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Airbnb Cleaning Ultimate Guide: Vacation Rental Housekeeping 101

Cleanliness is paramount to a successful vacation rental. Traveling in a pandemic is not easy, travelers need assurance that their vacation property has a high cleaning standard. Vacation rental housekeeping is challenging, as cleaners have to balance time and attention to detail. I am writing this post to help hosts, property managers, and owners find, attract, motivate, and retain top housekeeping talent for their vacation rental businesses. Through almost a decade in vacation rental housekeeping operations, I have seen over 9,000 turnovers. Understanding the process of successfully and thoroughly cleaning an Airbnb is essential. Second, finding the right vacation rental cleaning team is critical. In this post, you will learn about the cleaning process and how to find the right housekeeper for your vacation rental.

Airbnb Cleaning

Reviews are driven by vacation rental cleanliness scores

Look at any negative review, most will point to cleanliness as the dealbreaker. Whether it was hair in the shower or dirty linens, today’s short-term guests are more vocal than ever before. An industry survey revealed 86% of travelers report cleanliness as the top criteria when booking travel. 

Key Differences In the Vacation Rental Cleaning Process

Compared to residential housekeeping or a maid service, vacation rentals have several key differences:

  • Sanitizing surfaces properly, knowing the difference between cleaning versus sanitizing
  • Laundry between guests must be done in-house or provided by a linen service
  • Restocking essential supplies such as toilet paper, soap, trash bags, cleaning products, and consumables
  • Reporting damage as it occurs and noting missing items
  • Keeping an inventory
  • Providing photo documentation of damages or areas of concern
  • Checking the property is in guest ready condition (light bulbs, remotes, lock, appliances, etc.)

How much should I pay for vacation rental cleaning?

Expect to pay around 6 cents per square foot for vacation rental cleaning services. Many professional cleaning services have minimum cleaning fees for smaller properties. Guests pay a clean fee when booking a property. In most cases, this is an itemized fee that may even exceed the nightly rate for some properties. This is an industry practice which can be seen as deceiving to customers who are lured in with a small nightly rate, only to find out the vacation rental is much more expensive than they were shopping for. Furthermore, housekeepers are less likely to be tipped when guests pay an itemized cleaning fee. Clean fees vary depending on your home size, geographic location, labor market, and cleanliness expectations. In vacation rental cleaning, you truly get what you pay for.

Airbnb cleaning fee
The cleaning fee for this 3 bedroom rental as seen itemized, is $85.

How often is it necessary to deep clean a vacation rental?

Expect to deep clean a vacation rental at least twice a year. If you have a larger property with many short stays, you may have to deep clean your property more frequently as weddings, birthdays, barbeques, and other gatherings create more grime and build up. Expect to pay twice if not more than your regular cleaning fee for a deep cleaning.

What does deep cleaning a vacation rental property include?

A semi-annual deep cleaning service should include important tasks such as:

  • Laundering comforters, curtains, throw pillows, pillow and mattress encasements
  • Inspecting the box spring and mattresses
  • Cleaning scuff marks on walls and baseboards
  • Steam cleaning furniture
  • Cleaning on top of and behind appliances

Self-Managing a vacation rental

Can you self-manage a vacation rental property? Absolutely, but you need the right team and preparation. Do you have a handyman or maintenance tech who can help in a pinch? Does your cleaning company provide referrals to pool cleaners, plumbers, electricians, and other needed support? If there is an emergency in the middle of the night, who will run to the rescue? Many housekeepers and vacation rental cleaning services provide these services for additional fees.

How has vacation rental cleaning changed since the pandemic?

The global health pandemic has changed the vacation rental landscape for good. The impact on travel is obvious, as international travel restrictions burden calendars and cancellation refunds are higher than ever. Vacation rental cleaning since COVID-19 has meant stronger disinfectants and more laundry. Key changes to the vacation rental cleaning process since COVID-19 include, but are not limited to:

  • Disinfecting every surface with EPA-approved cleaning products
  • Airing out your property between guests for at least 24-72 hours
  • Laundering everything, including comforters
  • Proper usage of PPE

For more information on vacation rental cleaning standards for COVID-19, Vacation Rental Management Association (VRMA) has developed and released these cleaning guidelines.

Airbnb Cleaning During COVID-19 Pandemic

How to hire the right housekeeper for your Airbnb

Hiring the right housekeeper is not as easy as performing a google search. Experience in the industry is necessary, as hiring the wrong person can cost you lost revenue, create unhappy guests, and give you many sleepless nights. If this sounds like an exaggeration, picture this: receiving a call at 11pm because the sheets are dirty. Yes, just hiring the wrong housekeeper can cause you pain. First, you must understand the different types of cleaning services available to you.

Vacation Rental Cleaning

Identifying different types of housekeepers and finding the right fit

For simplicity, there are four types of cleaning services for vacation rentals and Airbnbs:

  1. Independent Housekeepers
  2. Platforms
  3. Local cleaning services
  4. Professional vacation rental cleaning companies

Independent housekeepers can work, as you may enjoy working with the same cleaner each time. There is a major pitfall to this, your housekeeper may become unavailable when you have a turnaround. By not having a backup cleaner, you are creating a recipe for disaster and it is only a matter of time until you have an arrival departure on the same day with no one to clean it.

Platforms like Handy, Properly, and Turnoverbnb work for some markets.

Local cleaning services are a good bet, but they may not focus solely on vacation rental cleaning so your custom checklist may not be important to them or they may be unfamiliar with the vacation rental cleaning process.

Professional vacation rental cleaning companies are the way to go. There are not many, but these cleaning services stay up-to-date on the latest trends, invest heavily in training their cleaning teams, and put the guest safety and comfort at the forefront of their businesses.

Questions to ask before hiring a housekeeper

Before you hire a housekeeper, please ask them the following questions:

  • Have you cleaned vacation rentals before?
  • If a guest complains about hair in the beds or a dirty toilet, how will you respond?
  • Do you charge extra for extreme messes, parties, or guests leaving late?
  • Do you have the capability to clean same day turnovers?
  • What is included in the laundry?
  • Do you have your own cleaning tools and supplies?
  • If you need help, do you have employees or do you subcontract out the cleaning?
  • What supplies do you provide for guests as a part of the clean fee?

Listen carefully to the answers you are given. If there are red flags, you will know. Usually, cleaners with a lack of vacation rental housekeeping experience will not know how to answer these questions. If they do not understand the laundry question, rest assured your sheets are not being cleaned between guests. Also, ask if they are insured, bonded, and are open to providing reviews from current customers in your area. Importantly, screening your cleaners will prevent issues down the road should you actually need the coverage in the event of property damage (think a house fire due to self-cleaning oven, doors left unlocked, or dishwasher causing a flood).

Additional services to consider when hiring a vacation rental cleaner

The job is really not that simple. Much more goes into maintaining a vacation rental property than having it cleaned between guests. Things fall apart, there are a lot of hidden fees and unwanted surprises. A common fallacy homeowners make when investing in short-term rentals is that “the property will pay for itself” and “all fees are covered, I charge the guest” This could not be more wrong. Often, Airbnb and VRBO do not recover damages from guests and homeowners must pay for wear and tear, missing towels, and property maintenance. Vacation rental cleaners should be able to provide the following light and preventative maintenance:

  • Changing light bulbs
  • Changing batteries
  • Checking the lock
  • Changing the code when necessary
  • Installing a new air filter
  • Restocking linens and supplies when no longer useable

Treat your housekeeper with respect and dignity

Remember, housekeeping is a tough job. It is not easy, mistakes are made as people are human. At times, guests can be challenging and demanding. Many times, guests use complaining about a high cleaning fee as a method of receiving a small refund. Hiring a housekeeper for your vacation rental is like adding a member to your family. Seems like a funny comparison, but you will talk to your housekeeper more than you talk to some of your relatives. A great team makes a great clean, so be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.

How to deliver feedback to your vacation rental cleaners:

  • Deliver feedback immediately with evidence, the faster you deliver feedback the better. Waiting too long to deliver feedback has been scientifically proven to be less effective.
  • Always let your cleaner know what they did right before and after you deliver criticism. Many owners and hosts forget this, leaving the cleaner feeling “do I do anything right?”
    • This is extremely important, if your cleaner does not feel appreciated they will not last or do their best work
    • Some owners feel “we pay you to do the work” - while true, housekeeping is challenging and physically demanding, so showing some appreciation goes a long way for quality and results
    • Remember housekeeping is done by a human, not a robot!

How do you clean an Airbnb

How to clean a vacation rental

This checklist will show you how to clean an Airbnb or vacation rental:

  1. Start with the laundry
  2. Clean one room at a time, completely finishing one area before moving to another
  3. Use disinfectants to sanitize all surfaces
  4. Restock consumables (toilet paper, trash bags, paper towels, soap)
  5. Make the beds and hang the towels
  6. Report damages and missing items to the host
  7. Double check your work before shutting off lights and locking the door

A more comprehensive vacation rental cleaning checklist is available. Also, for more information please consider reading our blog post on how to clean a vacation rental.

Inspect your Airbnb before arrival for cleanliness and quality

Even if you hire a professional vacation rental cleaning service, the property needs to be inspected. You have options for who will perform the pre-arrival inspection, but a second pair of eyes is a must. The potential for missing something big is always there. There can be a pest issue, a pill left on the floor, a bad odor, or worse. Therefore, you must have a plan of attack when it comes to inspecting your vacation rental.

This checklist will teach you how to inspect an Airbnb or vacation rental before your guests arrive:

  • Check every dresser, drawer, closet, and under every bed to make sure nothing has been left behind by previous guests.
  • Pantry and cabinets need to be checked for left behind food. All dishes must be clean.
  • Surfaces and floors must have no streaks, hand prints, or footprints.
  • Hair needs to be checked for. Pay special attention to the bathrooms for small hairs.
  • Document any damages by taking pictures and pay special attention to items needing maintenance. Photo evidence is required for claims on Airbnb and VRBO.

Vacation Rental Cleaning Key Takeaways

In conclusion, cleaning an Airbnb is extremely different from cleaning your own home. To win consistent 5-star cleanliness reviews, you must first understand the vacation rental cleaning process. Second, use the tips in this post to attract and retain top housekeeping talent for your vacation rental business. Most importantly, set expectations up front in your interviews with whom you ultimately decide to hire. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, guest expectations are higher than ever, with cleanliness being the top cause of negative guest reviews on Airbnb. Show our vacation rental cleaning checklist in your interview, ask your prospective airbnb cleaners if they cover the tasks. Please share this post with hosts who can learn from it and comment if you have any suggestions, questions, or feedback. Thank you for learning with us. 

If you are a host in Florida and need assistance with vacation rental housekeeping operations, please feel free to reach out - we know we can share our several years of housekeeping experience to help you with your vacation rental business. 

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