The holidays really should be a time of good cheer and not a source of stress about whether your house is up to handling an onslaught of guests. And we have good news on that front. Assuming is in good enough shape that nobody will walk through your front door and fall through the floor, most of what you need to take care of around the house before company arrives will probably require nothing more than a few tools you likely already have (and some extras if you want to build out your kit). It’s pretty easy to whip your home into shape.
As people who do our share of holiday entertaining, this topic matters to us. But we’re also product testers, and a deeply analytical bunch at that. We test everything. So we prepared this definitive checklist of things to do to get your house ready, knowing from first-hand experience that it works.
We begin in the nerve center of holiday hosting—the kitchen—and then move to the bathroom before hitting other key areas of the home. These simple, DIY-friendly touchups should be easy to pull off in the run up to your celebrations.
Start in the Kitchen
The kitchen is the place from which good food and laughter should emanate. So start there. Its appliances probably need nothing much other than basic cleaning and a little adjustment. Still, there are a few pitfall to avoid.
Once big holiday meals are coming together, you’ll be opening and closing this appliance more times in a day than you usually do in a week.
First, clean it out. A deluge of food is headed toward it. Grab a trash bag and give the heave ho to unused food that’s been sitting around in there. Be merciless. In days, the refrigerator is going to be crammed with holiday goodies. It makes no sense for half-rotten food to share valuable shelf space with some of the best you’ll be eating this year.
Tighten screws on any loose door handles.
Fix loose or misaligned door gaskets. Take a nut driver or socket and wrench, loosen all hex head gasket screws, reposition the gasket using a putty knife to shove it into position, and retighten. Consider installing a new gasket after the holidays.
Clear blocked freezer vents by repositioning food in the freezer compartment to clear the area around them.
Clear cold air vents. Move around food in the fresh food compartment to allow cold air from the freezer to move more freely. During festivities, you can gain critically needed space by putting all drinks on ice in a cooler.
Replace burned-out lights with an appliance bulb, typically a clear 40-watt bulb sized for appliance use (a common, inexpensive item at hardware stores and home centers). If the fresh food compartment is still dark after its replacement, that usually indicates a failed door switch.
Oven and Microwave
If you don’t have an oven thermometer to check the appliance’s temperature, this is the perfect excuse to treat yourself to a more versatile test instrument: a battery-powered infrared thermometer. The Heat Seeker from General Tools is a point-and-shoot diagnostic implement. Point its laser right at the surface you want to measure and it’ll tell you the temp. After you're done analyzing the range, you can use it for checking heating/cooling equipment and for any number of repairs around the house, such as whether the dryer is getting sufficiently warm. It’s versatile and can read from -4 to 605-degrees Fahrenheit—a lot of range for $40.
If need be, adjust the oven’s temperature setting using the instructions in the owner’s manual or a repair manual. Simply pull off the temperature dial, loosen the two screws on the back, and adjust the dial so that the oven will run cooler or hotter based on your needs. (There are also basic but excellent tutorials on this topic available at a number of places on the web.) In many cases, the job requires nothing more complicated than adjusting the temperature dial so it points correctly. The only tool you need is a screwdriver.
Important: Don’t clean the oven. The high temperature generated in the self-clean cycle—as much as 900 degrees F—is hard on the appliance. And the last thing you want is for the stove to fail right before the big day. Give a quick cleaning around the top burner elements and leave the rest be. Save the big cleanup until leftovers are safety nestled in the fridge.
All of your appliances take a beating during this holiday, so make sure they start out on the right foot. Take out the microwave’s rotating tray and scrub it or pop it into the dishwasher. Wipe down the microwave’s interior with a soft cloth and a little soapy water. Make sure its air vents are clear of dust and grease.
If the microwave is an over-the-range model and provides general kitchen ventilation, be especially thorough cleaning its vent surfaces of greasy dust. If you don’t have spray degreaser on hand, use a soft cloth moistened with ammoniated glass cleaner.
Kitchen Chairs, Tables, Cabinets
You can get so used to a chair that wobbles slightly that you forget about it. Stop forgetting about it. Grab a multi-bit screwdriver and tighten loose connectors on chairs or tables.
A few minutes with a screwdriver is all it takes to tighten loose handles on drawers or to adjust the Euro-style hinges that join a cabinet door to the cabinet body.
And you know that drawer that is overpacked with junk? Clean it out before somebody who is looking for the silverware jerks the thing open and sends its contents flying. While we’re on the subject of drawers, if you have any drawer boxes (the body of the drawer itself) that are starting to come undone, fix them now. All that’s required may be a couple of nails, a screw or two, or, in the worst case, maybe a block glued into one corner to reinforce the joint where the drawer sides meet the front and bottom. You can fasten a glue block with ordinary carpenter’s glue or a hot-melt glue gun.
Toasters, Coffeemakers, Air Fryers
It’s amazing how little attention people give to small, countertop appliances. They can be so packed with crumbs, gunk, and grease, it’s a wonder they work at all.
If you haven’t recently checked the drip opening on your coffee maker (and who does?), you may be unpleasantly surprised. Unplug the coffeemaker and turn it upside down. If the drip opening looks like it’s covered in asphalt, clean it with a soft cloth and a solution of warm water and dish detergent. It may take several tries to get the crud off. The coffee will taste better for it. That takes care of the outside. If you haven’t cleaned the inside of the coffee maker (ever) or it’s been some time, use a coffee maker cleaner. We’ve seen cleaned coffee makers work more quickly, but your guests will also thank you for better-tasting coffee.
Likewise, empty the crumb drawer on the toaster. And inspect your toaster oven and air fryer for crumbs or hardened food debris that you meant to clean a month or two ago but somehow never got around to.
Move On to The Bathroom
In many respects, the bathroom is the hardest-working room in your house. It’s got a sink, a toilet, and a tub or shower stall. It needs constant cleaning and attention to stay attractive, functional and safe.
Toilets, Sinks, Tubs
Not to get too graphic here, but toilets see a tougher workout than any other fixture in the house, especially when guests pull up a seat. Now’s the time to take care of poor flushing action or a toilet that flushes by itself by replacing the flapper valve or the entire flush mechanism. Your best bet here is to slip in a Fluidmaster flush valve.
If the toilet rocks slightly, try tightening its mounting bolts. Should you lift the bolt caps and find severely corroded fasteners (don’t be surprised), leave well enough alone and let it go until after the holidays. If the bolts look serviceable and the rock is severe enough such that someone sitting down can notice it, slip a discreetly installed toilet shim under the fixture to stop the rocking motion.
And that towel bar and toilet paper holder? If they’re loose, tighten the mounting screws that secure them to the wall bracket. Likewise, if vanity doors have loose hinges, tighten ’em up.
With the needs of very young or very old guests in mind, a grab bar can make for a safe and reassuring bath experience. Installing one takes between 30 minutes and one hour and requires a tile bit and a simple cordless drill, along with a few other tools, such as a small torpedo level and a tape measure.
Another bath accessory that can make for a more pleasant and safe experience is an anti-slip bath mat. No installation necessary here. Just flop it down.
If you have a dripping faucet, almost certainly a guest is going to crank down on the handle in an attempt to stop the drip. If that person has a strong enough grip, that could likely put that sink out of business when you need it the most. Replace any suspect faucet cartridges now before disaster strikes. There are dozens of repair kits available. Your best strategy here is to pull the parts out and use them to find the correct replacement part.
Then Perform A Safety Walkthrough, Inside and Out
With the kitchen and bath out of the way, take a walk through the house and yard. Consider where guests are liable to go, where they park, where they walk, perhaps where they duck outside for fresh air. Those are the areas that you need to give extra attention.
• Install fresh light bulbs to replace those that are burned out in lamps, ceiling fixtures, sconces, and outdoor fixtures.
• Check handrails to be sure that they’re not loose. If it takes more than tightening a screw, and you need to add a bracket, do so. It takes only minutes to attach it to the wall and to the rail.
• Are rugs and mats slippery, worn out, or potentially posing a safety hazard because they have one or more edges that turn up and could cause somebody to trip (especially if that person has already had a drink or two)? Put down a fresh one.
• If you’ve got that smoke detector that emits the occasional chirp, it’s time to replace its battery. Or replace the smoke detector itself; it takes just minutes, even for one that’s hard-wired (powered by the house’s wiring, with the battery only for backup power).
• Stock up on ice melt to keep walks and driveways safe underfoot.
• And when was the last time you actually looked at your home’s first aid kit? The contents of most modern kits are good for several years, but they don’t last forever. If you have company coming, now’s the time to give that kit a look and either restock it or replace it.
• If you’ve got small children visiting, installing some child safety latches and gates. The parents will thank you.
• And as odd as it may sound, if you don’t have a fire extinguisher, treat yourself to one and call it a Christmas present.