How to Make Your Roommates Clean When It’s Their Turn

This post is for all my people out there who have ever taken out the trash AGGRESSIVELY! This is for you, you poor souls who fight with every fiber of your being not to turn into your mother and just clean up after your living companion.

When you move in with someone there are a few things that will always be true. One of them is this: one person will always be cleaner than the other. And chances are, something that you know in your heart isn’t that big of a deal, becomes something that makes your blood boil. So you will passive-aggressively point out that the dishes from last Tuesday are still in the sink and you had to fold your roomie’s clothes just so you could wash your own. Or that pesky lamp was left on for the millionth time. So when you find yourself resorting to Regina George-like behavior, stop. It’s not worth it. Here’s what you should do instead:

1. ) First, and foremost, did you guys actually agree to what the cleanliness of the apartment should be on a daily basis? Is there a cleaning schedule? A signed roommate agreement perhaps? If there isn’t one of these, you don’t have much room to complain because your roommate doesn’t even know there are rules he/she is violating. So step one is to have a roommate agreement, complete with discussion about basic housekeeping rules.

2.) If you already have one of these, great! You’re on your way. Next you’ll have to figure out what kind of roommate you have so you can learn how to best approach them. And I can’t stress this enough: DO NOT BE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE. It doesn’t work, trust me. Likely, you have one of the following three types:

The Forgetful Roommate: this roommate has the very best of intentions. She agrees wholeheartedly that your digs should be clean and says with utter confidence that she will clean the floors every other Tuesday. And she would, if she remembered. Usually with this roommate, she genuinely wants to participate, she just can’t remember. Thus, she will not be offended if you remind her. And remind her you will, until it becomes a habit. Not in a bitchy way, just, “Hey Stacey, you forgot to unload the dishwasher this morning.” Pretty soon it will become a habit.

The Lazy Roommate: This roommate has a propensity to be forgetful, but more than that, she is lazy. She knows she has to clean the kitchen on Sundays, but she’d rather watch the entire first season of Breaking Bad instead. Then when the sun goes down, she’s too tired. Man doesn’t it make you mad when someone chooses trivial things over the important ones? The thing you much realize here is that she just doesn’t see cleaning as something that is important. To her, it doesn’t matter when she does things and she’ll put it off forever. Here again, it’s up to you to bring it up. Bring it up in such a way that you let her know that while it’s not important to her, it’s important to you as annoying as that may be. Gently remind her that you made it clear up front that these were things you expected to be done and that even though she doesn’t see it as a big deal, you do. And out of respect for you, you thought she would do it. If she doesn’t react to that, she may as well have a heart of stone.

The Spoiled Roommate: This girl grew up with a maid, or maybe 2. She never had to do anything for herself around the house and she doesn’t think that should change anytime soon. Yeah, you had a discussion about it but all she heard was “The Kitchen will be cleaned every Monday” not who was doing the cleaning. Certainly not her. In this case, you’ll have to be straight with her. Let her know that you both use the common areas and that you should both be responsible for cleaning them. Offer to go through it together once so that she can’t claim ignorance on “how to take out the trash.” Good luck!

3.) Relax! Sort of. You might have to have a couple of these discussions before you see results, and yes, they will always be uncomfortable. But in the end, they will be worth it. This is where you’re living after all!

If anyone has any other suggestions on how to make your roommate clean, please share them here!

You can find other posts by Katherine here.

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Author My First Apartment

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Katherine currently resides in sunny LA where she is trying to reconcile the constant onslaught of those warm golden rays with the pale-as-the-grave complexion she inherited from the Scotts. She and her roommate are mimicking married life by hosting dinner parties in their new apartment and spending Saturday nights watching the entire 3rd season of "The Shield" while learning what it means to have the Martha Stewart of landlords. Also, the not-so-secret pleasure she gets from a Home Depot visit terrifies her.

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Comments (31)

  1. Avatar Angie

    Our landlord passed away and we were forced to rent a place with my parents (I’m in my 40’s). My mother signed a lease for a house without consulting my husband and I, and refused to put us on the lease. She even lied to landlord, saying that we are only ‘visiting’. My stepfather sleeps on the couch, spends the entire day there as well (he’s retired). He has taken over the kitchen, as well. We can’t cook or clean without him looking over our shoulders and talking the whole time. He doesn’t see well, so the dishes are never clean, but we’re not ‘allowed’ to clean unless he’s there to supervise. He doesn’t sweep or mop, and again, has to supervise if I try to. I can’t even get a cup of coffee or look for something to eat without him following me and monitoring what I’m doing, because I might ‘dirty things up’. He flatly refuses to take his dogs out into the yard. He says they’re apartment-trained, which means they crap on training pads that he only replaces one a day. His dogs constantly bark and growl at us, and it’s worse if we pet our dog in front of them. Instead of an equal household, which we agreed on beforehand, we are relegated to one room.

    My mother works and does nothing when she’s off. He won’t listen to her, so any attempts I make at housework are either rejected, or he makes me so uncomfortable that I leave the room. My younger brother lives with them. He doesn’t work and doesn’t contribute at all. He says he gave up years ago. He’s in his 30’s. My mother complains about the state of the house constantly, but since she works, she doesn’t believe she should help.

    I’m at my wit’s end. My husband and I keep the adjoining bathroom and our own room clean. I sweep in the living room and kitchen, but mopping is problematic since my stepfather keeps ruining my mops. Mom bought a swiffer-style mop, but bitches if I change the cleaning pad too often. I don’t like using it, but I’ve gone throught four regular mops and I can’t afford to keep buying them every few months.

    I also have 2 cats, and they HATE them with a passion. They keep asking me when I’m getting rid of them, even though they know I’m not going to. They’re horrible roommates, and any attempts to talk to them become a slef-righteous lecture about how ungrateful we are. I should point out that our landlord was their landlord, too. This wasn’t just us running to my parents when things got rough. They needed the help, as well.

    We pay the utilities and $400 a month for rent and food – food that we can’t eat, unless we ask my stepfather to cook for us, or buy our own separately and keep it in our bedroom, which is what we do now. My husband has a heart condition and has yo eat heart-healthy foods. Their response is to buy and cook greasy, old-fashioned dishes that he can’t eat. I have ni health issues, uet I’m developing digestion problems from the heavy meals. We’re going to try preparing our own meals and storing them in one of the refrigerators, but last time they just at it all.

    Until we can afford to move, we’re screwed. Never live with roommates or family. That’s my advice. You are ALWAYS the bad guy, no matter they themselves do. If you must, put locks on your doors, and keep them away from your pets. They can undo years of training by feeding them from their own dinner plates, and letting their untrained animals run wild through a house you are supposed to share.

  2. Avatar painter

    Good way of explaining, and nice article to get information about my presentation focus, which i
    am going to present in college.

  3. Avatar Logan

    How do I deal with a spoiled roommate? I’ll clean the kitchen after eating and cooking then she’ll go cook and text me in the middle of the night blaming me for the mess on the stove that she left

  4. Avatar Sara

    I just moved to this house (shared )a month ago.The day I moved in I took out the bathroom trash because it was overflowing. Since then I’ve never seen the tub cleaned.(I’ve cleaned it 4-5 times)It’s tiring. These are grown people and it’s 5 of us sharing this bathroom like come on. I spoke to the landlord today. He said he’d have z conversation with everyone.I don’t think he has.The tub is still nasty as heck.I refuse to use it.Im going to shower at my gym tmrw.I’m looking for new place

  5. Avatar zuzu

    Now what do you suggest when your housemate is your parent and they won’t do even 1 thing (like dishes or water plants)? She fits the model of “has had everything done for her” for decades. Nothing works, neither anger, begging, logic, a list, an agreement. NOTHING! Unfortunately we need each other’s combined income to make it. Mom is 79.

  6. Avatar Katelyn

    Our house hold is 3. Before everyone signing the lease it was agreed upon that we cant leave dishes in the sink for more then 2 days. The common areas need to be kept clean and clean up after yourself you know common basic things and also about bringing guest 9ver because two of us have early schedules of our roomates stated she was OCD about things and will probably end up cleaning the most because she cant stand a dirty home and past roomates. So fast forward she has not cleaned the kitchen or our shared bathroom once since shes moved in like 6 or 7 months ago. We have all talked to her and she always argues that she takes the trash out or shes not here most of the time so she dosent feel the need to clean those areas even if she uses them. She leaves lots of things out on the counters and dosent clean when she has guest over for dinner except her dishes days later. I even stopped cleaning the bathroom for over a month to see hlif she would break and never did. Also we are bothered when she brings guest over because they are so loud it’s like the company’s in your room and if we ask her to keep it down she ignores us even if we are polite about it. My other roomate and I are getting iextremely irritated and were not sure what to do.

    • Avatar Caroline M Smith

      I know this sucks but you and the other roommate are going to have to sit her down and tell her that if she can’t stop doing the things you mentioned then she probably isn’t a good fit for you guys and you would like for her to move out. Right now she feels like she can get away with stuff. I would make a cleaning schedule and ask her what she would like to sign up for. When she violates it (and she will) call her out right away. Call her out in front of her friends for being loud. Let her know that the quiet and cleanliness of your apartment is more important than her feelings and her manipulative behavior.

  7. Avatar Kimmy

    I am currently having this issue, only it’s been 2 years with my brother. I told him as of April he needed to be into his own place, and he still has not even began looking. He moved in with my wife and i, and since then he will leave empty pop bottles lay around so he can fill them up with his 2 liter bottles for work, leave his shoes right in front of the shoe rack, refuses to cook, hasn’t done dishes but twice in those 2 years, his bedroom is a disaster with empty chip bags, pop cans and bottles, overflowing garbage cans, will only take the garbage out once a week, and feels my wife and I should cater to him. In the end, he makes me feel guilty because he knows I won’t let anyone go hungry, but I’m down to 102 pounds because when it comes to us grocery shopping we will buy meals, but when he buys food he will buy bags of chips, single totinos pizzas, 4 cases of pop, sandwich meats, and junk like that, and then will sit and eat a full bag of chips in 1 sitting and still go after our food when its done being cooked. I’m beyond frustrated and even more so that I’ve become voiceless and feeling guilty for feeling he should be pulling his own weight, and for literally coming to a point where I am going to have to put him out with nowhere to go if he doesn’t start doing something soon. This was only to be a temporary thing, and it’s already been 2 years!

    • MFA Editors MFA Editors

      Hi Kimmy,
      Your brother is totally abusing your sisterly love and patience. The kindest thing you can do for his future is to give him firm date when he needs to move out and learn to live on his own. He is acting like an entitled teenager and needs to grow up.
      Good luck!

  8. Avatar Mariana

    I’m desperately searching for solutions online with no sucess so far. The family member who co-owns my home is unbelievably dirty. There’s rotten food that I have been trying to scrub off doors for over a year but it’s dried harder than cement. The wood floor is rotting from pet urine. I can’t keep up with the dirty dishes and my job at the same time. She makes heaps of dirty laundry and soiled pet urine pads that she refuses to take out. It seems nothing will make this heartless and shameless person clean up after herself. She just complains that the house sucks and has adult tantrums when clutter and trash get in her way. At least now I know I’m not the only one suffering from this problem.

    • MFA Editors MFA Editors

      Hi Mariana,
      This sounds much worse than a typical roommate cleaning situation. It sounds like you are dealing with a hoarder-like situation and it’s a mental health issue. Being co-owners of the house makes this more complicated, because you cannot just walk away. She is creating an unsanitary condition and health hazard, so do some research into local social services that might offer guidance and help. Good luck!

  9. Avatar Savannah

    My fiance’s uncle lives with us and does not do anything to help us clean. Once a week he may take the trash out, but other than that, nothing. He used to wash dishes, but did so poor of a job (we’d have to rewash them) so we told him nevermind. His room is so disgusting that he’s now moved into the living room. I’ve had enough. He lays around all day. Every time we bring up cleaning he always says he’s too busy with work, but he’s been off for over a week now and has made no attempt to clean. How do I talk to him and get him to clean this far in? He’s been living here for 5 years.

  10. Avatar Daisy

    So nice to see people going through what I’ve been dealing with for 2 and a half years. I live with 5 (used to be 6) roommates and I’m the only one in all that time to ever clean the tub, toilet, vaccume, sweep, mop, clean the microwave, windows, cig buts, dog shit, etc. maybe one has done the toilet and swept once, but otherwise I’m not exaggerating. I have tried schedules, specific chores, everyone even just cleaning their own dishes and nothing has worked. I can’t l move because my boyfriend doesn’t want to spend extra money and doesn’t just want me to move out, honestly said he would want to break up if I moved out. Two days ago I finally asked a roomate to clean MY very nice rice cooker bc they left it dirty for 4 days and it can hurt the interior if you do that, the asshole literally said I don’t deserve his respect. He also called me a B word bc I had only been doing my own dishes that week and not theirs also. Sooooo done.

    • Avatar Jackie


      It’s time to say goodbye to your boyfriend for the following reasons :

      1. He doesn’t care enough about your sanity or respect you enough to help you keep the house clean when he sees you’re the only one handling it .

      2. He threaten to break up with you if you lived in different homes. This seems like a relationship out of convenience.

      Also. His friend/your roommate sounds like a huge wang. Don’t subject yourself to being their maid and punching bag. They’ve grown to expect you to clean up after them without even appreciating it.

      Grab your crap and get the hell out of there asap. It’s abusive from all angles.

  11. Avatar Natasha

    My roommate asked me and my other roommates to take care of her fish a month ago while she was out of town. It’s been over a month and she still hasn’t taken the fish back. We have asked her several times to take her fish but she still hasn’t. We don’t know what to do. Also she leaves her trash out for several days before taking it and never ever cleans our bathroom (I do). She also comes home at all hours of the night and slams the doors. We have asked her to be quiet… she doesn’t listen. What do we do?

    • MFA Editors MFA Editors

      Hi Natasha,
      It sounds like your roomie has bigger issues than just neglecting her fish. It’s time for that roommate heart-to-heart talk. Could she have substance abuse problem? Good luck!

  12. Avatar Lisa

    My roommate is actually the one being weird about this. I have a set day to clean the bathroom, and she does it before I get to it, then gets mad and tells me she “has to clean everything.” We’re not good at confrontation, but her behavior is driving me bonkers, and I don’t know what to do.

  13. Avatar Gina

    My housemate fully agreed to split chores (I do regular tasks like washing up, laundry & cleaning kitchen; she vacuums & cleans bathroom) but over the time we’ve lived together, she has gradually stopped her chores. I remind her & she might then do something minor but then stops again. She has also stopped buying cleaning products on her turn, though originally we alternated when things ran out. We’ve been friends a long time but I don’t know how to tell her to buck up without damaging the friendship.

    • Avatar ThePinch

      Sounds like you might be overdue for a heart to heart.

      The essence of your feelings, if I am reading this correctly, is that the friendship must be preserved at all costs.

      You probably didn’t plan on living together forever, so it’s a good starting point.

      My suggestion is that you start with what’s important, and then move on to the day to day stuff.

      Don’t be surprised if she wants to move out – not because she doesn’t care, but because it’s time to move on while still staying friends.

      Just a thought.

  14. Avatar Monica

    How do I deal with roommates who I’ve constantly reminded to do chores, both nicely and sternly? I deal with both the spoiled and lazy roommate.. I do everything I can to help remind her, and not trying to be that nagging mom character, but when it’s her turn she never does anything? She goes home every weekend and then claims she forgot do her chores.. for 8 MONTHS. I am constantly picking up after her, and when I got fed up and left the house a mess she just walked over it and did nothing. Then she had the nerve to tell me that I forgot to wash the dishes.. when her filth is all over the house!!

    • Avatar ThePinch

      I had someone like this who was the same way. Gone every weekend, and took phone calls as soon as it was time to wash up after dinner. She didn’t last long; nobody could stand her. She turned out to be one of my best teachers.

      Why oh why have you put up with this for eight months?

      You are always at your best in the beginning with a room mate. The best way to start when you get a room mate is to write out your expectations and have them sign it. Invite her participation. Room mates are not psychic and you sometimes have to be very specific. This list will change and evolve over time as you change and evolve with time and experience. You may THINK they understand that the toilet seat should be put down – it spews germs all over the place – but they don’t always get it. Conversely, they may NOT appreciate you having overnight visitors for a week at a time. This is the sounding board.

      It is important to address concerns in their earliest stages. It is equally important that your room mate feel free to discuss her concerns. Most people are not very good at this, but you can make it simple. Check in with her about once or twice a month with a friendly chat about how things are going. More often than not she will shine you on, but at least she knows that she can speak freely to you,

      • Avatar Parth

        I have the same problem. Housemates come to house to trash it and never cleaned or done garbage even after asking nicely a zillion times. For me it’s been almost 9 months living here and doing all this by myself. They won’t sign any paper to do the cleaning. Nowadays they’ll say no on my face about cleaning or even doing garbage. The rental property said that it’s yours to figure out. If I leave the property, I have to pay as it’s a year lease. Any other legal solution that can happen?

        • MFA Editors MFA Editors

          Hi Parth,
          You have trained your roommates that if they ignore your requests, you’ll eventually do it yourself. You probably have a lower tolerance for squalor than they do. See what happens if you stop doing picking up after them now, but plan to find a new place after your lease is up. Good luck!

  15. Avatar Sabrina

    I’ve had the “you need to help clean” discussion with my roommate… I was super nice about it and she apologized for being lazy and said she’d help… That was 2 months ago. I help her with rides (as in picking her up from work at 10pm and taking her to work during my breaks-I do 48 hr shifts!) I feed her rat when she’s off with her bf (which is every week) and she still hasn’t cleaned. I clean up her messes when she cooks and when she leaves coffee rings on the counter… I’m about to ask her to move. I specified in my ad for a roommate that I was clean and expected my home to be kept clean… She’s never once cleaned the bathroom, swept, mopped, or vacuumed. I’m going to lose it.

    • Sarah Sarah

      I’m sorry this is happening! I have experienced something really similar with my roommates. You should try the discussion again with her, in case she hasn’t noticed how bad it is, especially with all of this other stuff weighing you down. Ask her if you can put together a chores calendar (as juvenile as that sounds) that you can post somewhere visible in the apartment. Maybe that will help her remember about the bathroom/vacuuming/mopping. Plus you can make sure work is divided equally.

      Then I would recommend backing off of doing her chores for her…meaning chauffeuring less often and asking her to take care of things that are her responsibility (rides, the rat, dishes). That may cause some pains at first (especially if you’re a neat freak!) but I would try help her realize HER mess and responsibility.

      During your discussion, I think you can be honest about how you’re feeling. Tell her you’re frustrated and MUST have a roommate that can “partner” with you to take care of your shared space. Let us know how it goes!

  16. Avatar dianna

    Ugh my roommate doesnt clean at all. She makes a mess uses dishes and cant even take out the trash, but when she does its not in the trash bins outside she leaves them in the kitchen. The days she doesn’t work she’s just using her phone or doing other things. Its just annoying that i moved in with her without knowing what kind of person she really was. A messy one. Shes always making excuses so she wont have to clean and when she sees me cleaning shenever offers to help!!!!!

    • Admin Admin

      Hi Dianna,
      It’s time to sit down and talk this over with your roomie who may not even realize how upset you are. It seems her concept of cleaning is still at a level of a teenager who is waiting for her mom to pick up and throw out the trash. Set up some rules for cleaning of the common areas and let her keep her personal messes where they belong, in her own room. Leaving trash around is not only disgusting, it can lead to an unhealthy vermin infestation.

  17. Avatar Gina

    My roommate feels she doesn’t have to help because her personal life is so busy with work, parenting classes, probation classes. BS !!

    • Admin Admin

      You are right, that’s a total BS excuse. And it’s not “helping” you, it’s her responsibility as a member of your roommate “household” to do her share. We all have to multi-task between work and life and everything else in between. Make a cleaning schedule and put it on the fridge. Hopefully that gets the message across. Good luck.

    • Avatar ThePinch

      Your room mate needs to be told that she needs her own place. NOW.

      She also needs to know WHAT DATE she is leaving (or earlier) and WHAT TIME she is leaving. In writing.

      Because probation is involved, she may not be the most savory character. Take care of yourself, hide your valuables, have an exit plan, and keep some big brothers around to watch your back. Stay on the phone frequently, even if you are talking to no one. Put a lock on your door. Be prepared to change the locks as soon as she leaves.