How to Clean an Attic

A white, empty attic

Isaac Jarnagin / Unsplash

Overview
  • Working Time: 4 hrs
  • Total Time: 4 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Unless your attic space is used as an office, playroom, or guest room, the attic is usually an out-of-sight, out-of-mind part of a home. However, it shouldn't be. Finished and unfinished attic spaces are connected to our living spaces. Even an empty dusty attic affects the air quality of a home and is particularly detrimental to those who suffer from asthma and allergies.

Allergens like insect excrement, dust, and mold enter your living spaces through attic doors, ceiling hatches, recessed lighting, and HVAC systems if they are located in the attic. Learning how to properly clean an attic will keep you and your family healthy and at ease.

How Often to Clean an Attic

Ideally, attics should be cleaned and decluttered seasonally to remove dust and check for any problems. Realistically, a thorough cleaning including sorting through stored items once per year is essential. Choose a day with moderate weather, especially if the space is not temperature controlled, and set aside plenty of time to complete the job.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Broom
  • Dustpan
  • Vacuum
  • Step ladder (optional)
  • Shop light or bright lamp

Materials

  • Disposable dusters
  • Safety glasses
  • Protective mask
  • Protective gloves
  • Glass cleaner (optional)
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Trash bags

Instructions

  1. Put on Protective Gear

    Before beginning the chore of cleaning an attic, put on a protective mask, gloves, and safety glasses to keep allergens and irritants like insulation from entering your system.

    Warning

    If the attic does not have solid flooring, it is very important to always step only on the floor joists—never between them. The area between joists is not sturdy enough to hold your weight and you will end up with a hole in your living area ceiling.

  2. Gather Cleaning Supplies and Tools

    To make the task easier, be sure that all of the cleaning supplies and tools are taken into the attic before you begin cleaning. This will save you time and trips up and down the stairs.

    Since most attics have minimal lighting, a shop light, headlamp, or a bright lamp will help you see areas that need attention. A sturdy step-ladder may be needed to reach dusty rafters.

  3. Empty the Space

    Remove all boxes, bags, and furniture from the attic to make cleaning easier. If removing large pieces is too difficult, consolidate and move them to one corner so the rest of the space can be cleaned more easily.

    If there are windows in the attic, remove any window treatments and toss them in the washer or send them to a dry cleaner.

  4. Remove Dust

    Start dusting at the top of the space and work your way down. Dust beams, light fixtures, ceiling fans and blades, walls, and window frames.

    Dusting can be done with disposable dusters, microfiber dusters, or cloths. It is important to have plenty of dusters or cloths available so that you can change to a fresh one as they become loaded with dust.

  5. Sweep and Vacuum

    Use a broom and dustpan to gather any large debris that might clog a vacuum unless you are using a shop vac. Carefully vacuum all flooring to gather dust, dead insects, and other allergens. Empty the vacuum bag or dust cup into a trash bag as often as needed.

  6. Wash Windows and Screens

    If there are windows in the attic, use a glass cleaner and microfiber cloth to clean the inside panes—and outside panes, if possible. Clean the window screens.

  7. Inspect the Attic

    Now that the layer of dust is removed, take time to inspect the insulation, look for any mold or moisture damage, and check for insect or pest infestation.

    The insulation in the attic should be evenly distributed with no gaps showing. If the insulation has fallen below the level of the floor joists, you probably need to add more.

    Inspect both the insulation and ceiling for mold and mildew growth. The mold may be a variety of colors and none of it is good for the air quality in your home. Call in a professional if you see mold or water stains from leaks.

    Take note of any evidence of insect or rodent activity—excrement or chewed boxes—and look for gaps or slivers of daylight that may be an entrance point. Call in a professional exterminator or treat the space yourself. If the area feels drafty, check windows for gaps. Leaks can increase your home heating and cooling costs.

  8. Sort Stored Items

    Now is the time to sort through all of the items that have made their way into the attic. Make three piles—keep, donate, toss—and touch each item only once.

  9. Reorganize Stored Items

    Once you know what you are keeping, it is time to organize.

    Important documents should be stored in a fire-proof box. Other items should be stored in plastic bins that are pest-proof. Use clear bins or label the contents.

    Stack the bins with similar or seasonal items together. Look for ways to add wire or wooden shelving between the rafters for better organization.

    If you leave any furniture in the attic while you are cleaning, dust it and put it back in place. Use old cotton sheets to cover the pieces to help keep them clean. Don't forget to clean under the furniture if you haven't already.

    Warning

    Attics that are not climate-controlled spaces can reach 40 degrees (F) higher than a home during summer months and drop to much colder levels during the winter. Never store electronics, photographs, delicate fabrics, or heat-sensitive items in an unconditioned attic.