A Complete Guide to the Best Vacation Rental Cleaning Practices

Nov 02 2021

Get tips on how to use Hostfully to optimize your vacation rental business and make more profit.


What’s in this article?

We’ve all been there. You arrive at your vacation rental that looked perfect online, only to find the surfaces are dusty, there’s a stain on the sofa—or even worse—a hair in the shower. It’s enough to give guests a poor first impression, which is likely to translate into a sub-par review. For that reason, property managers need to prioritize cleanliness, whether that means DIY-ing or automating vacation rental cleaning with a professional service.

Perfectly clean vacation rentals: The new standard

To boost the guest experience, ensuring your rental is spotlessly clean is one of the most effective things you can do. As the vacation rental industry enters a phase of steady growth, guest expectations are increasing too. Travellers now look for hotel-level cleaning standards, with many listing cleanliness as their number one expectation.

In such a competitive market, your rental won’t stand a chance if you’re falling down on the basics. And with the most common review complaints focusing on a lack of cleanliness, there’s a huge amount of value that smart management of vacation rental cleaning can add to your properties. Put simply, high standards of vacation rental cleaning means good reviews—and that means more bookings.

Cleaning a vacation rental isn’t like a house clean

Although you may welcome guests into your second home, how you clean the vacation rental must be different from a typical house clean. Your rental needs to look as sharp as it does in the listing photos. Getting the property to this standard once or twice a week will involve cleaning bed linen, sanitizing the space and replenishing essential supplies—aside from a typical cleaning itinerary. 

Since new groups of people will be staying at your rental each week, you’ll also need to keep a closer eye on furniture and functionality. That means doing weekly vacation rental housekeeping, including damage inspections, taking inventory, and regular checks on household appliances. If you’re going the extra mile, you’ll also need to get a welcome basket sorted and lay it out for your guests to find upon arrival.

Vacation rental cleaning: DIY vs hiring a cleaning service

As a property manager, you’ve got two choices for covering your cleaning obligations. You’ll need to either invest in a reliable cleaning service or take on the job yourself.

If you’re only managing a handful of properties, DIY cleaning is an option for you. You’ll undoubtedly save on costs. But the flip side is that you have live locally and have the time to carry out a deep clean once a week on average. Be aware that in high season, you may be required to complete two or three cleans a week, working with tight turnarounds if you’ve got a party leaving on the same day as another arrives. That can cut into your personal vacation time. It can become a lifestyle on its own (especially if you manage multiple properties).

The bottom line is that you should only DIY your vacation rental cleaning if it doesn’t mean sacrificing something else. If quick turnarounds are going to become a source of stress, or cleaning your vacation rental will eat up time better spent on marketing, you’re better off outsourcing. The return on investment will come with great reviews and more time to invest in other critical business areas. 

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What are some considerations for hiring cleaning services?

In theory, outsourcing is a great way to ensure your vacation rental business runs smoothly. Also, in theory, you pay for a service that removes you from the process. But just like anything else in life, there are some pros and cons to outsourcing vacation rental cleaning. Here are some things to consider:

  • Find a reputable service. With so many options out there, you’ll need to spend some time collecting recommendations and reviews from different services. You’ll want to go with one that is licensed, bonded and insured.
  • Get a reasonable price. One way to ensure you get a fair quote is to take an average of cleaning fees for similar properties in your area. Expect to pay more for vacation rental cleaning than you would house cleaning, but don’t be afraid to charge your guests a cleaning fee to help cover it.
  • Look for the right company. Not all vacation rentals are created equal. According to the size and specifics of your property, you’ll need to find a service that has a staff and service offering that meets your needs.

Best practices for vacation rental housekeeping

Whether you choose to automate your vacation rental cleaning or take the DIY route, you’ll need to ensure you seamlessly manage all housekeeping tasks. Following these practices will make the vacation rental housekeeping job a whole lot easier and guarantee that your property is up to scratch.

Note: We’ll cover best practices for DIYers as well as for those who outsource. That’s because we think one can learn from the other.

Cleaning tips for DIYers

Okay, your margins are too thin to outsource, or you have one or two properties and would instead pocket the cleaning fees. Here are some key considerations if you’re going to DIY cleaning in your vacation rentals: 

Know the scale of the job

It’s a good idea to set expectations with the guest beforehand to ensure your job is always the same. Leaving house rules with a digital guidebook is an easy way to communicate instructions for check-out. Here are a few areas that’ll save you tons of time if instructions are crystal clear: 

  • Dirty dishes: Should guests turn on the dishwasher before they leave? Also, let them know where to leave any dishes that don’t fit in the dishwasher.
  • Dirty linens: Leave them in a pile or on the beds? Some hosts prefer to clean the linens themselves as it lets them inspect them before putting them in the wash.
  • Garbage: Leave it in the rental or drop it in the outdoor bins? This can get tricky if your property is located in an area with strict recycling rules.

You’d be surprised how much time leaving crystal-clear instructions on the three points listed above will save you. Just bear in mind that what you ask of your guests has to be consistent with what you brand your properties. Do you run all the marketing bells and whistles of a large vacation rental management company and charge a high nightly rate? If so, then asking your guests to vacuum at check-out might not be appropriate.

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Have a plan

Make a step-by-step process so that you can stay on schedule and avoid missing anything. Don’t underestimate the benefits of a checklist that you save as a Google document on your phone. One of these days you’ll be tired or distracted. That checklist will save you from having to deal with a bad review.

When it comes to cleaning itself, a good practice is to work your way down the room, starting with the highest points and then doing the floors. Don’t forget to do a final check!

Buy high-quality cleaning items

Having powerful cleaning tools at your disposal will make your job quicker and less taxing, as well as improving the end result. To ensure your property smells as clean as it looks, it’s also a good idea to get natural air fresheners or reed diffusers to place around the house. 

Stock up on home supplies

Ideally, you’ll keep a stockpile of home supplies such as bed linen, kitchen and bathroom products either within or close to the property. This will save you time when you go in to clean, cutting out the need to dash to the store or run sheets through the washer.

Having a double or triple set of everything is a high upfront cost. We get it. But that extra set of sheets will make it so much easier to meet tight deadlines.

Cleaning tips for outsourcing

Bringing in contractors for the cleaning of your vacation rentals can be a huge time-saver. But there are pitfalls with this practice. Most of your challenges will revolve around coordination and quality control. Luckily, there are a few ways around that: 

Automate your vacation rental cleaning services

If you’re going to be working with contractors, the management of that service will be your responsibility. You’ll need to consider scheduling, turnaround times and communication. The challenge here is assigning tasks to the proper cleaning crew. You can’t give them access to all your reservation data. 

The solution is two parts. First, you need software that centralizes all your reservations. With Hostfully’s PMP (that’s short for property management platform), all your reservation data is aggregated on one platform. Consider it the hub of your operations. Second, you’ll need cleaning coordination software. There are many out there. What you want is cleaning software that integrates with your PMP. The integration means that the PMP and the cleaning software can communicate. 

Now all you have to do is set rules in your cleaning software. For example, which property type is assigned to which contractor. How many hours after check-out can the cleaners arrive. Or which cleaning tasks are prioritized.

Perhaps the most essential feature for you is the communication hub. Once the PMP receives a new reservation, modified or cancelled, it’ll send that data to the cleaning software. Based on the rules you create, the cleaning software will assign tasks to your cleaners. 

When selecting a PMP and cleaning software, make sure both can communicate with each other. The major PMPs like Hostfully integrate with the best and most popular cleaning software built for the vacation rental industry. 

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Quality control: How to ensure each cleaning task is perfect

No one will ever put as much care and attention into cleaning as you would. That’s normal. So to get around that, you’ll need robust quality control systems now that outsourced cleaning is happening at scale: 

  • Checklists: Just like if you were to DIY, you’ll want a room-by-room list for cleaning for the contractor. Note that some cleaning software support uploading checklists. They’ll get sent to the contractor as appropriate.
  • Extra software: Some parts of the properties deserve extra care. But a checklist just can’t capture the details and context needed for the cleaner to do a good job. This is where niche cleaning software like Properly can really make a difference. It’s loaded with features that help the cleaners pinpoint problematic areas. You can also use it for turnover instructions (i.e., how to re-arrange decorations and leave the welcome pack).

The upshot: Cleaning services are a worthy investment

Hostfully is built to enable hosts and managers automate and scale their business. That’s why we’re big fans of outsourcing cleaning operations when done under the best practices. However, it’s also important to take the time to build the systems required to make sure that automation doesn’t come at the expense of the guest experience.