The Essential Cleaning Supplies Every College Grad Needs

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Congratulations! You got your degree — and your first grown-up apartment! Now it’s time to establish the cleaning habits you’ll carry through adulthood. While you probably maintained your dorm room fairly well, most college grads can use a good cleaning starter kit when they’re ready to be out on their own. Here are the basics that’ll set you up for a spotless-ish apartment for the next few years.

(Not a recent college grad but know someone who is? Consider putting some of these together to make a little graduation gift pack. It won’t be the most exciting present she receives — but it will be the most useful.)

1. A Cleaning Caddy

“I always tell people to stock a caddy,” says Toni Hammersley, author of The Complete Book of Clean. “It eliminates those time-draining searches for the right supplies and means fewer trips to the store or utility closet.” Choose one with a handle and a medium-sized basket, which you can load up and still easily carry from room to room.

Some Caddies We Love

2. Rubber Gloves

You may feel goofy wearing them, but rubber gloves offer great protection from scalding-hot water — and the bacteria in the caked-on food you’re scrubbing off that dish (Note to self: Must get new roommates already!). “Plus, they’ll give you a better grip in soapy water,” says Hammersley. Another bonus: They’ll help keep your manicure and skin in tip-top shape.

Buy: All-Purpose Cleaning Gloves, $7 at Sur La Table

3. Microfiber Cloths

These gentle, absorbent scrubbers pick up dust, dirt, and bacteria. Use them for tasks like spot-cleaning floors and washing windows (look, Ma! No streaks!). After you’ve used them, toss them in the wash and they’ll be good as new. “Just don’t use fabric softener when you dry them,” Hammersley points out. “That can clog the fibers and reduce their ability to pick up dirt.”

3 of Our Favorites

4. A Bristled Brush

“This tried-and-true tool cleans everything from pots and pans to outdoor furniture,” says Hammersley. Clean your brush regularly with soap and water, then let it dry bristle-side down to avoid growing mildew from water pooled in the base. For a deeper clean, make sure you clean and disinfect your bristle brush from time to time.

3 Brushes We Love

5. Antibacterial Wipes

Antibacterial wipes are great for a quick refresh if you have last-minute guests coming over: Keep them in the bathroom to give the sink and toilet a once-over before people arrive. Day to day, use them to spot-clean spills and other messes, or to disinfect the fridge handle and other surfaces when your roommate comes down with the flu.

2 to Try

6. A Small-Scale Vacuum

Unless you’ve got big furry pets, you can skip the heavy-duty vacuum and get a lightweight stick vacuum or cordless model. It will still easily pick up dirt and crumbs off your wood floors, and flat-weave or low-pile rugs. Plus, it will easily tuck away into that shared closet.

Our favorite: Dyson V6 Cordless Vacuum, $300

7. A Dustpan and Broom

For those times when even a small vacuum is too big, an old-fashioned dustpan can pick up, well, whatever you need it to. Get a broom you think is kinda cute (like any of the options below) and maybe you’ll have incentive to sweep more often.

Take a Sweep Through These

8. A Toilet Brush

Given the delicate nature of the area you’re cleaning, the toilet deserves its own special brush that’s never, ever used on anything else. (But you probably knew that already.) Pick up one with a sleek design and it won’t look out of place in your bathroom.

Buy: Toilet Brush, $25 at Simple Human

9. A Multipurpose Cleaner

While you can certainly buy specialty cleaner for each zone, one gentle multipurpose cleaner (plus some scrubbing) should do the trick in most areas. Get a naturally derived commercial version or concoct your own using vinegar as the base disinfectant. Hammersley also loves using liquid castile soap around the house.

Pick One

10. A Spray Bottle

Mixing your own cleaners from household items is an easy way to save money. “The ingredients are often sold in bulk, so you can save money and trips to the store,” says Hammersley. Combine them all in a spray bottle for easy application; she likes 24- and 16-ounce sizes to make smaller batches.

Buy: Opus 24-oz Spray Bottle, $4 at The Container Store