I'm writing this guide so that I can impart my wisdom and knowledge onto the Rimworld community and help them with an issue that has plagued all of us at one point or another: hauling and cleaning. It can be frustrating to micromanage haulers and cleaners so today I would like to talk about some of the mechanics and provide some information for dealing with the issues related.
I'm sure everyone has dealt with items and objects not getting hauled where they need to go in your colony. You may find yourself furiously micromanaging and prioritizing cargo pods, food, materials and all sorts of things while following your colonists around with a magnifying glass to see if you need to intervene and force them to do what you want.
You don't have to do that anymore. I will be discussing the mechanics of hauling and cleaning that I have been able to grasp after 357 or so hours of game play in this amazing masterpiece of a game. Hauling and cleaning can be a very complex mechanic at times so I will try my best to explain things.
Hauling is the lifeblood of any RimWorld colony. Whenever you try to attempt to do anything or accomplish any task in the game, it will generate resources that must be moved to your stockpile zones. Stockpile zones must be placed deep in your colony, well defended, in a centralized location nearby your kitchen, workshops and any other room that needs to have easy and convenient access to your colonies resources. If hauling doesn't get done, items are left in the open and many tasks and jobs in the game simply do not function correctly. It must be a priority if you want anything to work right.
Cleaning is essential because dirty rooms can cause disease to be more likely and drastically increases your chances for infection. Cleanliness of tiles can be influenced by the material that you build them with, there is a research in the game known as sterile materials which will allow you to build sterile tiles for your kitchens, research rooms and hospitals. Keeping your colony clean by assigning the cleaning work type will stop colonists from getting huge mood de buffs from an unclean and ugly environment. This will cause mental breaks and will kill your colonists if left unchecked.
You can prevent these issues from happening by following some simple steps and being able to comprehend some simple mechanics about the way these jobs work, what conflicts with them and why.
Every time a colonist is about to do a job you assign to them, they will do a priority check. You can cause a priority check to happen by drafting and undrafting your colonists. When and where a priority check happens can be traced and linked to what your colonist is doing at the time, what they have finished with and what is programmed to be a finished task and an unfinished one. You can learn when they happen by watching your colonist intently after you set up their manual priorities.
This is important to understand because often times I have heard that some players like to keep cleaning and hauling at priority 1 which is the first set of jobs they will do from left to right. If a job is to the left of the job that they are currently doing but is placed at priority 2, they will do the job on the right before they do the job on the left. That goes for all jobs placed at priority 2 and all jobs placed at priority 1. This concept can be extended in layers, with priority sets 3 and 4 respectively. Colonists will do all jobs set to priority 1 first, from left to right in that order. After priority 1 is complete, they will move to priority 2 and then after all of priority 2 is complete, they will move on to 3 and so on.
There are specific work types that cause priority checks to happen right after they are completed. You can easily see an example of this when you set hauling to priority 1 and construction to priority 2 and then have your colonist deconstruct a set of walls. The colonist will deconstruct each wall and then do a priority check, see that hauling is set to a higher priority, and then haul the 5 bricks that they generated from deconstructing the singular wall back to the stockpile zone. This is why I would not advise having your construction workers set to this combination of priorities. If, say, construction is set to priority 2 and so is hauling, the construction worker will deconstruct all of the walls and then when a priority check happens, haul all of the resources together as a stack of 75 instead of a stack of 5.
This is the same for farming, cooking, mining, plant cutting, smithing, tailoring, crafting and art. Those last 4 are inconsequential though because often times your colonists are producing a few items at a time and having them immediately haul the created item to your stockpile is not inefficient as opposed to farming, cooking, mining, plant cutting and construction. For construction, the issue only comes up when you want to deconstruct a lot of things, otherwise it doesn't really become a problem nor is it inefficient, so you could count that out too.
Cleaning is a little different, the way it interacts with other job types depending on the order it is set in is much more simple. If you set cleaning to priority 1, unless your colonist is in the middle of another work task that you set for it to do, it will walk all the way to a single blotch of dirt or rubbish and clean it. They will clean many of them if they are in the same general area, or the next blotch of uncleanliness that pops up, as these blotch's pop up at random all over your colony. So, in theory, your cook could be cooking a few meals, be on meal number 3 and then suddenly a mess is generated somewhere and after a meal is cooked, a priority check will happen. Your cook gets the mess cleaned immediately after the last meal was cooked and will only return to cooking once there is no more mess inside of your home area. That can actually be pretty important if that mess happens to be generated in the kitchen, but is irritating if it's really far away from the main job that you have that pawn assigned to.
I would recommend turning off the option in the bottom right of your UI to automatically expand your colonies home area as you build. As your form and reform the architecture of your colony, you will inevitably cause the home area to get generated all over the map and you will have a lot more mess for your colonists to deal with that they shouldn't be bothering to clean. If you wall your colony in, you should make everything inside of your walls your home area anyway though, because colonists won't fight fires that aren't in your home area.
It can become very inefficient, but when you have tasks that get done in a long sitting and are only done for a portion of the day, for example: hunting, wardening, crafting, smithing, tailoring, doctoring, hunting and art it's not really a problem. Your warden won't run off and clean rubbish during their chat session or when delivering food to your prisoners. Nor will your hunter in the middle of a kill, nor will your crafter in the middle of crafting a specific item that you wanted. This pretty much applies to all skills I mentioned here. The longer a task takes, the less cleaning interrupts their workflow.
So, let's keep in mind what we've learned in the mechanics section and utilize that knowledge to optimize our colonists.
If a colonist is going to be mainly doing any of the flowing tasks, set them to priority 2 for hauling: construction, cooking, farming, mining and plant cutting. You could cause the same effect with a variety of different priority configurations but I like to keep my manual priorities simple. If this is the main job of that colonist, the thing that they will be doing all day for the most part, I put them at 2 for these jobs. They all come before hauling in the work order, they are all to the left of hauling, so they will be done first before hauling and a priority check wont mess up their workflow. They will mine all the stuff and then haul it, they will cook all the meals and then haul them, etc. You can not keep these people as your priority 1 hauler and to be quite frank you can not really keep these people as your priority 1 cleaner either as that will also seriously interrupt their workflow.
You have to remember that messes happen all over the colony, your cook can not spend precious time cleaning if the mess is all the way on the other side of the colony, nor can your plant cutter, construction worker, farmer or miner especially. If you have a colonist that does these things, their cleaning should be set to a 2 and the job itself should be set to a 2 as well.
You still can have them as a priority 1 cleaner but watching your miner walk across the map to clean 1 mess is soul draining so I wouldn't suggest it. If you find yourself doing a lot of deconstruction with a construction worker, I also wouldn't put them at priority 1 for hauling either but it's up to you and depends on how often you deconstruct stuff, and if it's specifically walls or flooring that your deconstructing. A construction worker is usually working from dusk til dawn on whatever project you've assigned to them. They may not have time for hauling either so put them at a 1 for hauling at your own risk, building will go slower if you do.
If a colonist is going to mainly be doing: hunting, wardening, handling, crafting, smithing, tailoring, art and doctoring you could keep them as a priority 1 cleaner and it won't interrupt their workflow all that much. You can also keep them as your priority 1 hauler but remember that they will haul before they clean and both of these tasks are very time consuming. If you only have one colonist doing both, you may run into a situation where cleaning isn't happening and you do not want to be in that situation. They also may not have time for their main job if your having them haul and clean at a priority of 1.
You always want to split up the workflow and prioritize based on what you will be having your colonists do. Think about how much time your colonists will spend with all of the jobs you give them and ask yourself if they will really get through all of them. There isn't any point having a colonist assigned to a certain job if they never get to that job in their priority list.
Mid to Late Game
There are in-game solutions to the issues presented which you may prefer utilizing as opposed to trying to get through the spaghetti of optimizing your colonists manual work priorities.
For hauling, you can forever solve that as an issue by training a pack of hauling animals to do all of your hauling for you. You can do this with an animal handler that has the minimal handling skill for any specific animal that can haul. Once you have enough animals, you can ignore hauling as a job altogether and utilize your colonists time for more skill-based and productive tasks. Any pack animal that has the intelligence necessary for hauling can be trained to do so eventually.
For cleaning, you will inevitably run into a colonist that you don't really need for anything. They aren't horrible, they may not have a load of bad traits or health issues but they aren't really good at anything and don't have the potential to be either. Likely teenagers with only 1 backstory or colonists with a skills besides dumb labor, disabled. You can still use these colonists as a dedicated cleaner, or hauler, if necessary.
If you train pack animals for hauling, you can simply leave the priority number blank for hauling for all of your colonists and depending on how big your colony is you may need to use 1 or 2 (for really big big colonies, 3) dedicated cleaners as well. At this point, every other colonist can be taken off hauling and cleaning respectively and you won't have to worry about it again unless something happens to your animals and cleaners.