How to clean up after a dinner party – 7 swift steps to restore order

Cleaning up is the worst part of a dinner party, here’s how to make it run smoother

dining tabe in wood panelled room with candles and laid table
(Image credit: Future PLC)

Whether you have had four guests or 20, cleaning up after a dinner party is laborious at best. So how do you clean the dining room efficiently after hosting without making more of a mess? 

With several cleaning tips up their sleeves, cleaning experts have perfected the art of the post-party clean-up without it taking all evening and detracting from your fun. 

From preparing in advance to setting up routines, here’s how to restore order swiftly after a dinner party.

How to clean up after a dinner party 

Between picking up some quick cleaning tips and knowing which kitchen cleaning hacks just don’t work, you can streamline the process so nothing is left until the next day. 

The secret? Preparing in advance.

1. Think ahead to prep your cleaning spaces

Kitchen sink and window with green cabinets

(Image credit: Roundhouse)

Although most of your efforts will be focused on preparing dinner, preparing to clean up is just as important if you want the process to run more smoothly, advises Aaron Christensen, VP of growth and cleaning guru at Homeaglow

‘Clearing up after a dinner party is always a chore, but you can lighten the load by thinking ahead. The three biggest jobs are dealing with dishes, getting your kitchen back in order, and cleaning your dining space.

‘To make dealing with dishes easier, for instance, ensure that your dishwasher is empty before you start cooking, and try to load it as you go with dirty pots and pans. If it’s full, run it while you eat, so that there is space for dishes when you’re done with the meal.

‘To simplify cleaning your dining space after the meal, prepare the cleaning materials you’re likely to need beforehand. If you’re serving wine over the carpet, you’ll want to put out some paper towels and baking soda or salt to suck up any stains before they set. For linen napkins and placemats, prepare a bowl of water with laundry detergent. After the meal, throw your fabric items in to soak so that stains lift easily.’

2. Tidy as you cook

modern kitchen with marble

(Image credit: Future PLC)

One thing professional chefs swear by for a clean kitchen is tidying up as you cook. This helps to prevent accidents and staining, and can even make your food taste better by preventing stress, allowing you to focus on the meal, and preventing cross-contamination. 

‘Getting your kitchen back in order is easiest if you keep it tidy as you go. To make this easier, clear as much space as possible before you start and keep kitchen counters clear – this is made easier if you organize your kitchen countertops in advance.

‘When you finish with an ingredient, put it to the side in one area. When you’re done cooking, you’ll have all the ingredients that need to be put away in one spot,’ Aaron Christensen, cleaning guru continues.

3. Limit the party to a few rooms to keep the mess contained

Dining room with round table and wallpaper

(Image credit: Mendelson Group / Eric Piasecki)

When hosting a dinner party, it is best to limit your party to just a few rooms, maybe one or two, to help keep all the mess contained and make clean up quicker, suggests Jade Piper, operations manager at BetterCleans. This is especially important if hosting a dinner party without a dining room. 

‘When your guests start exploring far and wide, the mess tends to follow suit. So, if you want to cut down on the post-party cleanup, try to keep the party action happening in just a room or two. 

‘And if the weather plays nice, why not take the party outdoors? Your backyard becomes the stage, plus your carpets, floors, and furniture stay clean and stain-free.’

Jade Piper

Jade Piper is the Operations Manager of BetterCleans, a leading home cleaning service based in Milwaukee. With a proven track record in the industry, Jade skilfully oversees all operations, ensuring top-notch service delivery to clients. Her passion for creating tidy and welcoming spaces extends beyond her professional life, making her a true advocate for a clean and happy home environment.

4. Move dishes as soon as the meal is over

candle lit dining table with rattan chairs

(Image credit: Birdie Fortescue)

'To tackle the task of dealing with plates and cookware efficiently, adopt a strategic approach,’ Angela Rubin, cleaning professional at HellaMaid recommends. When setting a table for any occasion, consider how much dinnerware you actually need to limit surplus plates being used when they really aren't needed. 

‘Begin with scraping off any remaining food into the compost or trash. Then, place the dishes in a basin or sink filled with warm soapy water. This step will prevent food from hardening and sticking, making the actual washing process much easier. 

‘As you clean, group similar items together, like glassware, plates, and silverware, to save time when storing them back in their respective places.’

5. Set up a laundry load for linens

Industville Sleek Edison Wall Light - Brass image – a neutral laundry room with green and white wallpaper, and an entryway bench to the left

(Image credit: Industville)

Doing laundry may not be your first thought when juggling pots and plates, but setting up a laundry station for table linens is a must before you sit down to eat, says Muffetta Krueger, cleaning expert and founder of Muffetta’s Domestic Assistants. 

‘Linens such as tablecloths, napkins, and cloth placemats require special care. Remove any food debris and stains as soon as possible to prevent them from setting in. For stubborn stains, apply a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water before laundering. Wash linens in cold water to prevent setting stains and shrinking. Air-drying is preferable, as high heat can weaken fibers and fade colors.’

Muffetta Krueger

Muffetta Krueger is a driving force in the domestic service business, with over 15 years of operational management experience in the industry.

6. Wipe down all surfaces

kitchen countertop trends, white modern kitchen with concrete island with sink, open plan dining/kitchen space, view to hallway and living room

(Image credit: Platform 5)

After the dishes and linens have been cleared away, it is a good idea to wipe down all the surfaces, including cleaning the kitchen and its countertops, cleaning the kitchen sink, and cleaning the dining table, to get rid of any spilled food and drink that evaded your tablecloths and plates. If you have time, you may also want to quickly sweep or mop the food, although this is a task that could be left until the next morning if you want to get back to the fun or put your feet up.

7. Pack away leftovers

Modern kitchen with grey fridge freezer

(Image credit: LG)

Unless you have some very hungry guests, it is likely you will have some form of leftovers once you have finished your meal. Preparing some containers in advance and organizing the fridge to make some space will make decanting unused food and storing them away simpler, ensuring there is no waste, says Beth McCallum, of Oh So Spotless.

‘One of the perks of hosting is that you get to keep the leftovers! When everybody leaves, place leftovers in containers and pop them in the fridge. Your kitchen will instantly feel cleaner.’


How do I get my house ready for a dinner party?

When preparing for a dinner party, it is a good idea to give your home a quick clean to make surfaces fresh and make your rooms smell nice. Then, you will want to set the table, ensuring that there is enough space for everyone to sit comfortably and enjoy their meal, and that there is enough seating in the living room, where people are likely to move on after dining. 

Don't spend all of your energy scrubbing every inch of your house, however. This is best left until after the event, and things are likely to get dirty again after guests have visited – especially if you are inviting over a large group, or family that includes children.

When cleaning up after a dinner party, not all of it has to be done alone. In fact, Aaron Christensen, cleaning guru, encourages asking your guests for their help: ‘My bonus tip is to not be polite. Have your dinner guests help out for ten minutes before they leave. Ask them to help out with unstacking and stacking the dishwasher, putting bottles and cans in the recycling, and helping pack away clutter in the kitchen. This can allow for some more bonding time and doesn't have to feel like a chore. 

‘Every job goes faster with a group, particularly tidying up after a dinner party.’

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.