9 Tips for Hosting a Large Party Without the Dreaded Clean Up

Styrofoam plates are not the answer.

By Katherine Fluor
camille styles how to host a large party with minimal clean up

Summer is the time when we all seem to effortlessly master the ‘day to night’ look. With spontaneous parties starting poolside in the afternoon and ending late-night stargazing on the back patio, there’s something in the summer air that makes me want to let my hair down, pour another glass of wine, and dance the night away (even though I probably said I was leaving the party hours ago.) Longer days mean longer parties, and unfortunately, longer clean up duties when it’s all said and done. And nothing can kill your post-party buzz quicker than a sink full of dirty dishes, a yard covered in trash, and mystery stains on the living room carpet. We’ve thrown enough parties to figure this out the hard way, and have luckily picked up some tricks that help keep the cleaning to a bare minimum.

It is possible to throw an all-star party and not hate yourself (and your guests…) in the aftermath. The next time you’re on hosting duty, consider making these smart tweaks to your party plan—you’ll thank yourself when the pineapple punch starts punching back the next morning. 

feature image via camille styles

image via camille styles

Start with a clean slate. 

During your pre-party setup, you can cut down on post-party cleaning time and morning-after anxiety before your guests arrive with a few simple things that can make a big difference.

What to clean beforehand: 

  1. Remove clutter from surfaces like coffee tables, kitchen counters, and patio areas. Also stow away any easily breakable or expensive items to avoid having them ruined.
  2. Empty the dishwasher so it’s ready to be filled right away when the time comes.
  3. Take out the trash, and start placing trash bins out in plain sight so guests can easily find and use them. Stashing a trash can near the bar, if you’re having one, is a great idea, too.
  4. Place rolls of paper towels in rooms where guests will be gathered as just-in-case measures for when spills inevitably happen.
  5. Put extra bath and dish towels in the bathroom that are easily visible for guests to grab if when they have a spill.

What to skip: 

  1. Don’t bother mopping the floors, since you’ll most likely be doing that the day after. (Unless, of course, they’re in elementary school cafeteria conditions and you have special guests coming that you’re trying to impress.) A quick pass with a vacuum inside and broom/leaf blower outside should otherwise do the trick.
  2. Save the kitchen deep-clean for after the festivities; while prepping, stick to cosmetic tidying, dusting, and wiping down surfaces.
  3. Don’t waste time cleaning other rooms of your house that will be ‘off limits’ to guests. Stick to sprucing up the high-traffic areas guests will hang in the most, and turn off the lights/close the doors of rooms you don’t want guests lingering in.

image via camille styles

Serve less-mess foods.

Having a menu full of multi-course meals will keep you tucked away in the kitchen for a majority of the party and create piles of dishes in the sink. For larger, more casual parties, we like sticking to bite-sized, grab-as-you-go foods and easy sides that make it nearly impossible for guests to leave a messy trail. Serve items you can make in advance such as shrimp and vegetable skewers, turkey koftas, and mini latkes. Avoid offering guests lots of sauces of dips that can leave your furniture and floor covered in spill marks. 

image via camille styles

image via camille styles

Bring out the table cloths. 

Even though you may love the intricate details of your dining room or patio table, you won’t love cleaning out spills or tiny crumbs out of its tiny grooves and crannies. Table cloths (like these) and runners (these) are a fun and easy way to tie your table decor together, or incorporate a party theme. And the quick pick up, shake, rinse, and repeat aspect makes them a no-brainer for a large party. 

Also, while you’re at it, throw a table cloth on yourself via a cute apron while you prep/cook to eliminate the need to constantly grab paper towels to wipe your hands—or if you’re like me—countless spills on your outfit.

image via camille styles

Set up an outdoor bar cart with all the fixings. 

If it’s warm outside, prepare a bar cart on the patio for guests to mix and pour their own drinks. Sure, built-in bars are always swanky, but a great bar cart on wheels is super functional and holds all that your guests need for a self-serve setup. It also keeps spills outside, as opposed to inside of the house on your floors, carpets, and rugs. If it’s in the dead of winter, roll your cart to a hard-surfaced area in your home that will make for easy clean up of any spillage. 

As far as drinks go, try to limit options but not the fun. Skip serving sticky, sugary cocktail mixers and dark colored liquors or wines, which can lead to tough stains. We love serving white wine, a bubbly Prosecco or sparkling rosé, beer, and a fun premixed signature cocktail in a pretty drink dispenser.

To really take your bar cart to the next level, read Chanel Dror’s crash course on how to stock and style it to pure perfection.

image via camille styles

photo via west elm

Get on board with eco-friendly disposable dishware. 

Disposable cups, plates, and cutlery aren’t exactly known for being well-liked, and for good reason. Most options out there are typically horrible for the environment, are lacking in durability, and are certainly not super attractive. We’ve recently found a loophole in the disposable dishware dilemma however that has saved us hours of clean up after a large party.

Opting for bamboo or palm leaf products for plates, bowls, and silverware instead of paper or plastic is so much better for our planet, and they look super chic. They’re also 10x stronger than paper, 100% biodegradable, light weight, and stain/leak resistant. We love to DIY our own, or use these dishes for large parties since they’re better for us (no harsh or added chemicals), better for the environment (USDA certified 100% biobased), and they cut dishwashing duties out of the picture. Win-Win-Win.

image via camille styles

Have guests mark their cup territory. 

If you decide to stick with your glass drinkwear, giving guests a single one to use throughout the party reduces the amount of washing you have to do at the end of the night. But, you can’t expect guests to keep up with their cup while the punch bowl is still going strong. We recommend having guests write their names on cups with something like Sharpie peel-off markers. The cheap wax pencils last a long time, don’t require a sharpener, and write easily on either the bowl or the base of the glass. The key thing to remember is to write names on the glasses when they’re dry and empty—otherwise, condensation from the chilled drink makes the glass wet and cold, and the markers won’t work.

Or, if you aren’t keen on having guests write on your cups, opt for cute drink stirrers that can serve as an identification marker amongst other guests’ glasses. Here’s a cheap and fun DIY for making them, or we also love these reusable drink umbrellas. 

image via camille styles

Keep trash bags in plain sight.

If you don’t give people a place to put away their empty drinks, dirty plates, and cigarettes butts, they will leave them literally anywhere they can. This includes the hood of your neighbor’s car. Make sure you have plenty of trashcans and recycle bins in multiple locations throughout the party so people can throw away their stuff on their own rather than you having to clean it up.

See how Jenn Rose Smith mastered this at her CS Bungalow house party.

image via best landscape

Prepare an emergency spill kit.

The better the party is, the bigger the chance for something to break or spill. That’s why we recommend stocking up on plenty of paper towels, dish towels, and proven stain removers like salt, soda, and lemon before your big bash starts. Have them close by the kitchen or living room for easy access when spills inevitably happen. 

But remember, it’s still a party, and doing heavy-duty cleaning up while guests are still there can make them feel uncomfortable. Plus, you should be having fun, too. Enlist others such as your souse or a close friend to help to keep things neat while the party happens. They can round up glasses or dishes and place them in the sink or a sudsy soaking bin until you’re ready to start the post-party clean up. 

image via urban outfitters

Have fun. Then, do what you can. 

A great party is a chance to put your phone down, relax, do a little dance, and enjoy good company. It’s your party, after all! Remember that an anxious host make for anxious guests (and probably more spills), so avoid disappearing into the kitchen and starting the heavy-duty cleaning until all your guests have left.

Once everyone has trickled out, it’s always better to try and do as much as you can before retiring to the couch. First, pick up left out food and drinks, so kids, pets, or bugs don’t get into them. Pre-treat stains on linens and toss them into the washing machine to soak overnight. Use plastic baggies to store leftovers instead of searching for containers and matching lids (always a struggle for me). Rinse off plates and stack them until the dishwasher is full, and gather up what’s left into one spot in the kitchen to make final cleanup a cakewalk in the morning. 

Prep what you can, let the party fouls go, and host the type of party you’d never want to end.