The Best Small-Space Cleaning Advice, According to People Who Live in Tiny Homes

published Sep 12, 2018
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(Image credit: Carina Romano)

The logic should make sense: smaller spaces are easier to clean, right? In reality, small spaces, and even tiny houses, come with their own set of cleaning challenges.

If you convert a trailer into a tiny house, you can expect plenty of dirt, grass, and leaves to be tracked in — 300 square feet likely doesn’t allow for a mudroom. Because every inch is utilized in a tiny house, that means each surface is prone to messes. And items that haven’t been returned to their proper places can quickly clutter a room.

These things are all true of small spaces in everyday, non-tiny homes, too. So we asked these tiny house owners — who have their cleaning routines down to a science — to share their best tips.

1. Invest in a good vacuum.

Joshua and Shelley Engberg, owners of aren’t shy about singing the praises of a high-quality vacuum, after years of trying and failing to make it work with a cheap model.

“Last year, we upgraded to a cordless Dyson, and it’s been worth every penny,” they said. “No need to worry about finding a plug — the battery lasts about 15 minutes, which is more than plenty for a tiny house.”

Other cleaning tools Joshua and Shelley swear by

“We mop our 100-year-old reclaimed floors every two weeks with WOCA natural wood soap to protect and preserve them.”

“Get a small HEPA filter [air purifier]. It really helps with the dust and makes the house air always nice and fresh.”

2. Optimize your routine for your small space.

Whitney Leigh Morris, creative director of The Tiny Canal Cottage admits that she “actually loves cleaning” their tiny home. “A compact room can get messy in an instant — even a single item sitting out of place becomes super visible and is most likely in the way. But that’s the joy of tidying a little home, too! One minute it might look like a tornado ripped through the space, while mere minutes later (and with very little effort) it can look like a sparkling showroom.”

To tidy quickly, Whitney recommends making the bed first. “By making the bed every morning, you ensure that you have several extra square feet to use in accomplishing daily tasks.”

She also makes the most of space by consolidating things, like her cleaning supplies. “I have a wooden garden caddy in which I keep all of my cleaning supplies. Rather than having a set in the kitchen, a set in the bathroom, and a set by the laundry machine, I make sure that all of my cleansers and accessories are consolidated. It saves space.”

Other things Whitney swears by

“Getting a full-sized, cordless vacuum with interchangeable parts is extremely helpful. The pieces can break down and fit into a tight space, requiring only a few more inches of storage than a handheld vacuum. This is a necessity for us, since we have two dogs and a toddler, and we live a very indoor/outdoor lifestyle.”

“I try to use an all-purpose cleaner for as many surfaces as possible.”

See more of her space here: Whitney and Adam’s Live/Work Canal Cottage

3. You can have stuff, but keep collections contained.

Cleaning can be especially difficult among collectors. Tiny House designer and builder Shalina Kell, a self-proclaimed collector, had to make some tough choices about her treasures when she moved into her tiny house, but now the upside is that she’s only kept the items she truly loves and there’s less to clean.

She says, “When I started purging my ‘stuff’ and experienced the joy of having only what I need and love, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders.”

Shalina looks to glass cabinets for her collectibles as a way to display them beautifully and keep them dust-free. “I have two barrister cabinets where I keep my books and collections. I also built in a spice cabinet in my kitchen using an antique leaded glass window, and my dish cabinets have Plexiglas doors. This is a fun way to display all of your beloved items without worrying about dust.”

She adds, “Be willing to part with the items that don’t bring you joy or that you aren’t using.”

Other things Shalina swears by

“Vacuum or sweep daily! You’d be amazed at how much dust and dirt accumulates in a small space. My handheld, cordless vacuum is my all-time favorite.”

“My 18-inch dishwasher is the perfect size for the amount of dishes we use. It fills completely every few days. Oftentimes in a larger house, we ran our dishwasher even when it wasn’t full, which was obviously not efficient. I could have opted to just hand-wash our dishes, which is a great choice for an even smaller tiny house than mine, but some luxuries are just nice to have.”

4. Learn to accept imperfection.

Kate Oliver, founder and designer of The Modern Caravan, tells us that between she and her wife, their daughter, and two chocolate labs, the outside is always making its way into their tiny camper.

“Cleaning our 200-square-foot home may not take very long, but there is certainly a misconception about cleaning a tiny house: Simply because we have less to clean doesn’t mean we clean less overall,” Kate says.

In that vein, Kate advises that sometimes, when it comes to cleaning, it’s best to “learn to let go of perfection,” adding, “Living tiny, in a camper, has done this for me. I have begun to embrace imperfection, and home is a good place to start.” She also keeps things uncomplicated by making “quick tidying” part of her morning and evening routine.

“It helps us start and end our days happily. A clean tiny space, for us, helps us be more productive during the day as we work from home.”

What Kate swears by

“We keep a long-handled scrub brush in the sink so we can clean out our Chemex coffee maker and other deep jars and glasses with ease.”

“We recently bought an LG ventless washer/dryer combo, and it’s amazing. We no longer have to spend our precious family time at a laundromat — we instead spend those hours at home, being with one another.”

5. Do a little bit every day.

Jenna Spesard, lifestyle blogger at Tiny House Giant Journey thinks that most people don’t realize that cleaning a small space can be truly difficult. “You can get a tiny home dirty a lot easier than a large home,” she says, attributing her particular mess mainly to “dust, pet hair, and dirt.”

She says, “It can get to an uninhabitable level really fast if you don’t clean regularly. Because of this, I clean my house almost every day.”

Her cleaning tips are easy to keep up and to the point: “Make sure everything has a place. Don’t leave items on your kitchen counter — put them away immediately when not in use. Keep organized with small space hacks, such as closet organizers and toe kick drawers.

“And purchase a handheld vacuum with a long nozzle for vacuuming the loft.”

What Jenna uses

“I use natural cleaners and, as I mentioned, a handheld vacuum. I also like dust mitts and Swiffers because they are easy to store and help with my constant dusting.”

(Image credit: Morgan Karanasois)

6. Make sure everything has a place.

Chloe Barcelou and Brandon Batchelder — the film, theater, and set designers behind B&C Productions — know that small spaces pose their own unique challenges. Chloe points out that while cleaning a tiny home can require less time and effort because owners generally have less belongings, there are some “annoying tasks,” like dusting high-up spots and changing the sheets.

Her top tip for homeowners with small spaces? “I would say that having a specific, built-in place for each and every item really matters in tiny home organization,” she told us. Chloe finds that when everything has a specific home, it’s easy to put things away right when you’re done using them.

“Messy tiny homes become small and cramped very quickly!”

What Chloe uses

“I love Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day products because they’re all-natural and biodegradable, which is very important living in a tiny home. Although our water runs through a solar still, gray water still needs to be safe to drain, which means we can only use soaps and cleaning products without chemicals. Meyer’s is also very affordable and easy to find at my local shops.”

“Another favorite is the Dyson cordless compact vacuum. No tiny homeowner wants to store an ugly, bulky vacuum, taking up valuable space. Dyson is sleek and compact, making it easy to store in small spaces.”

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

7. Don’t go to bed messy.

Every night before she goes to bed, stylist, designer, and freelance writer Rebekah Carey tidies up and puts her clothes away. “Waking up to a clean, and very small, home is certainly less stressful,” she says.

Rebekah suggests, “Regardless of the size of your home, doing your best to wrangle clutter and spending five minutes to put away items from the day right before bed makes it feel less daunting and is much more manageable.”

To keep things feeling fresh, Rebekah says to “keep the doors and windows open (if weather permits) while you’re cleaning so you’re not trapped in a tiny space with no circulation” and “avoid harsh cleaning supplies and go all-natural, if you can. With such a small space, you don’t want to be breathing in toxic cleaning smells.”

What Rebekah uses

“We love our cute broom and dustpan from World Market.”

“I like the scents of the cleaners from Method, especially their pink grapefruit.”

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: The Best Small Space Cleaning Advice—According to People Who Live in Tiny Homes