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Move-Out Cleaning Tips to Help Students
Get Their Security Deposit Back

September 27, 2018

One of the last things students are thinking about when it’s time to go back to college is the security deposit on their apartment or room-if they think about it at all! The excitement of getting away from home and venturing out on their own typically doesn’t include thoughts of rent, bills, and other “grown-up” stuff. Especially if mom and dad are footing the bill, many students probably know very little about the cost of moving into a new place and ongoing living expenses that come with this new freedom.

Security deposits for apartments, utilities and other services can add up quickly. These substantial amounts of money can be tied up until you move out, so getting that money back should be a priority. Whether you are a student, or a parent, understanding how to get your money back starts at the beginning of the lease, not on move-out day. Before we get to those move-out cleaning tips, let’s make sure mom, dad, and Junior know what to expect and what factors affect security deposits.

What is a security deposit?

Most landlords may require the first month’s rent, sometimes the last month’s rent and a security deposit, all upfront. Also called damage deposits, security deposits are required to secure the rental property against damages, repairs and other things that need to be addressed once a tenant moves out. These deposits are often equal to one month’s rent, and in some states security deposits can equal up to three month’s rent. It’s easy to see that we are talking about some real money here!

Most renters (or their parents) typically don’t give a lot of thought to these upfront costs, much less how to ensure they get their money back. It would seem that if there are no damages to the place and the apartment is clean when it’s time to move out, then there should be no problem getting that deposit back, right? Not so fast. To make sure that the security deposit is returned to the renter safe and sound, it’s essential to know precisely what the rules are regarding a rental agreement. Read on to learn how to protect your security deposit before it’s time to move into the new place.

The fine print and the first day

Read the lease.

Don’t review the lease, don’t skim over the lease and don’t just hope for the best. Read the lease. Even the most amicable landlord is likely to follow the lease agreement terms to a T. After all, protecting their property is a landlord’s top priority, and it’s a good bet that the lease agreement is designed to do just that. A tenant’s top priority is probably getting that security deposit back, and the best way to do that is to understand the lease agreement.

Some landlords will allow you to paint the walls, for example, while others explicitly state that painting isn’t allowed. Some security deposits are very conditional, while others are straightforward. Is that pet deposit really a deposit or is it a non-refundable fee? It’s also a good idea to read up on state laws regarding rentals and deposits to make sure the lease agreement is fair and legal.

Document everything.

Once you have read the lease and understand what’s involved and it’s moving day, this is the time to document the condition of the new place. The landlord will undoubtedly have a detailed report of the condition of the property before renting it. Renters should do the same immediately upon taking possession of the keys.

The best way to document the condition of the new place is to make a list of any and everything that isn’t 100% perfect. It’s highly recommended to take pictures as well. A landlord may require that a new renter sign a move-in checklist and renters should ask the landlord to sign the tenant’s checklist.

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Looking ahead and getting ready for move-out day

Move-out day?! Why would a renter start thinking about moving out when they’ve just moved in? It could be years before that day arrives or at least months. Understanding the lease agreement, documenting the condition of the new place and getting settled in is just the beginning. It’s important to be prepared when the time comes to get that security deposit back.

Of course, there will be a lot of cleaning involved before moving out (as promised, more on that below). If that seems too unpleasant of a thought, renters could always hire someone to do the dirty work for them. How a tenant takes care of an apartment while they’re living there could mean the difference between a full deposit refund and no money back when it’s time to go.

It’s a good idea to keep things nice and clean during the rental period, but not everyone is inclined that way. At the very least, it’s important to keep things in working order and to address any damages as they occur. Yes, the landlord is responsible for specific maintenance like repairing refrigerators and other issues, but they aren’t responsible for things that tenants break.

During the term of the rental, there are going to be times when a renter tears a screen or breaks a bathroom mirror. Rather than relying on the landlord for repairs, or worse, waiting till move-out day, it’s often less expensive to repair these things as soon as they are damaged or broken.

Move-out cleaning tips

It’s finally time to move out, and everything is in working order. Any damages have been repaired (even if it’s just for the most part), and everyone understands what to expect. Now it’s time to get that apartment in tip-top shape for the final inspection that will put that security deposit back where it belongs.


Sweep, mop and vacuum. Use a commercial cleaner for carpets if they are badly stained, preferably one that uses a very low moisture process.


Sweep out cobwebs and wash the walls. Pay close attention to kitchen walls and areas above vents or heaters. Remove all nails, screws and other hangers and patch the holes with spackle. Repair any dents or holes in the walls and clean all of the switch plates.


Clean windows inside and out, including sills, trim, and tracks. Notate any broken windows, torn screens, blinds and curtains, so you have a record when it comes time to settle up.


Make sure doors and locks work correctly and all keys are accounted for to return to the landlord. Notate any damage to doors, frames and hardware.


Clean the sink, countertops and trim. Wash cabinets inside and out and clean any shelves. Clean the microwave inside and out (and the filter if there is one). Clean the stove and oven thoroughly, including the drip-pans and the grunge beneath them. Wash the refrigerator inside and out, underneath and ever behind (don’t forget the walls back there!) Clean the inside and outside of the dishwasher including the strainer and the door seals. Remove any exhaust fan filters and clean the entire exhaust and filter thoroughly with degreaser.


Clean tubs, showers, vanities, sinks, toilets, cabinets, walls, trim and exhaust fans. Make sure everything is free of mold and mildew, even the grout.

And the rest…

Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are clean and functional. Replace the batteries if needed.
Replace any burnt-out light bulbs and clean all light fixtures.
Clear out everything from closets, cabinets and drawers.
Remove everything from patios, decks, terraces, balconies and clean these areas.
Get rid of any trash, debris and anything else that wasn’t there on move-in day.

Once everything looks shiny and new, it’s a good idea to take some notes and take some pictures. It’s also best to make the final inspection a joint venture. While doing a final walk-through with tenants isn’t something every landlord will agree to, it’s worth a try. At a minimum, just like move-in day, it’s a good idea to ask the landlord to sign your final inspection just like they will ask you to sign theirs.

Make sure you turn in all of your keys and let the landlord know where to send that security deposit. If you followed these guidelines and used the move-out cleaning tips, your check should arrive in the mail before you know it.

If the thought of cleaning up your rental unit when it’s time to move out is just too much to bear, call The Maids®. We offer a variety of cleaning services for every budget, and our 100% guarantee means a super-clean apartment or home and a great chance at getting that security deposit back!

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