The holidays are upon us, and while festive parties and family dinners are still an unknown, one thing is for certain: dirt waits for no lockdown. Whether you’re planning small celebrations or opening your door to a few choice family members (see ya never, annoying Aunt Edna), there are areas of your home that tend to get overlooked, but the holidays shine a spotlight on them.

We consider them the telltale signs of a genuinely tuned-in host. You may have overlooked them in your holiday cleaning, but we can guarantee they’ll be the first thing your nosey mother-in-law spots.

1. Clean Your Oven From Top to Bottom

Christmas dinner is the marathon of cooking events, but roasting a turkey in a dirty oven is like showing up to a race in a pair of flip flops. Food spills forming colonies in your oven can burn and give off odors that have no business infiltrating your turkey. So before the big day, do a thorough cleaning of your oven. If you have one, run an oven self-cleaning option, spot-treat spills, soak your oven racks, and clean greasy range hoods. A spotless oven won’t guarantee a perfectly cooked bird, but it will ensure a perfectly impressed guest list. 

2. Tidy the Inside of Your Front Closet

A wreath on the front door makes a great first impression, but if guests open a hallway closet stuffed with coats, no hangers in sight, and dirt from a pile of boots on the floor, that first impression goes right out the window. Before friends and family arrive, do a front closet deep clean. Assess the coats hanging in your front hallway closet, clearing out whatever you can to make room for guests’ belongings, and ensure you have enough empty hangers for everyone invited. It’s OK to have a couple pairs of shoes, neatly assembled on the floor, but give the bottom of the closet a quick vacuum, and wipe down any water and salt stains on the floor.

3. Wipe Down Your Holiday Storage Area

This might sound like a weird one, but taking your holiday decor out of storage is the perfect time to get into that space and give it a clean. Whether it’s a basement storage room, a closet, or even just a bin you’ve kept under the bed, the perfect time to clean a space is when it’s empty. That way, when the holidays come to a close and you’re putting your ornaments and lights back into storage (sometime in January, or February, or March…), the area will be primed and ready.

4. Polish Up Your Fireplace 

You should inspect wood-burning fireplaces at least once a year, typically in early fall, before you begin using them for the season. However, if you haven’t done this already, and especially if you’ve been using the fireplace, it’s a good idea to give the fireplace a thorough holiday cleaning before the festivities begin. Lay a tarp around the area (once you’re certain it’s completely cool), remove any remaining logs, scoop out the debris, and scrub soot from the interior walls. Under no circumstances should you use a vacuum to clean the area. This could cause you to suck up embers that could damage your machine or, worse, start a fire.

5. Give the Inside the Fridge a Deep Clean

Say what you want about the Christmas tree; the real crowning jewel of the holiday season is the fridge (more specifically, what’s in it). With so many delicious indulgences to enjoy, it’s imperative you prime your fridge for the season. That means tossing old and expired foods and sauces and removing everything to give shelves and drawers a proper clean. Then, place it all back in the fridge in a neat and organized fashion. Try, if you can, to create space for the inevitable parade of leftovers rolling through around 10 pm.

6. Clean the Powder Room

Powder rooms don’t accumulate the mess that other bedroom-adjacent bathrooms tend to see, but that’s how they sneak up on you. Before guests arrive, clean your powder room as you would any bathroom. Wipe down surfaces and hardware, sweep and mop the floor, clean every inch of the toilet, make sure to fill the soap dispenser and launder the towels, and restock the cupboard or a basket with extra toilet paper.

7. Spruce Up the Guest Bedroom

We know out-of-town guests will be a rarity this year, but chances are you haven’t stepped foot in your guest bedroom since the pandemic began. So maybe it’s time to venture in and brush off the dust that’s been accumulating? Do your best to move through the room as guests do. Make sure to give your guest bedroom a typical cleaning, including dusting and wiping down surfaces, vacuuming, and cleaning windows and mirrors. But here’s how you can go above and beyond: Double-check sheets are clean and wrinkle-free, empty and wipe down the drawers, clear out the closets, and add an interesting new book and bouquet by the bed. (Now prepare for your mother-in-law’s jaw to drop.)

8. Wash and Rinse Your Garbage and Recycling Zones 

Despite efforts towards a more sustainable holiday season, big dinners, gifts, and seasonal decor tend to go hand in hand with waste. Before the empty boxes and compost bags pile up and the deep freeze of winter sets in, wash and rinse out your garbage and recycling bins, and tidy up the zones where you break down and stack boxes. Like with all cleaning tasks, it’s essential to properly “suit up” for this dirty task, with rubber gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, and a face mask. (Trust us, those bins reek.) 

9. Clean Your Home’s Seating

We often overlook seating, and it can almost always use some TLC. (But especially before guests pop by and sit back and put up their feet.) Most vacuums come with fabric attachments, which are great for regular maintenance of sofas and occasional and dining chairs, but for the holidays, go the extra mile and deodorize fabrics and ensure you do a last-minute wipe down for hair if you have pets.

10. Perfect Your Home’s Air Quality

While not technically a zone in your home, guests will almost always acknowledge a home’s air quality when they enter a space. (It’s something you might not be attuned to if you’ve grown accustomed to your home’s…unique smells and air quality.) Investing in an air purifier is one of those milestone “I’m a grown-up now” purchases, but there are lots of easy and affordable DIY air fresheners to make your home smell amazing, too.

Holiday Cleaning Tips

Once you’ve tackled these 10 key areas of holiday cleaning, and you’ve whipped up a holiday feast like no other, then your real work can begin: explaining to your mother-in-law why you never hung the framed photos of her son from childhood, that she pawned off on you months ago…

Happy holidays!

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Melissa Maker is an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, founder of Toronto’s most popular boutique cleaning service, and star of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube (but she still hates to clean!). Every week, Melissa delivers new videos dishing expert advice on cleaning products, tools, DIY substitutes, and practical, timesaving solutions to everyday problems. Melissa has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in InStyle, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens.