Nobody wants to be the houseguest from Hell who hardly interacts with his/her host, makes a huge mess and generally behaves like the Cat in the Hat but without the friendly charm of the Dr Seuss character.
On the other hand, you don’t want to give your host the impression that you don’t think that his/her standards of cleaning aren’t up to standard (even if they are a bit dodgy – it’s all about good manners). It’s a fine line to walk. How much should you help out with the cleaning around the home when you’re a visitor? Does your host or hostess really mean it when they say “Don’t worry – you just sit back and relax. I’ve got the cooking/cleaning/pet care under control”?
This is where manners and housework meet. Thankfully, there are a few general guidelines that will help you negotiate this potential minefield. With good will and a sense of humour on both sides, you’ll be able to get through your weekend staying with the relatives without any explosions or resentments. You may even be able to actually enjoy yourself.
Cleaning Tasks You Can Always Offer to Help With
Some routine jobs you can always offer to help do without causing any offense or hinting that your hosts aren’t the most scrupulous domestic cleaners.
- Washing the dishes. Dishes always need to be done even if your hosts have a dishwasher and it’s kind of traditional to help with food related chores. If your host has got dodgy habits, then you can give the bench and the top of the cooker a quick wipe while you’re at it because this is “part of the job”.
- Hanging out or getting in laundry. This especially applies if your host hangs washing outside on a line or puts the drying rack outside and it starts to rain.
- Taking out the rubbish. Again, this is a task that every household does and so you’re not insulting your host by volunteering to haul the rubbish bin or the recycling crate to the kerb on collection day.
- Cleaning up your own mess. This never gives offense to anyone. Don’t be that guest who leaves hairs in the bathroom sink, a grey ring around the bath and piles of orange peel on the bedside table. If your host is on the dodgy side, you can surreptitiously do a bit of extra cleaning on the side when you’re “just cleaning up after yourself”.
- Taking dirty linen off the bed when you leave. Your host should want to wash the sheets after you’ve had your smelly, sweaty feet, bum and armpits in them. Even if your host is a dodgy cleaner, taking the sheets off come under the category of “helpfully cleaning up after yourself” and sends a hint that they need to be washed, especially if you dump the dirty linen in the washing basket or even in the washing machine.
Useful Phrases to Use When Offering to Do Household Chores
There are some things that are pretty much always safe to say if you’re staying at someone’s place and you want to do your bit to help the place stay (or get) clean:
- “Can I help you with (fill in the blank with whatever task your host is currently busy with)?
- “What do you want me to do with my shoes? Can I leave them here? I think I stood in something messy, so…” This spares the host’s carpets.
- “Where do I put my rubbish/this old newspaper/etc.?”
- “Is there anything that I can help out with around the home while I’m here? I like to do my bit.”
Slightly More Dangerous Phrases (And Actions) to do with Housework
Some phrases and actions are sometimes safe and sometimes dangerous, depending on the sort of relationship that you have with your host.
- “Where’s the mop? I may as well give this floor a good going over while I’m at it.” This one’s useful if you have spilt something on a hard floor surface.
- “I can vacuum the carpet if you like.”
- “Give me a job to do around the house – I don’t like just sitting here.” This leaves off the last few words of your full sentence, which could be “because I feel guilty leaving you to do all the work” or
- “in the middle of this insanitary dump”. Your host will hopefully assume that you mean the first of these even if what you’re thinking is the second.
- “I found a great professional domestic cleaning company.” This sort of conversation can be taken as a “I’ve managed to find something great” topic but it can also be a very subtle hint that your host could also do with professional home cleaning services. If your host gets huffy at the suggestion that they’re a bit piggish and slatternly, you can easily turn this around so it makes it sound like you’re the slob and the cleaner has rescued you.
Picking up the broom, mop, vacuum cleaner or duster and getting started on a job without saying anything. This can be done when your host nips out to pick up the fish and chips or a pint of milk if necessary.
Offensive Home Cleaning
There are some things that will turn you into the houseguest from a very clean and hygienic Hell, transforming you into the sort of relative who everybody dreads. Stereotypically, mothers-in-law are like this but the critical super-clean houseguest can be any relative (but probably not a friend!).
Running a finger through the dust on the mantelpiece, windowsill or the top of the piano. Writing your name or “Clean Me” in the dust is even worse.
- “What is that funny smell?”
- “When was the last time you cleaned your (fill in the blank)?”
- “It’s a wonder you don’t make yourself sick.”
- “Can I have a properly clean cup?”
- “There are maggots in here!”
- “You don’t use that stuff for cleaning, do you? That never really gets the dirt out properly.”
Anything that criticises your host and says that he or she isn’t doing it right should be avoided. The only time that you can sort of get away with it is if you are visiting your son or daughter who has only recently moved out from home. Even so, your general tone should be one of “I must have forgotten to tell you this useful piece of advice about how to clean when you were still at home,” even if you know perfectly well that you told him/her at least a hundred times.
And when you’re staying with any other relative who has dodgy cleaning habits? Bite your tongue, do what you can surreptitiously if things are really bad, offer to take him/her out for dinner (or at least suggest pizza) to avoid food poisoning and keep a large bottle of hand sanitiser (which can be used for more than just hands) in your suitcase or sponge bag.