21 Easy Party Cleanup Tips + Post-Party Cleaning Checklist
The best part of hosting parties is spending time with family and friends in a festive, fun environment.
The worst part is the inevitable post-party cleaning that every host dreads.
One of the secrets that frequent party hosts quickly learn is that post-party cleanup starts during your party prep. In fact, what you do before the party starts is the key to easy party cleanup once your guests disperse.
So, before your next big soiree, follow this after-party cleaning guide to make cleaning up as easy and fast as possible. As an added bonus, we have included a post-party cleaning checklist to help you make sure you cover the most important bases before you collapse on the sofa with a well-deserved, post-party nightcap.
1. Corral your guests:
While you do not want your guests to feel like they are being herded into a particular corner of your yard, you do want to control traffic and hangout spaces as much as possible. Encouraging your guests to stay in your designated party areas gives you fewer spaces to clean after the party.
If you are partying inside, close the doors to off-limit rooms, decorate the party spaces with themed décor, put seating areas in designated spaces, and set up your food and drink tables where you want your guests to mingle.
For outdoor parties, use lighting to brighten the areas where you want guests to gather and to keep off-limit areas in the shadows. Few guests want to hang out in the dark, so most will stay in the well-lit areas you designate. Be sure to set up seating, music, food and drinks in the outdoor entertaining area (or areas) where you want your guests to gather.
2. Use your outdoor entertaining areas:
It is almost always easier to cleanup after an outdoor party than an indoor one, so use your next party as an excuse to show off that new patio furniture or gazebo by keeping the party mostly outdoors.
By encouraging your guests to spend time outdoors, you will have fewer worries about wine spills on your living room rug, sticky fingers on your windows, or kids eating and drinking on your sofa.
Some outdoor spills don’t even need to be cleaned up, so entertaining outdoors is definitely your best option.
If you are having trouble keeping your guests outside at evening soirees, start a fire in your fire pit or patio fireplace. That is sure to attract them.
3. Empty your dishwasher before the party:
If you are using your own dishes or glasses for preparing food or serving your guests, make sure your dishwasher is empty before the party begins. This allows you to pop dishes and glasses into the dishwasher as you go, rather than allowing them to gather on the counter to be dealt with later.
4. Rent table linens, dishes, glasses and utensils:
Renting linens and tableware is more affordable than you might think, and it is the ideal choice for any host interested in easy party cleanup. Rented napkins, tablecloths, eating utensils, dishes, glasses and the like can all be taken back to the rental company dirty. This means that you may not have to wash a single dish or do even one load of laundry as part of your post-party cleanup.
5. Use disposable linens, serving ware and dining ware:
Another option is to use single-use dishes, tablecloths, napkins, cups and utensils. Since you can purchase disposable party supplies at your local dollar store, this is an affordable option that makes for easy party cleanup. Of course, it can also mean sending a lot of waste to the landfill, so this option is not for everyone.
If your main objective is to make your post-party cleaning as simple as possible and the environmental impact of your parties does not keep you awake at night, then this might be the way to go. If you consider yourself pretty eco friendly, you are better off using tip #4 and renting dishes and linens.
There is a pretty big benefit of using disposable party supplies: If you use all disposable items, you can just gather up the tablecloths with everything on it and throw the whole thing in a trash bag. This means that each table will only take about 15 seconds to clean. That can be pretty tempting for folks who do not enjoy cleaning after parties.
There is a compromise that might work for you if the thought of sending your party supplies to the landfill makes you cringe: compostable and biodegradable party supplies. Choosing plates and utensils that can be tossed into your compost bin after the party is an eco-friendlier option, but it does require a bit more work. Most folks are not going to want cake frosting or melted cheese in their compost bins, which means you may need to scrape off the plates before you can compost them.
It should also be noted that many of the biodegradable options take longer to break down than other items in your compost pile and are better off sent to a commercial composting facility. In fact, many are specifically intended to be sent to a commercial facility and are not recommended for backyard composting. So you may want to make sure you have a commercial compost facility nearby so you know where to take your party supplies after the party.
6. Give away your centerpieces:
If you are hosting the type of party that includes centerpieces on the tables, create (or order) decorations with which you can part at the end of the event. Giving away your centerpieces – and other décor, if appropriate – allows your guests to take home a souvenir from the event and gives you fewer things to pick up and figure out what to do with after the party.
7. Label receptacles for recycling, trash and compost:
Making it easy for your guests to help with cleanup during the party makes for easy party cleanup afterwards. Make sure your trash cans and recycling bins are near the food and beverage stations, are easily seen by guests and are clearly identified. You may still need to pull a couple of pieces of trash out of the recycling bin after the party, and you will want to make sure that no one put things you cannot compost into the compost bin, but letting the guests do most of the work for you will make post-party cleaning much faster and easier.
8. Have leftover containers ready:
If you are hosting a holiday gathering, dinner party or other soiree that will likely have leftovers, make sure you have containers handy so that you can send leftover food home with guests. This can be particularly effective if you hand out the containers towards the end of the event and encourage your guests to fill them with food before they leave. This way, your guests do part of the post-party cleanup for you by cleaning out the serving dishes. Don’t forget to keep some of the leftovers for yourself.
9. Always use tablecloths:
Whether they are disposable, rented or from your linen closet, always use tablecloths. This makes for easy party cleanup by allowing you to simply remove the tablecloths with no need to wipe down the tables and no worries about your tables getting rings or stains. Disposable tablecloths can be tossed in the trash, while reusable tablecloths can be shaken off in the trash and tossed in the washing machine for easy cleaning.
10. Plan your menu with less-messy foods and beverages:
Any time you are serving food or drinks at a party, there is the potential for crumbs, spills and stains, but you can limit this by avoiding messy foods and drinks. For example, stay away from pasta dishes with tomato-based sauces, dishes with melted cheese, handheld foods that can spill or leave crumbs (think tacos), and anything with heavy sauces that can stain surfaces, fabrics or carpet easily.
If you are hosting a dinner party indoors and have lots of light-colored carpets or rugs, consider planning a menu around white wines to avoid the potential for red wine stains. If possible, avoid punch, juices and other colorful or dark liquids.
11. Use stemless wine glasses:
Stemless wine glasses are now widely available and can look just as upscale as stemmed glasses. However, stemless wine glasses come with one big benefit: They are much less likely to be knocked over by guests. Anything you can do to reduce the chance of red wine spills will help ensure easy party cleanup after your guests go home.
12. Do just a little cleaning during the party:
If you are wiping surfaces and picking up plates the entire time your guests are there, you will not have a chance to enjoy the evening with your guests, will likely be slacking on other hosting duties, and will make your guests uncomfortable. However, this does not mean that you cannot clean at all during your gathering.
You will, of course, need to clean up any spills or minor disasters as soon as possible after they occur, and you can occasionally collect empty plates and glasses and move them to the kitchen throughout the night. Just don’t start washing dishes or doing too much cleaning during the party.
Periodically collecting empty bottles and cans and taking dirty dishes to the kitchen is perfectly acceptable party host behavior and will make easy party cleanup much more likely after your guests have gone home.
13. Keep cleaning supplies handy:
As mentioned above, you should not do any major cleaning during the party, but you do want to keep a few supplies on hand to be able to quickly handle party fouls. For example, wine, juice or punch spilled on your carpet is much more likely to come out if you attend to it right away, rather than allowing it to settle in until your party is over. The same goes for crumbs and food spills; if you can vacuum, sweep or wipe them up quickly, it will save you from having to clean them up later after they have been ground into your floors as your guests mingle.
14. Fill your sink with soapy water:
Towards the end of the night, run a bit of soapy water in your kitchen sink. Then, as serving platters and dishes are emptied, you can set them in the water to soak for easier cleaning after the party.
15. Avoid glitter and confetti:
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but if you want easy party cleanup after your party, you absolutely, positively must avoid glitter, confetti and similarly offensive and annoying particles that refuse to cooperate during cleanup efforts. For example, for your next New Year’s Eve party, forgo the poppers filled with confetti and give your guests party horns instead. You will also want to avoid any decorations with glitter or, if you are having a crafts station for kids, any crafts that involve glitter or sequins.
16. Consider rolling up your rugs:
If you think your party might be particularly festive and you happen to have some rather valuable (financially or sentimentally) rugs or other items in your home, you may want to remove them before the guests arrive. This will help save your valuables from accidents and, if you have hard floors (wood, laminate, tile, concrete), it will make post-party cleanup easier.
17. Decorate with LED candles:
While it is possible to remove candle wax from most surfaces, it is definitely not easy or fun. However, there are lots of social gatherings where the soft glow of candlelight significantly enhances the ambiance and the visual appeal of your indoor or outdoor entertaining areas. To get all of the benefits of decorating with candles without the potential for soot or spilled wax to clean up after the party, opt for eco-friendly LED candles for your next event.
18. Set out plenty of drink coasters:
If you are not using tablecloths or are entertaining indoors, make sure you put out plenty of drink coasters so that your guests will be encouraged to use them. Furniture polish applied shortly after your party will likely take care of most rings on wood furniture, but that is not always the case. If you have particularly vulnerable pieces, such as antiques, consider covering them with a water-resistant mat under a tablecloth or runner to protect them and reduce the need to clean drink rings from surfaces after the party.
19. Enlist the help of professionals:
The best way to ensure easy party cleanup is to hire a cleaning service to come in and do your post-party cleaning for you. After-party cleaning services can sometimes be scheduled for same-day service, but if your party ends in the evening or could go into the night, it is much better to schedule the cleaning crew for the morning after. You definitely do not want them showing up while your guests are still mingling, and after the party you are going to be too tired to have a group of strangers in your house making all those cleaning noises when you are trying to sleep. So, schedule the after-party cleaning crew to come mid-morning the day after your party. This allows you to sleep in a bit, while avoiding most post-party chores.
If you go with this option, you will likely still want to do a bit of picking up after the party, since you do not want to leave spills, crumbs, alcoholic beverages or leftover food out overnight. This could attract ants, be an issue in homes with pets or children, and make your house smell like a mixture of leftover hors d’oeuvres and stale booze.
20. Enlist the help of amateurs:
If you are hosting an all-ages gathering, like a holiday meal for your family and close friends, you may be able to organize easy party cleanup by enlisting the kids. Make gathering trash or dirty dishes a game or contest with some fun prizes, and you are sure to have plenty of little ones willing to help. Just be sure that anything they might be gathering is safe and appropriate for little hands. For example, young guests should not gather near-empty adult beverages, knives or fragile glasses.
21. Invest in bus tubs:
You know those large tubs you see bussers use to clear tables at restaurants? Well, those also come in quite handy for clearing tables after parties. These multi-purpose bins are also great for collecting and transferring recyclables to the correct bins, soaking dishes and transporting trash. Using bus tubs makes your job much easier and faster, since you can carry a lot more in a bin than you can by just trying to stack plates and tuck glasses under your arm on your way to the kitchen.
If you do not have any bus tubs handy, a regular laundry basket will not be quite as sturdy but can still get the job done.
Easy Party Cleanup Guide: Post-Party Cleaning Checklist
After spending the day preparing for your guests to arrive and attending to your hosting duties throughout the event, the last thing you want to do is grab a rag and a mop and spend hours returning your home to its pre-party splendor. But before you start pouring remnants of near-empty wine bottles into the only clean glass you can find, there are still a few more tasks to accomplish.
While it might be tempting to leave it all to take care of in the morning, taking off your party-host hat too early could lead to an even bigger mess the next day, including ants, carpet stains, damaged furniture, unpleasant odors, and even sick pets or children.
To help ensure an easy party cleanup, follow this post-party cleaning checklist for recommendations on which tasks you might want to take on right away and which can be left to be dealt with after the sun comes up.
Same-Day Post-Party Cleaning Checklist
- Put away or throw out all leftover food to avoid ants, foul odors or your children or pets getting into it.
- Empty all bottles, cans, glasses and cups and place them in the appropriate bins or dishwasher. Again, this will help you avoid ants, smells and the possibility of your children or pets spilling or drinking the leftover beverages.
- Collect all trash and take the trash bags to your outside trash bins to avoid ants and odors.
- Gather all dirty dishes, glasses, utensils and tableware.
- Fill your dishwasher and run at least one load of dishes while you are cleaning. This will free up counter space for other dishes and glasses you collect.
- Scrape and soak dishes and serving ware overnight in bus tubs or your kitchen sink.
- Check for spills that could leave stains on carpets, rugs, concrete or other surfaces and begin spot treatment right away.
- Start a load of laundry with table linens, kitchen towels and all of the towels in any bathroom that guests used (even if you think the guests didn’t use them, because they probably did).
- Wipe down all counters and sinks in your kitchen and bathrooms with a disinfectant cleaner.
- Spray a disinfectant cleaner in all toilets to leave while you complete other tasks or overnight.
- Check all surfaces that could have glass rings, such as wood tables, and address any potential issues right away to avoid more-permanent damage.
- Depending on your flooring surfaces, vacuum, sweep or dry mop your floors to remove crumbs and debris that may have been tracked in on your guests’ shoes.
Next-Day Post-Party Cleaning Checklist
- Put away any dishes or glasses that were not used.
- Empty the dishwasher and reload as needed to finish cleaning the dishes that soaked overnight.
- Hand wash fragile glasses, dishes or large items.
- Fold the linens and towels that you put in the dryer before you went to bed.
- Check for any spills or crumbs you may have missed the night before.
- Put back any rugs or knickknacks you moved before the party.
- Clean fingerprints off of windows, mirrors and doors.
- Wipe down door handles and light switches with a disinfectant cleaner.
- Clean your patio fireplace or fire pit, if used during the party.
- Put away patio cushions and other textiles that are stored when not in use.
- Sort recyclables and place in appropriate bins.
- Clean your barbecue grill or outdoor kitchen, if used during the party.