We Asked an Etiquette Expert: Can You Ask Your Guests to Help Clean?

published Dec 12, 2022
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Credit: Kristin Teig

Throwing a holiday get-together is an excellent way to celebrate the season with the people you love. But then there’s the cleaning. Every party leaves behind its own messes, and as the fun winds down, you might be wondering, “Can I ask my guests to help?” We talked to etiquette expert Elaine Swann and her answer is crystal clear.

Asking guests to pitch in with the cleaning is a no.

“The key word here is ‘guest,’” says Swann. “Any time someone is a guest in your home, they should be treated with a bit more reverence, regardless of how close family members or friends they are.”

Another no, according to Swann? Cleaning right after dinner or as the party is winding down. Swann cautions that breaking off from the party can send the wrong signals to your guests. They may see it as a sign that it’s time to go home, or they may interpret it as your way of asking for help. While it’s OK to quickly refrigerate any perishable items and then rejoin the party, you should plan to save the bulk of cleaning for when your guests have gone home. “When you host an event,” Swann says, “be present for your guests. Be available to host.”

Credit: Raymond Forbes LLC/Stocksy

So what should you do instead? Make a cleaning plan in advance. “Every host should plan and make provisions for their event from start to finish, and that includes the cleanup,” Swann notes. This might include hiring a temp service to handle the cleaning or enlisting family members who are not involved in the party (like teenagers who might be motivated by some extra spending money) to take on the task for you.

In the event that a guest offers to help or even jumps in and starts cleaning, Swann says it’s up to the host to assert their own preference. Some hosts welcome the extra help and time spent by the sink washing and drying dishes can lead to meaningful bonding, she adds. However, some hosts may choose to decline offers of help because they have their own systems for cleaning up — loading the dishwasher a certain way or cleaning and storing special dinnerware according to their own style.

What do you think? Is it OK to ask your guests to pitch in with the cleanup?