How to Politely Tell Your Coworkers to Clean Up After Themselves?

Ah, the office kitchen—a battleground where coffee stains meet passive-aggressive notes, and dirty dishes wage war against your sanity. While we can’t all be as neat as Martha Stewart, a little tidiness can go a long way in maintaining a harmonious work environment. But how do you tell your coworkers to clean up after themselves without coming off as the office nag? Here’s a witty guide to help you navigate this tricky terrain.

1. The Power of Suggestion

Instead of outright telling someone to clean up, why not make it a gentle nudge? A well-placed sign can work wonders. Think of something light-hearted and fun, like:

“Life is too short for dirty dishes. Please wash up after yourself and make the office a happier place!”

Humor can be a great icebreaker, and a witty note might just get your point across without offending anyone. Another idea could be:

“Dirty dishes make the coffee taste sad. Let’s keep our mugs happy!”

Consider rotating the messages every few weeks to keep them fresh and engaging. For example, a sign that says:

“Your mother doesn’t work here. Please clean up after yourself!”


“Cleanliness is next to godliness. Let’s aim for divine kitchen standards!”

These light-hearted reminders can help reinforce the message without sounding preachy. Additionally, using colorful, eye-catching designs for these signs can draw more attention and make them more effective. Adding some cute graphics or cartoons can make the signs more appealing and less likely to be ignored.

2. The Praise and Request Technique

People love praise. So, why not start with a compliment before making your request? Compliments can soften the blow of a request, making it more likely to be well-received.

“Hey Sarah, I noticed how organized your desk always is – it’s amazing! Do you think we could apply that magic to the kitchen too? A clean space makes such a difference.”

This way, you’re acknowledging their positive traits before gently steering them towards better habits. Compliments work because they make the person feel valued and appreciated. Another approach could be:

“John, your attention to detail on that last project was fantastic. It really made a difference. Do you think we could channel some of that precision into keeping our kitchen tidy? It would help everyone.”

By linking the request to something the person excels at, you’re framing it as an extension of their existing skills. This not only makes the request more palatable but also more logical. Additionally, following up with positive reinforcement when they do contribute to a cleaner kitchen can further solidify this habit. For example:

“Thanks, Sarah, for tidying up the kitchen yesterday. It looks great, and it really helps everyone out!”

3. The Collaborative Clean-Up

Organize a team-building activity that involves cleaning up the common areas. Make it fun with some music, snacks, and a little bit of competition.

“Let’s have a quick 10-minute clean-up race every Friday afternoon! Winner gets bragging rights and a fancy coffee from the café next door.”

Turning cleaning into a group effort can make it less of a chore and more of a bonding experience. You could also add a fun twist:

“Clean-Up Karaoke: Let’s belt out some tunes while we tidy up. Best singer gets to choose next week’s playlist!”

These activities not only promote cleanliness but also build camaraderie among team members. Another idea is to introduce themed cleaning days, such as:

“Monday Motivation: Start the week with a clean kitchen!”


“Thursday Tidy-Up: Let’s clear the clutter before the weekend.”

Incorporating incentives, such as small prizes or recognition in team meetings, can further motivate participation. Creating a rotating schedule where different teams are responsible for the clean-up each week can also ensure that the responsibility is shared and everyone is involved. This approach fosters a sense of community and shared responsibility, making the task more enjoyable and less burdensome.


4. The Direct Approach (With a Smile)

Sometimes, the best way is the direct way, but with a touch of kindness. Addressing someone directly about cleanliness can be tricky, but a friendly tone and a smile can make a direct request seem less like a command and more like a favor. For example:

“Hey Mark, could you please rinse your coffee mug after using it? I know we all get busy, but it would really help keep the kitchen tidy for everyone.”

This approach works because it’s straightforward yet considerate. It acknowledges that everyone has busy moments while emphasizing the collective benefit of a clean kitchen. Additionally, you can frame it as a small act of courtesy:

“Mark, I know you’re always swamped with work, but could you spare a minute to rinse your mug after use? It would mean a lot to all of us who use the kitchen.”

By presenting your request as a favor rather than a demand, you’re more likely to receive a positive response. Remember to thank them afterward:

“Thanks, Mark! It really helps keep the space nice for everyone.”

This not only reinforces the behavior but also shows appreciation, making future requests easier.

5. The Anonymous Note

If all else fails, and you prefer to stay behind the scenes, an anonymous note might be the way to go. Just keep it light and humorous:

“Dear Office Fairy, Please remember to wave your magic wand and make the dirty dishes disappear. Thanks! Signed, A Fellow Cleanliness Enthusiast.”

Sometimes, people need a gentle reminder that doesn’t feel like a personal attack. Anonymous notes can be effective if they are fun and non-confrontational. Another example could be:

“To the Dish Whisperer: Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to banish the dirty dishes to the dishwasher. Many thanks! From, A Grateful Colleague.”

Make sure the notes are friendly and considerate to avoid creating tension. Place them strategically where they’re most likely to be seen, such as above the sink or on the fridge. Changing the style of the notes occasionally can also keep the message fresh and engaging. However, it’s important to ensure that the tone remains positive and encouraging rather than accusatory.

6. The Role Model

Be the change you want to see in the office. Lead by example, and others might follow suit. Keep your own space tidy and always clean up after yourself. You might inspire others to do the same. When people see the benefits of a clean workspace, they’re more likely to adopt similar habits.

“Wow, Emily always keeps her desk so clean. Maybe I should start doing the same.”

Being a role model involves consistently demonstrating the behavior you wish to see in others. Make a point of tidying up shared spaces, like the kitchen, after you use them. You can also subtly showcase the benefits of a clean environment by mentioning how much more pleasant it is to work in a tidy space:

“I find that keeping my area clean really helps me stay focused and productive. It’s such a small thing, but it makes a big difference.”

Encouraging words and actions can gradually influence your coworkers to follow suit. You could also invite colleagues to join you in quick clean-up activities, reinforcing the communal aspect of maintaining a clean office:

“I’m going to tidy up the kitchen before we leave. Want to join me? It’ll just take a minute, and it’s always nice to start the next day with a clean space.”

Leading by example, coupled with gentle encouragement, can foster a culture of cleanliness and cooperation in the workplace.

. The Group Agreement

At your next team meeting, bring up the topic of cleanliness in a collaborative way. This method not only promotes collective responsibility but also ensures that everyone has a say in maintaining a tidy office. You can start the conversation like this:

“Hey team, I’ve noticed our kitchen can get a bit messy. How about we all agree to clean up after ourselves to keep it nice for everyone? Maybe we can come up with a quick set of kitchen rules together.”

Engage the team in brainstorming session for creating a cleaning checklist that everyone can follow. This checklist can include tasks such as:

  • Washing dishes immediately after use
  • Wiping down countertops
  • Clearing out expired items from the fridge weekly
  • Emptying the trash and recycling bins regularly
  • Keeping the microwave clean

Having a clear, agreed-upon set of rules can make it easier for everyone to know their responsibilities and adhere to them. You can also create a rotating schedule for tasks to ensure that everyone contributes equally. Make the checklist visible by posting it in the kitchen area, and perhaps add a section for team members to sign off once they’ve completed their tasks. This adds a level of accountability and ensures that no one feels overburdened.

Additionally, you could introduce an incentive program to encourage adherence to the checklist. For example:

“Let’s implement a Clean Kitchen Award! Each month, we’ll recognize the team member who has been most diligent about following our kitchen rules. The winner gets a gift card to their favorite lunch spot!”

Such positive reinforcement can motivate everyone to participate and keep the kitchen clean.

Wrapping Up

Navigating the delicate topic of cleanliness with coworkers doesn’t have to be awkward or confrontational. By using humor, compliments, group activities, and leading by example, you can encourage a tidier office without ruffling any feathers. Incorporating a team-created cleaning checklist can further ensure everyone understands their role in maintaining a clean space. After all, a clean workspace is a happy workspace – and who doesn’t want to be happy at work? So, go ahead and spread the joy of cleanliness, one witty reminder at a time!

Remember, a clean office not only improves hygiene but also fosters a more pleasant and productive work environment. By implementing these strategies and the cleaning checklist from Good Cleaner Co., you can help create a culture of cleanliness and cooperation. Happy cleaning!”