In this week’s #AskTDS, TDS’ Director of Dispute Resolution, Michael Morgan, answers the question ‘What constitutes as “clean”?’

Spring is almost upon us and for many that means it’s time for a deep clean. But since cleaning is still the most common factor in tenancy deposit disputes, what constitutes ‘clean’?

Cleaning has never been cooler. There are now, believe it or not, cleaning ‘influencers’. One of the most well-known of this new generation of cleaning gurus is Mrs Hinch. She posts daily cleaning tips and tutorial videos to her audience of 1.7 million Instagram followers.

Netflix has also cottoned on to the cleaning craze, commissioning Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

Despite its new-found cult popularity, cleaning remains the leading cause of tenancy deposit disputes. In 2018, cleaning was cited in over half (52.5%) of all disputes across TDS’ Insured and Custodial schemes[1]. It was closely followed by damage, decoration, rent arrears and gardening.

But if cleaning is becoming more popular, why is it still the leading cause of tenancy deposit disputes?

Ultimately, it boils down to the fact that describing something or somewhere as ‘clean’ is subjective. What a tenant might view as clean could vary dramatically from what meets clean criteria for a landlord or letting agent.

Simply put, the best way to avoid a deduction over cleaning is to thoroughly clean the property, but there are steps you can take when you move in to the property so that both you and the landlord’s expectations are aligned.

It can be a really exciting time when you get the keys to a new place, and often what you really want to do is unbox the kettle, start planning where you want things to go, and get on with unpacking. We would encourage you to take an hour or so to read the check-in report/inventory and go around the property checking that the description of the items, condition of the décor and standard of cleaning described matches what you are seeing.

Usually it will be a true representation of the property, but this is your opportunity to set things straight where an item is either missing from the inventory, is missing from the property, or is not in the same condition or standard of cleanliness as stated.

If you find that, for example, the check-in report says that the oven is cleaned to a professional standard but that the grills have hardened carbon residue and is greasy to the touch, make a note on the inventory and report this to the landlord promptly and in writing. Often the landlord will ask that you return the inventory within seven days; it is important that you stick to any timescales given.

While taking photographs is a good idea, it is really difficult to see how clean something is in a photograph, so while they can be great supporting evidence in some cases (for example the inside of an oven), the written description is key. It impossible to photograph a smell, or something that is sticky to the touch, and taking a photograph of dust on a carpet can be equally tricky, so some clear, concise words describing the item is best.

It can also be a good idea to pay special attention to areas which tend to take the most use, or require the most cleaning, such as: the oven, shower/bath, fridge freezer, windows and flooring.

It is easy to forget how clean a property was at the start of the tenancy, especially if you have lived there for a number of years. This is why you should refer back to the check-in report which was agreed at the start of the tenancy.

The check-in report should give you a good idea of how clean the property was when you moved in and therefore how clean the landlord expects the property to be when you move out. If the inventory states that the property was cleaned to a professional standard, then you must clean the property to the same standard as it would be had you hired in a cleaning service.

If the inventory states that it is clean and tidy, there may be photographs of or additional descriptions next to items such the oven or hallway carpets, which will give you a better idea of how clean it should be when you move out.

As long as you remember the fundamental principles of meeting your obligations in the tenancy agreement check-in and check-out process, you will not normally face unexpected deductions.


About the author

Michael is the Tenancy Deposit Scheme’s Director of Dispute Resolution. Having practised as a solicitor, Michael has been involved in dispute resolution for over 20 years. His previous roles have included leading the consumer advice service for Hertfordshire Trading Standards; Michael was also the Chief Conciliation Officer for Qualitas, the Furniture Ombudsman, where he took a formative role in its transition to Ombudsman status.

Michael joined TDS in 2006 as a Deputy Independent Case Examiner. He is now responsible for the management of its dispute resolution service and the quality of its adjudication functions. Michael has also led a number of key ‘behind the scenes’ innovations at TDS.

Michael is also the Deputy Chair of the Ombudsman Association’s Casework Interest Group , and has also been asked to judge in the UK Complaint Handling Awards since 2017

About TDS

Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) is a government-approved scheme for the protection of tenancy deposits; TDS offers both Insured and Custodial protection and also provides fair adjudication for disputes that arise over the tenancy deposits that we protect.

We provide invaluable training in tenancy deposit protection and disputes for agents and landlords through the TDS Academy as well as joining with MOL to provide the Technical Award in Residential Tenancy Deposits.

TDS Insured Scheme: where a TDS member can hold the tenancy deposits as stakeholder during the term of the tenancy.

TDS Custodial Scheme: where TDS hold the deposit for the duration of the tenancy.

TDS Academy: TDS provides property professionals with invaluable training in tenancy deposit protection and tenancy deposit disputes.

TDS Northern Ireland: TDS is Northern Ireland’s leading and only not for profit tenancy deposit protection scheme.

TDS can only comment on the process for our scheme, other deposit protection schemes may have a different process/require different steps. Content is correct at the time of writing.

These views are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the view of TDS, its officers and employees.

ARLA|Propertymark: For agents who would like to stay up to date, you can contact Propertymark | ARLA at: By being a member of Propertymark | ARLA you will be eligible for TDS Insured best headline rates.

RLA: If you are a landlord and would like to keep up to date with any changes that may affect you or your responsibilities, you can contact the RLA at: and quote reference: dg715 to receive 25% off your first year’s membership.


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