As every college student knows, there are some word combinations that are just made to go together. Mathos e pathos comes to mind, Greek for “to learn is to suffer.” Then you have “first” and “worst,” as in your first apartment away from home will almost certainly be your worst. First apartments are often so bad that many wonder how online masters degrees started trending if students are supposed to study from their dirty, broken homes. How can one write a graduate level paper on public health pandemics if they are sitting in one?

Yes, it is a sad awakening. Finally having escaped the annoying confines and boundaries of life with mom and dad, you are suddenly thrust into an existence which bears almost no relationship to your formerly comfortable middle class lifestyle. Poorly lit hallways, noisy or even scary neighbors, shoddy plumbing, antique refrigerators, and carpets worthy of exhibit at the Smithsonian are the norm for college housing. The limited income of undergraduate and graduate students often prevents home improvement projects – if one cannot afford food how can one justify cleaning the carpet?

So here are some quick fixes that will avoid you speaking with your landlord (if they ever call you back) and will hopefully help you get some of that deposit back.

Quick Carpet Fixes

Really, you have to wonder why college housing authorities don’t simply install concrete flooring. After all, concrete is resistant to almost anything college students can come up with. But, until they figure this out, college students everywhere will struggle with cleaning and patching carpet.

Cleaning carpet stains can be particularly tough, depending on what caused them. In college dorms the most likely candidate is beer. And in this case, your problem is less likely to be visible stains, as the lingering odor. Your best bet is to rent a really good steam carpet cleaner from the local hardware store or grocery store. You will get the most value out of it if 24 hours in advance you spray the stained areas with vinegar or an odor remover, then use the carpet cleaner with the most potent cleaners known to man. If your carpet is stained with red wine, there are several enzyme cleaners on the market which may help, if applied almost immediately. The better solution is to serve only white wine, mixed drinks or beer, as once red wine settles in, it won’t go away easily.

For cigarette burns and other carpet damage, you can use the snip and clip method of repair. If the burn is only visible on the top layer of fibers, a pair of nail clippers can remove the visible damage. If it is deeper, you can clip a bit of fluff from the edge of the wall or a matching closet, and apply it to the problem area with super glue. While this is not a beautiful or elegant solution, it can obscure the visible damage long enough to allow you to collect your deposit.


There is something about refrigerators, a household full of roommates, and cases of beer, which inevitably leads to broken shelves and moldy pizza. We’ll tackle the moldy pizza first, which applies to refrigerator cleaning in general. The first thing to do is take everything out of the fridge, and toss the jars and bottles into the sink for a good soak. Then take all the shelves out and put them in a bathtub. Now you can clean them with either a mild solution of bleach and water, or a solution of baking soda and water. Believe it or not, a little elbow grease and they will easily pass muster as perfectly sanitary and clean. For cleaning the inside of the refrigerator, it is best to use baking soda dissolved in water, as the bleach smell will never go away in a closed refrigerator.

For broken shelves, you have a variety of options. One online source suggests using plastic ties, like those used for binding computer and electric cords. Drill small holes in the broken drawer and fix the plastic ties through the holes. This can provide the necessary strength to keep the drawers together for a few years at least.

Another quick fix is a strong epoxy, you can find epoxy in art stores and hardware stores. Test a bit of it on the broken shelf first, to be sure that it doesn’t dissolve the plastic. If it is safe, use the epoxy along the cracks and breaks, let it set, and you should have a shelf almost as good as new, certainly as functional as new.

Holes in the Walls

Hopefully we aren’t talking about large holes in the wall, which would require drywall and plaster. Here we are talking about the small holes from nails, screws and thumb tacks; that inevitably occur in a well-lived in college apartment. A little spackle from the local hardware store is just the ticket to patch these holes, with a quick coat of matching paint. It may seem like a bit of a hassle, for something that can hardly be called damage in the worst apartment ever, with a heater that barely works and disastrous plumbing, but the time spent can well mean the difference between a full return on your deposit and a total wipe-out.

Most Important Fix-it Trick of All

Be kind to your apartment or house, no matter how beat up, sad and worn it is. When it comes time to move out, it should be in exactly the same condition as when you moved in. Proactive choices, like moving the beer pong game out to the patio and regular cleaning can make that final clean-up and repair a lot easier.

Be sure to take photos or video when you move in, and note all damage on the “condition report” when you move in. That way, your first and worst, won’t cost you an arm and a leg in lost deposits.


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