My housemate won’t clean

Why are there piles of washing up? Why am I the only one who cleans the bathroom? Why? Why? WHY!? If your housemate won’t do any cleaning, here’s what you have to do to get them to do their share.

Pile of pizza boxes with colander on top

You don't want to know what is inside those boxes

I feel like I’m doing all the cleaning

Cleaning can be one of the biggest issues in shared houses. On the face of it, it doesn’t sound like a big deal. But when the house becomes unliveable, or you spend hours cleaning up after your grotesque housemates, it can be a real problem.

Am I overreacting to a little mess?

Wanting a certain level of hygiene is totally acceptable. But if work, studying or relationships are already stressing you out having a grimy house may be pushing you over the edge.

Being so wound up isn’t good for your health, or your housemates. That doesn’t mean it’s OK they’re not helping, but don’t take all the stress out on them. Instead, talk to them about making the house more bearable.

How do I bring it up?

Remember different people like different levels of tidiness. Some people are happiest surrounded by clutter, whilst others like to fold their pants. There’s no right or wrong way to live; it’s about finding a compromise.

The best thing to do is talk about it, nicely. Sit them down and explain it’s only fair that a job as boring as cleaning the toilet should be shared between friends. Ways not to handle it include:

  • Leaving passive-aggressive post-it notes on the fridge
  • Bitching behind their back
  • Drawing lines down the middle of the kitchen to indicate which space is yours and which is theirs

Your housemates might not even realise they need to clean, so avoid blaming them – even if they’re really gross. Use phrases like ‘I feel that…’ instead of ‘you do this…’ Go into the conversation ready to compromise. Of course you should share cleaning, but you may have to accept they may not be bothered by the things that bug you.

How much cleaning does a house need anyway?

For general health and hygiene reasons, it’s recommended you do the following at least once a week.

  • Clean the bathroom – This is a big one. You’ll need to mop the floor, wash the mats and hand towels, clean the toilet bowel and shove some bleach down it, wipe the sink, bath and taps to stop mould collecting, and clean the mirror so you can see your beautiful face clearly.
  • Vacuum or sweep – the stairs, living rooms and any other communal areas.
  • Clean the kitchen – if you want to avoid gaining some unwanted furry houseguests then keeping the kitchen sparkling is really important. Start with the appliances: clean the microwave, the hob, the oven and empty the toaster of crumbs; then wipe down the surfaces and the sink, and finally hoover or sweep up any mouse-sized snacks.
  • Empty bins – If you can’t take bins outside right away agree who’ll get your rubbish ready for the dustmen each week. But make it a general house promise to empty bins as soon as they fill up – especially the ones in the bathroom (or your flat will start smelling like an old condom or tampon. Yuck).

Should we make a cleaning rota?

It depends – you can tackle cleaning in a number of ways. You could choose a day every couple of weeks when you’re all free to blitz the place together. Or, if not everyone’s free to clean at the same time, you can make a weekly rota, which rotates different jobs.

You can’t put everything on a cleaning rota. Unless you cook as a house, then it makes more sense to individually wash up everything you use to make dinner. Similarly, your rooms are your own space, which means they can be as messy/clean as you want – unless it’s making the whole house smell or inviting mice in.

And the bathroom? Certain types of mess (poo and vomit) should always be cleaned by the perpetrator.

Who should buy the cleaning products?

Have a house kitty for cleaning products and other communal things, especially if you, or one of your housemates, are the type of person who gets annoyed by how much toilet paper you’ve bought. Each put a fiver in to begin with, then agree to top it up regularly.

Next Steps

  • Shelter's advice website for young people offers help with housing problems and a free helpline 0808 800 4444. If you're in Scotland, use instead.
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Updated on 29-Sep-2015