawn. I will add them into the checklist. You are right, it is so hard to find someone who will clean to your standards…
    Matthew Denney from Dallas, Texas
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Great checklist. The dryer sheet thing’s a new one to me… can’t wait to try that one.
    Mindy Jensen BiggerPockets Community Manager from Longmont, CO
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Thanks for reading, Matthew.
    Mary lou L. Investor from Livingston, California
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Adding check the dryer ventilation/hose as lint can collect there!. Lint can collect on the outside vent as well.
    Mindy Jensen BiggerPockets Community Manager from Longmont, CO
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Good catch, Mary Lou. That is especially important in a rental.
    Matt Slakey Investor from Salem, Oregon
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Great list. I made it into a spreadsheet (along with the suggestions) and put it on the fileplace: https://www.biggerpockets.com/files/user/MattS16/file/cleaning-checklist Also, I’ve heard that using dish soap on windows and mirrors keeps them from getting dusty. Whereas windex or something similar attracts dust. I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison.
    Mindy Jensen BiggerPockets Community Manager from Longmont, CO
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Awesome, Matt. Thanks!
    Dumitru Anton from Northbrook, Illinois
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Thank You, Matt
    Virginia Hedges Investor from Mount Holly, NJ
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Thanks, Matt. This makes Mindy Jensen’s great info so easy to work with.
    Pyrrha Rivers Investor from Yokosuka, Japan
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Thanks for the helpful list!
    Mindy Jensen BiggerPockets Community Manager from Longmont, CO
    Replied about 4 years ago
    You’re welcome, Pyrrha! Thanks for reading.
    Alan Mackenthun from Prior Lake, Minnesota
    Replied about 4 years ago
    This is a great list. Thanks much. I’d add to pull out the stove and refrigerator and clean behind them. These places get really disgusting and draw pests.
    Mindy Jensen BiggerPockets Community Manager from Longmont, CO
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Thanks for the suggestions, Alan.
    Gloria Almendares from Kailua, Hawaii
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Great list Mindy! I will give to my cleaning lady, but I’m sure they will skip corners. I own 10 rentals, and manage 25 other rental properties. I have not found a cleaning person that I am 100% satisfied with. I would add to the list: clean window coverings (launder curtains, clean vertical blinds or shades, etc). Also, my professional painter taught me a trick that has saved me hundreds of dollars: Use “Magic Eraser” to wipe off smudge marks from walls, floor, appliances, etc. Make sure that the magic eraser is damp (or it won’t work!). This “trick” has saved me a lot of money, because after using the “Magic Eraser”, I did not have to paint any of the walls, all the dirt came off! Of course if the walls are damaged, with nicks and holes, then they will need to be repaired, sanded and painted.
    Dax Middlebrooks from Spring, Texas
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Mindy, Great article. Thanks for sharing. I use a checklist for packing. I traveled a lot for business in the past. I was always annoyed by that person who needed to detour our party in order to pick up something at a drugstore. For anyone who still isn’t convinced on the power of spreadsheets, you can check out the Checklist Manifesto. It shows how checklists save lives, time, and money everyday in many facets of life. Dax
    Jeff B. Real Estate Investor from Lake Worth, Florida
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Great list, I would add to document with pictures, video prior to cleaning any items that are Not normal wear and tear. Then deduct the additional cleaning costs from security deposit. Additionally make sure your lease discusses cleaning the unit upon vacancy and that any items beyond normal wear and tear will be deducted from the security deposit. If tenant is unsure of what normal wear and tear is to contact landlord for explanation. Additionally the landlord should state cleaning the carpet and leaving unit in condition it was originally accepted and documented in on the Move-In checklist is expected. I do Not run a Non-Profit so any additional cleaning expense should be billed to the appropriate party.
    Corinne Shea
    Replied about 4 years ago
    That’s a great article!~ I am going to use it for my tenants as a reminder of what broom clean is and for my maintenance crew for a check list.
    Ben Staples Investor from Malden, MA
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    This is awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this out.
    Karl B. Rental Property Investor from Los Angeles, CA
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Great article. I also suggest using Mr. Clean Magic Erasers – they’re pretty great. I don’t buy the generic ones – although some are good I’ve had others fall apart right away. But the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is great for scuffs. I especially use them in hallways where scuffs are more prevalent. And having door mats outside every apartment is nice as well. They sometimes sell suitable ones at the Dollar Tree (they weren’t chintzy, which was awesome).
    Annie Pitcher Investor
    Replied about 2 years ago
    One tip for upper cabinets. Kitchena tend to have build up of grease. Get a very hot cloth dont wring out all the water. Wipe over the top. Then sprinkle baking soda. Wipe with hot wet cloth. It comes off so fast. No scrubbing.
    Anthony Wilks
    Replied over 1 year ago
    When we moved out of our duplex to move into our purchased duplex, after everything was out of the place, the two of us spent 6 hours cleaning, top to bottom. 6 hours, and we are very clean people. The landlords appreciated it, and I will appreciate it if my tenants do the same. Top…to….bottom…