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“How can I find a roommate that’s actually clean?”

by Prince Of Petworth April 7, 2017 at 1:45 pm 59 Comments

clean roomate

“Dear PoPville,

My roommate is moving out, and I’m going to be looking for a new one. How can I find a roommate that’s actually clean? With my last search, I stressed that I like common areas clean, and explained that the photos with my ad were how clean I keep it normally (which was genuinely clean and uncluttered). Each person I was considering said that they liked it that clean as well, but I still ended up with a messy roommate. Is there a way to tell if someone is actually clean from the short time you meet them? I don’t know if I want to shell out for a weekly cleaning service, but are the only options that or living alone?”

  • PetworthGuy

    Got really excited when I saw the photo – thought it was a follow up to that wild craigslist roommate/bed-sharing ad from a month or so ago

  • Anonymous

    I immediately got the photo reference and it made me laugh. Nice one.
    And my short answer would be, there is no way of knowing what someone is really like after only meeting them for a short period of time. If cleanliness is a concern, maybe propose ahead of time that you split the cost for a once-a-month cleaner to come in and only accept a roommate that agrees to it.

  • CleanFreak

    Maybe instead of asking “Are you generally a clean person?” or asking them to respond to your level of cleanliness, ask specific questions, like:

    * How often do you wash dishes? Is it okay if dishes sit in the sink overnight, or no?
    * How often do you vacuum/sweep/mop/whatever?
    * Etc.

    And, it might be worth thinking about whether what you’re looking for is a “clean” roommate or a “tidy” roommate–they’re not always the same thing. Good luck with your roommate search!

    • LittleEdie

      Yeah, might as well make in into a questionnaire and test with the posting – like one of those surveys you can make online. Actually before one even sees the posting, they probably should have to pass this persons test beforehand. Weed out the real heathens that way! Of course, you can easily lie on such things, so the OP should probably require site visits to their current residence before moving further.

  • neat fr**k

    look at their fingernails

  • Kingman Park

    Living alone is the only way to guarantee your space will be kept as you like it. People have different ideas of cleanliness/messiness.

    • M

      +1. this sounds like my old roommate. Old roommate approached me about the kitchen being “filthy” and I responded with “I think we have different ideas of what clean is”

      • FridayGirl

        +2. I can live with other people’s clutter but other people’s dirt(y dishes, etc.) drives me absolutely nuts. And I know that it’s me and not them. And thus I try to live alone so that I don’t spend all my energy feeling like my apartment is dirty.

        • LittleBluePenguin

          +3 – clutter is annoying but able to be generally ignored. Feel free to be cluttery/messy in your own room, but I agree that common areas should be clean and as free of clutter as possible. And please, for the love of all that is good, don’t be DIRTY, leaving food / food dregs hither and yon for bugs to come find. Gross, just gross!

  • It’s just me

    The problem with a cleaning service is that if the person is messy (vs. not clean), it doesn’t help. They’ll clean your counters. floors, etc, but they won’t typically move around your (or your roomate’s) clutter.

    If you’re most concerned that people don’t help with the cleaning (doing floors, dusting, etc), you could say that you split cleaning evenly with roommates. Show them a list of cleaning tasks you do each week and say that once you find a roommate, you’d like to discuss with the roommate who wants to do what – so there are clear lines of responsibility. Someone who really likes a clean home won’t really mind this – particularly if you’re not dictating who is doing what, but having a conversation to come to a mutually agreed-upon task list.

    Good luck

    • OP

      That’s been my concern with the cleaning service approach. If there’s clutter everywhere, it still won’t be clean underneath all that stuff, and also, what do I do about how dirty the place is (dishes in the sink, etc) for the 6 days a week the cleaner isn’t there?
      I like the task list approach, that would be easier to do than remember who is responsible for what thing on the task wheel this week. Thanks for your advice!

    • anon

      The one time I had a cleaning service, they would gather the clutter and sort of pile it. Like if there was a lot of clutter on the coffee table, they would clean the table and put all the clutter in an organized-looking pile. don’t know if that is typical or not.

  • Anon

    I think there is often a tragedy of the common-areas in shared living spaces, even if you are both generally tidy/clean people. My group of roommates came up w a cleaning schedule where we each had one chore per week (e.g., clean tub/shower, vacuum, clean kitchen counters & surfaces, etc.) on a rotating basis. This kept the place pretty clean and was a good way to make sure the cleaning burden was equally shared.
    I would suggest proposing something like this to the potential roommate at the outset, and if they balk, you know they actually don’t like cleaning. If they say ok, then you have set the cleanliness expectations early.

    • Mr. Magoo

      “Tragedy of the common-areas” : very nice!

    • OP

      My problem with chore wheels is that I personally feel that they shouldn’t be needed, we should just clean stuff when we see they need to be done, so I’ve balked at the idea of chore wheels. I’ve been reticent to use dislike of chore wheels as a measure of cleanliness. But, I guess that means there’s no ownership of cleaning, so t doesn’t get done at all, so I’m going to have to implement something…

      • Anonymous

        Along with “the tragedy of common areas” is “the tyranny of shoulds.” Yes, people should be considerate and act responsibly as adults, but you have to live with what is, not what should be. Let go of shoulds and recalibrate your expectations. Determine the minimum you can live with — not the ideal we should all aspire to — and work from there.

  • Anon Spock

    I have found most people around 25 or younger are messy, so my most recent ad specified well past undergrad as a preference. We discuss any roommate pet peeves which is where I mention issues I’ve had and ask how they’d rate their cleanliness 1-10 (I think I’m a 7-8). I stress that what they’re seeing is how clean it needs to stay when we meet in person. All of the above has gotten me a roommate who keeps the common area clean. I do a bit more of the cleaning, but I don’t really mind as long as I’m not cleaning up after someone.

    • OP

      I think you’re right about the age thing. This last roommate was pretty young, and I think it was an experience thing. I tried your other tactics last time, but the age thing is the outlier. Thanks!

  • L

    Co-signed on the hopes that this was a follow-up to the original photo…
    To the OP – there’s really no way to tell (unless you ask for photos of their current living situation, which would be kinda creepy and turn me off to a potential roommate). The last time I had to look for a roommate i was VERY upfront about what I expected – fairly tidy in the common areas, but I didn’t really care about anything except the kitchen (no leaving food out, don’t leave dishes in the sink, etc. – i’m terrified of mice). The girl I ended up taking swore she was the same way, then ended up leaving food out all the time. I ended up moving out (mostly because she ended up being a heinous bitch, not because of the food). The only way to really guarantee it is to live alone or with someone a friend has recommended, in my experience.

    • OP

      Yup, sounds like my last experience, minus the heinous bitch part. We actually had mice at one point and that still didn’t get her to keep the kitchen clean of food sources (dishes in the sink, food just left out on the counters). It was bizarre in my mind–to say you’re clean upfront, but not want to keep clean to get rid of vermin? Unreal.

  • northeazy

    Game recognizes game. Real recognizes real. I am a clean person. There are hallmark indicators of a clean person. Arriving on time is one. I am always early to appointments. So even if the Metro broke down, I’d still be on time. Dress is important. but in my experience not positive. It could go either way. But typically well dressed/groomed ppl tend to be clean. Financial stability is another indicator of cleanliness (as well as good for a roommate situation) If you charge a security deposit, someone who has their shit together should have NO problem coming up with security deposit and first month’s rent immediately; not just after pay day. You could also smoke out a phony with some reverse psychology. As a clean person, I know just how dirty everything is, right? So if someone asks me if I am clean, I would say “yes, but not perfect.” For example, “I wish I mopped more often” or “my closet could use some work.” But someone who is a disaster and wants to just give you the answer they think you want to hear would say “oh yes, I am very clean.” LIES. I’ve lived with partners who acted one way when I would visit, but after we moved in, the real self was exposed. Good luck. Hope this can help a little.

    • Jay

      LOL… no.
      I have close friend who is all of these things: always on time, well dressed, financially stable/responsible and an all-around wonderful person, to boot… and her house is regularly a mess (always random stuff, less frequently food these days, but once upon a time there were infestations she was largely nonchalant about). If you want your living space to be clean to your liking, don’t have roommates. You aren’t dependent upon anyone else, you aren’t beholden to someone else’s standards of cleanliness…

      • northeazy

        That’s scary. You kind of shattered my world.

      • apers

        Ha yeah you basically just describe me. I don’t really see a correlation between promptness or financial stability and cleanliness.

        • OP

          Eh, there might not be a correlation between cleanliness and promptness/financial security, but those are still hallmarks of a good roommate anyway, I think.

        • siz

          ha, on the total flip side to this i am very clean and need my roommates etc to keep things really tidy, but…..i am late to everything

    • anon

      Hell no – I had a roommate once who presented herself very well, always dressed perfectly and was perfectly groomed. However, she was disgusting in the kitchen, bathroom, and her bedroom.

  • textdoc

    +1 to “there is no way of knowing what someone is really like after only meeting them for a short period of time.”
    Maybe the OP could ask potential roommates to send photographs of their current living situations, showing all rooms? Sure, they could tidy just for the photos… but I suspect the messier prospective roommates would just choose not to apply.

    • PetworthGuy

      I was thinking the same thing, but then I put myself in the potential roommates shoes. If I was looking to split an apt with a roommate and they asked for pictures of my current living situation to ensure I was clean (which I am), I would think that’s a little over the top. Even though I agree that having messy roommates is terrible, this would come off a little too helicopter-roommate-esque. But to each their own.

      • LittleEdie

        Naw, asking for pics isn’t going far ENOUGH. Hello, photoshop! The OP should require site visits to any potential roomates current residence. Once there, OP will perform a surprise white glove test, among others – shower drain inspection is a MUST. Additionally, OP should ask for references and when following up with them, ask detailed questions about potential roomies cleaning and hygiene habits, and probably have a polygraph machine on hand for in person interviews. I think that should get OP’s desired result!

      • OP

        Yeah, if I answered an ad and someone asked me to do that, I would forward the response to my friends with a note of “look how insane this person is, thank god im not living with them.”

  • anon

    When I used to interview people for jobs I would always ask, “do you like writing?” In my experience, no one who is bad at writing says yes. You could try something along the lines of “do you enjoy cleaning?” I like my apartment to be clean and I get satisfaction out of the work required to keep it that way.

    • OP

      My problem with figuring out questions to ask is that I wouldnt answer “correctly” if I was being asked them. I don’t like cleaning, but I hate living in a dirty home, so I do it. Maybe that qualifier makes my answer correct, I don’t know.

  • Local Natives

    Based on my current set of housemates, I wish it were common to ask for roommate references, to ask about things like cleanliness, paying bills on time, how loud they are, etc. Unfortunately that’s not a thing.
    Agreeing to split the cost of a cleaner (could be every other week or monthly if you don’t want to pay for weekly) might not be a bad idea.

    • OP

      Maybe the way around t is to find people through friends, then you have a built in reference. thanks!

      • JohnH

        I think that’s easier said than done. To find someone you know through someone who needs an apartment in the same budget, same area, same time to start a lease, etc. – those are some stars that have to align. And quite frankly, I know a lot of people – but couldn’t vouch for how clean they keep their house.
        If it’s a big issue, I’d suggest asking to speak to someone they’ve lived with before. It’s a little odd, but if it’s irked you to where you’re writing in on here – I don’t think you’re going to find someone give you an honest answer on those types of questions outside of their own appearance.

  • Wednesday Addams-Morgan

    Hello! Extremely fastidious person here. (If I was moving any time soon maybe I’d ask you to be roommates with me?)

    I would try asking them what they think of chore rotations/chore charts–the answer you’re looking for is probably “I usually don’t need them because I clean as I go, but if the apartment was starting to get dirty I’d definitely want to set up a chore schedule.”

    I’d also probably make references to my own level of cleanliness and maybe even exaggerate a little, because the idea is to scare off someone who doesn’t want to live with a neat freak. I would mention I prefer shoes off in the house, have strong opinions about which way utensils go in the dishwasher, etc… Our fellow neat freaks will respond “OH GOD FINALLY.”

    Also, maybe try and find someone YOU have to compromise on your usual level of untidyness with? Someone even YOU think is a little over the top? So maybe you’re okay with shoes in the house, but they’re not? Or you’re okay with splashing water on the sink but they’d really want you to wipe it off? Or you don’t label food in the fridge but they really want you to? I think I’d personally rather room with someone who was a little bit neurotic about cleanliness than someone who was messy.

    • OP

      That might be the ticket, getting someone who is more neurotic than me. I like the idea of exaggerating how clean I am to scare off people who are not clean. Very useful advice, thank you!

      • Neat Freak

        Nooo. I’m a neat freak too, and I can tell you that I THOUGHT I had found a fellow neat-freak in my last roommate, but her neatness tics and my neatness tics ended up clashing. Like, I would leave the shower doors open to allow the inside of the shower to air out (leaving them closed encourages mold), but she would leave them closed (to let the doors dry out). Or I would spread out a completely wet dish towel to dry out, only to come back to see it folded neatly and hung (this encourages mold!!!). The best answer is, not until you live alone will you be completely happy.

    • Blithe

      Nice! I agree with the “exaggerate a little” strategy. Many people who think of themselves as being “clean” and/or “neat”, and who actually are by their family’s standards or the standards of their peers, will not be anywhere close to your standards — and they may genuinely not realize this before moving in. I think the more specifics you can give about your own standards and habits, the better. Some prospective tenants will be obviously horror-struck as you describe say, daily dusting and cleaning the baseboards weekly with qtips. Others, I hope, will be thrilled to have found a fellow member of your tribe. Good luck with your search!
      – Since you’re concerned about “clutter”, another relevant factor may be trying to fit your housemate’s amount of stuff to the amount of space that you’re offering. It’s hard to avoid piles of stuff if you don’t have enough storage space for your belongings, so that might be a topic to discuss as well.

  • Hill Denizen

    That’s why I live alone. My last roommate would clean stuff if I told her and would change her behavior if I said not to do something, but after a while, I got sick of feeling like someone’s mother. Like, do you really need to be told you shouldn’t leave globs of cheese all over the stove or so many pots and plates in the sink that no one has any space to even rinse a dish out? And I’m not even a clean freak! I think laying out ground rules in the beginning is helpful, as is having a cleaning schedule. Also be weary when people say they keep their rooms messy and common spaces neat. That’s totally fine on face value, but outright mentioning it raises some flags.

    • OP

      Yes, I think the messy room, clean common areas is probably a warning sign. I mean, my room is untidy, so I’ve given people the benefit of the doubt with that, but I think I have a different idea about messy than others. There’s untidy with a few clothes on the floor, and there’s clothes a foot deep, with dirty dishes strewn about…

  • Dux

    Look at their car. Ppl clean with their cars are clean with their space.

    • Anon Spock

      Not true at all. Roommate has a very messy, cluttered car, but the common spaces are spotless.

    • Belinskaya

      Empty car, sort-by-piles apartment here. Probably common where people are concerned about break-ins.

  • dcd

    ” How can I find a roommate that’s actually clean?”
    I think my wife posted this. Uh oh.

    • Anonymous

      Heehee, she should definitely live alone.

  • LittleEdie

    Yes, the answer is live alone.

  • JohnH

    Without sounding crazy/ocd, I’d start off by stressing it in a craigslist post. You can always ask for a “roommate reference” just to ensure you pay bills, etc. on time in a roommate situation and ask that person.

  • AdMoRez

    I’ve had over 50 craigslist roommates over 10 years, and yes, you have to live by yourself. I’ve had questionnaires and requirements but they all lie. Out of those 50, maybe 2 were clean.

    • textdoc

      “Out of those 50, maybe 2 were clean.” Yikes!
      I wonder if that’s partly a result of self-selection — maybe people who are really into cleanliness just choose to live alone rather than deal with roommates.

      • AdMoRez

        I think so, I live with myself now, tired of babysitting and being a maid to others, and let me tell you, it’s so much better than being frustrated. I had roommates who spilled red pasta sauce on the floor and just left it there, could not have been more obvious and it stayed sticky for a month before I finally was tired of it and just cleaned it. Had others leave boxes around and never cleaned up after themselves, it gets old and i make enough now to not have to deal with it. The savings are nice, but my sanity is nicer.

  • cx20020

    Out of the ten or so roommates I have had since college, I found the best way is to make a slightly exaggerated chore chart, and have it be part of your ‘roommate agreement’ (i.e.: things that don’t make it into a housing contract, but still are written out and agreed upon early) I’ve never had to deal with enforcing this, so I am not sure how that would go, since all involved are adults!

    The least successful agreements were always oral agreements- Two of my roommates thought sweeping, vacuuming and scrubbing were only done about three times a year was perfectly reasonable. I didn’t realize this when interviewing; the interview must have been done right after one of those days.

  • siz

    alright, these “live alone” answers are annoying because the person most likely wouldn’t be posting if they didn’t need to have a roommate for financial reasons.
    i have had a bunch of CL roommates over the years as well, and agree that the key things are – minimum age requirement, and as a few other people mentioned – asking a lot of questions about lifestyle, etc. of course people can always lie! but it is the risk you take, ultimately you’re taking a chance. luckily i’ve never had like, a catastrophic experience. but important to that has been picking my battles and learning to be flexible where i can. i’m not willing to budge on dishes in the sink, but leaving shoes in the living room? eh. learned to live with it. it’s always going to be unlikely (with a rando person, a romantic partner you live with, etc.) that you’ll find someone exactly on your wavelength about all things.

    • LittleBluePenguin


  • Do people bother calling references?
    Yes, references can lie. But when I had roommates I always demanded and called references, and potential roommates needed three. Your reference doesn’t call back, too bad you weren’t going to be my roommate. Yes, references can lie too but it is better than no references. Usually I asked for one former roommate reference, and they were usually good about giving a heads up so I could decide if the other person’s good out weighed the not so good.


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