The University of Iowa


Most Americans, and all American landlords, believe it is important that living quarters be kept reasonably clean (although you may encounter notable exceptions to this). The concern for cleanliness is evident in the supermarkets, where you will see a remarkably wide array of products designed to clean various parts of the house. You will not need all of these products. You can ask someone who lives here, and whose living quarters seem clean, to help you select the cleaning supplies you will need.

The Johnson County Extension Service, 319-337-2145, provides information and resources on cleaning (and other home economic related topics).

Major Appliances

Stoves and Ovens

Kitchen stoves operate on either gas or electric. In either case, it is important to keep the burners, drip pans (stainless steel bowls below the burners) and oven clean so they will work safely and effectively. You should wipe the burners/ drip pans after each use to keep the spilled food or liquid from burning or hardening on them. Clean the inside of the oven periodically, using ammonia or a special oven cleaner. When using an oven cleaner or any other specialized cleaning product, read the label carefully and follow instructions.  Many cleaning products are harmful if inhaled or allowed to touch your skin so make sure to ventilate the kitchen well while the product is applied. Some oven brands have a self-cleaning program - please ask your landlord if you are not sure how to operate this program on your oven.


A refrigerator should be defrosted when the ice (or frost) around the freezing unit becomes 1/4 inch (6,5 mm) thick. To defrost the refrigerator, turn it off, empty it, and let the water from the melting frost drip into a tray or pan which you can empty into the sink. You can speed the process of melting the frost by putting a pan of boiling water in the refrigerator beneath the frosted area. Wipe the inside of the refrigerator with a solution of water and baking soda. Put an old towel around the base of the refrigerator to collect water that reaches the floor. Some newer refrigerators defrost automatically, or do not have ice around the freezing unit.

Disposal of Trash and Garbage

Ask your landlord what you should do with trash and garbage. Refuse is collected once weekly in Iowa City and Coralville. If your apartment has a garbage (that is, food waste) disposal in the sink, be sure to ask your landlord what kinds of waste should and should not be put into it. (A garbage disposal is a machine that grinds food waste and allows it to be washed down the sink drain.)

Curbside Recycling

Both Iowa City and Coralville have voluntary curbside recycling programs. Ask your landlord or a neighbor what can be recycled, what containers to use for items you want recycled, and what the pick-up schedule is in your neighborhood.

Find out more about Iowa City recycling or Coralville recycling.

UI Recycling

The UI Office of Sustainability has recycling and waste reduction initiatives over the past few years.

Keeping the Kitchen Clean

American kitchens are less open to fresh air than are kitchens in some other countries. Thus grease and oil in the air tend to accumulate on walls and on the top of refrigerators and cabinets. These areas should be cleaned to avoid the development of unpleasant odors (it also become sticky). This is especially true if you fry food frequently. Keeping crumbs off the counters and the floors swept will avoid attracting insects and rodents. Vacuuming, washing or sweeping the floors should be done minimum once a week. 

Keeping the Bathroom Clean

An important area in which there are widespread differences in customs has to do with toilets and bathrooms. While Americans in general do not clean and polish a bathroom every day, they generally believe that bathrooms should be kept relatively clean and free of odors. This means at least weekly cleaning of toilet bowls, bathtubs, sinks, shower stalls, and bathroom floors. Hair, soap residues, and water or other stains on mirrors and tile should be removed. Products for cleaning toilet bowls, porcelain (of which sinks and toilets are made), tile, and glass are available at many grocery or department stores.

After any bath or shower, water that has gotten onto the floor around the bathtub or shower stall should be dried up. Towels and washcloths should be hung so they can dry without creating unpleasant odors.

A word about toilets. People in many parts of the world do not use the type of toilet on which a person sits. Instead, they are accustomed to the type on which a person squats. Unfortunately, the practice of squatting on a sitting-type toilet will eventually loosen the toilet from its connection to the sewer pipe that goes into the floor beneath the toilet. Then the foul-smelling water will leak out. Therefore, difficult though the adjustment may be, people who are accustomed to squatting on a toilet are well advised to learn to sit on the toilets used in the United States and follow the etiquette below.

Finally, three points about toilet etiquette:

  1. Flush the toilet after each use.
  2. Men should raise the toilet seat before urinating into the toilet so they do not splash urine on the seat, and then put the seat back down when they are finished.
  3. Toilets are not designed to have garbage flushed down them. They are designed to accommodate human waste and toilet paper only; anything else may cause the toilet drain to clog and water and waste to backup and spill on the floor.