How to Make Guests Want to Clean Your Vacation Rental or Airbnb

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June 6, 2014
Enticing Guests to Clean Up your Self Catering Cottage

Late in 2013, Matt Landau of Vacation Rental Marketing Blog wrote what turned out to be a controversial article, titled Go Big or Go Home. He made the point that vacation rental owners should embrace the fact they are indeed in the hospitality business and should treat their guests accordingly. More specifically, he was asking the vacation rental community to stop asking guests to clean up at check-out.

Not surprisingly, he unleashed a hurricane of heated discussion. In fact, here we are in 2017, and the discussion is still on-going (check out the Disqus comments at the bottom of the article).

I’ve been following Matt for a while and I was surprised at the passion he aroused in the Airbnb and vacation rental community. Many owners disagreed. Strongly. A few agreed in an equally emotional manner; virtually no one felt neutral about it.

It was really interesting.

The discussion highlighted a common conflict between owners and guests on the subject of cleanup.

THE OWNER’S PERSPECTIVE: There is often a time crunch between departures and arrivals occurring on the same day. Consequently, requiring guests to do part of the clean up makes it possible to get the place up to snuff by the time the afternoon crowd arrives.

Cleaning up before check-out

Guests are often asked to do some housework before checking out of vacation rentals. It is “self-catering” after all. Keep in mind, however, that guests may resent doing what they consider the work of the cleaning staff. There’s a fine balance. Photo courtesy of Lintmachine.

It’s not uncommon in the vacation rental business for guests to do dishes, clean counters, sweep floors, take out the trash; sometimes, they are even asked to strip beds, do a load of laundry and vacuum.

THE GUEST’S PERSPECTIVE: The “home away from home” environment naturally encourages people to clean as they go and they usually don’t mind loading a dishwasher, sweeping floors or wiping down some countertops, but many guests resent doing additional chores. Their reasoning is commonly, “We are paying a cleaning fee, so why are we expected to do the job of housekeeping?”

So who’s right?

Honestly, both sides have valid points. On the one hand, vacation rentals are different from hotels; there is a bit of “self-catering” expected. Owners should not be expected to wash a week’s worth of dishes or clean up 5-day-old spills at least not without a hefty cleaning surcharge. Guests renting vacation rentals expect to clean up after themselves. It’s part of the deal.

On the other hand, guests are…(hmmm!)….guests, and owners have to respect that. I mean, put yourself in their shoes, do you want to do laundry and strip beds at the end of your vacation?


Where is the compromise, the in-between place wherein both owners and guests are happy?

I’m not going to say I have the answer. There are no absolutes on this one.


I do have a suggestion.

How about providing the kind of amenities that would entice your guests to do more cleaning than they are naturally inclined? What about some gizmos that keep the house cleaner?

Like some really fetching cleaning products and items that seem to seductively whisper,

“Clean up because I’m beautiful.”


Check out the following goodies. I will be extraordinarily surprised if you don’t want to get your hands (or in one case, feet) on them and start…


The kitchen is the area receiving 80% of the dirt and grime, so let’s start here.

First of all, I always – always – recommend earth-friendly cleaning products. You don’t want anything toxic in your vacation rental. Period. Guests are more environmentally aware than they used to be and prefer eco-friendly options. And in general, the packaging rocks!

Kitchen Products from Mrs Meyers

Mrs. Meyers dish soap, hand soap, and counter top cleaner come in nine different heady scents; you can leave them out on your countertops because the bottles are so beautiful.

My hands down favorite kitchen products are by Mrs. Meyers. First of all, the heady scents alone are enough to make you want to do dishes, wash your hands and keep your counters clean; but more importantly, they are earth friendly and non-toxic. Best of all, they are really effective cleaners!

Bio's Washing Up Liquid

UK made BioD makes an excellent washing up liquid. It’s just one of their many earth friendly cleaning products. Pretty bottle too!

Bio D is a family-owned, ethically motivated company, dedicated to promoting the use of hypoallergenic, environmentally responsible detergents that have a minimum impact on the ecosystem. Their washing up liquid is a workhorse of cleaning power. Plus, how can you resist the title, Washing Up Liquid?

“Let’s just wash up, shall we?”

Magic Sponge by MicroFiber

MicroFiber Magic Sponges last longer than most others; at least if you wash them religiously between bookings. Four-pack available on Amazon for $14.95.

Kitchen sponges should play a starring role in your vacation rental kitchen. You would be surprised at how many owners forget to provide them. We have often rented homes where the sponge was kept hidden away under the sink. Worse? An old, dirty sponge that no guest wants to touch.

Keep sponges in an attractive and handy container and make sure they’re new or look new.  Avoid this advice at your peril!

Dishrack and Sponge Holder from Simple Human

Simple Human products are both long-lasting and well designed. A dish rack that provides both safe storage of knives, as well as handy flatware and glass holders, is a great option for guests. Available on Amazon for $72.99. The suction cup sponge and scrubber holder is so polite looking, you can’t help but do a dish or two. $16.99 on Amazon.

I am a big fan of both dish racks and sponge holders. Both make it easy to do dishes as the day whiles away.

Hand Broom and Dust Pan by Schoolhouse Electric

School House Electric makes a stunning hand broom and dust pan that makes cleaning up simple spills easy. Hang it up so guests can see it; it’s that gorgeous! $30.

We’ve all spilled some crumbs from that last cookie, but sometimes, let’s face it, we don’t want to look for the broom (“Where is the broom anyway?”). Hanging a dashing hand broom and dustpan prominently (and the one above is almost an art object) makes it much more likely guests will clean up the cookie crumbs.

The next item I’m recommending – a kitchen trash can – is expensive. $469 exactly.

$469! What?!

Why am I recommending that you spend a small fortune on a kitchen trashcan?

Simple: it’s almost indestructible. And gorgeous. So gorgeous that you should include it in kitchen photos on your website.

The bottom line: if guests like the look of your trashcan, they will want to use it. Frequently.

Think about that for a second.

Most kitchen trash cans are slobs. Most of them are stored under the sink, out of sight. Which is a problem. First of all, guests can’t find the trash and when they do find it, they often miss the bin. Ever seen the dried gross stuff splattered on the back side of a cabinet door, down the side of the bin and around the bottom of a trash can? Yuck!

The other problem is that guests’ hands are dirty from cooking or eating when they are holding the rubbish they wish to get rid of; they use those same hands to open the cabinet door and guess what happens to the knobs and pulls on the cabinet doors?


So, for those of you who don’t have a sleek trash compactor that slides out seamlessly with a foot press, I am going to recommend The Vipp.

The Danish-made Vipp is so dishy that in 2009, the original model was acquired for the permanent collection at MoMA.

Wow! Wow.

I think it’s fair to say that such a graceful beauty will summon guests to use it. Often.

Large Bin by Vipp

Yes, the Vipp Kitchen Bin does have a hefty price of $469, but it will literally last years and years. It cleans easily and the foot pedal is both fun to use and sanitary! Available from Design Within Reach.

I have two Vipp trash bins at home (a small and an extra-large one) that I bought 9 years ago. They are as handsome as the day I bought them so I can vouch for their extraordinary hardiness.

Definitely worth the money.


One of the biggest problems in bathrooms are guests not wiping down the glass after showering (I mean, why would they? They’re on vacation!); hard water deposits build up and are hard to remove later.

However, guests might be more likely to at least think about wiping down the glass if they could do it with a sleek, squeegee in four easy moves.

Four swipes and they’re done.

Squeegee by Cleret

The Squeegee by Cleret makes it easy to wipe transparent shower doors in approximately 4 wipe downs. Awesome! Available on Amazon for $14.50.

The Cleret Squeegee was invented back in the late 1980’s by Al Hansen and it’s been a big hit ever since. Amazon reviewers claim that the width of the squeegee is so wide that you can wipe down a shower door in only a couple swipes! Check out what the website says about their design-savvy invention:

At Clerét, we don’t make boring, ordinary looking squeegees! Too many other companies are doing that. We make squeegees that are downright cool looking, invitingly fun to use, and work great because that’s what consumers have told us they really want.

So now that the shower door is taken care of, what about the wet towels on the floor?

I got this hot tip on the Home Away forum from a super helpful self-catering cottage owner in the UK. She found a great solution to the problem by providing brightly colored plastic bins in the bathrooms. She swears that guests throw their wet towels into them!


And because they’re plastic, the towels don’t mildew any cloth or fiber lining like in traditional hampers.

I was skeptical initially when I read her advice. Frankly, I find most plastic bins pretty ugly. But after I googled her recommendation, I instantly changed my mind and ordered two for my own laundry room.

They are called a Tubtrugs.

Colorful laundry baskets

Tubtrugs, 100% phthalate-free, food-grade plastic (so they’re safe for pets and kids) are made by UK-based Faulks and Company and come in many fetching colors. They can be put to numerous uses, but I particularly recommend them for gathering used towels. Guests notice their bright colors and literally want to pick them up and put them to use. Available on Amazon for $13.34 for a 10-gallon tub.

Tubtrugs are so fun to look at and use that you can keep them in plain sight; they enhance the decor. And that’s right out of the mouth of an interior designer. Put them in the bathrooms and see how your guests start to throw their towels in them.

They’re also great for storing cleaning products. My husband has one in the garden shed and stores his tools inside. They’re UV fade proof and are almost indestructible.

And they’re a lot cheaper than The Vipp so it’s a no-brainer.


Let’s face it: guests eat and drink all over your vacation home.

They make cocktails, drink wine, sip coffee, snack on chips, eat sandwiches on the rug watching television, run around with cookies in their hands. You get the picture. To be fair, most guests try not to make a mess, but we’re all human.

But when they do spill food, do you think they’re going to get up and lug a big vacuum out and clean it up?

Probably not.

And if they don’t see a coaster for their coffee, wine, water, cocktail or beer, are they going to avoid placing it on your nice wooden table?

Not likely.

The solution is simple:  have a hand-held vacuum in plain sight and provide lots of coasters. Lots.

Rapido Mini Vacuum by Electrolux

The handheld, lithium battery powered Rapido by Electrolux is so gorgeous it won the 2014 Red Dot Award. Available on Amazon for $78.

A well-designed hand vacuum, like the Electrolux Rapido, is attractive enough to have out in the open – on a table or counter – and because guests can see it, they will be more likely to use it. They might even seek out reasons to use it. After all, it sorta looks like a Star Wars weapon, right?

Coasters, coasters and more coasters. I am a big fan. I don’t think you can have too many. Put them in any location where you want guests to use them.

Here is a dashing option.

Agate Coasters by Lawson-Fenning

These coasters enhance the desirability of your beverage! How can guests resist not using them? Available from Lawson-Fenning.


Who is your gatekeeper?

What keeps the majority of the dirt from coming into your rental in the first place?

I’m talking about the doormat.

Did you know that the simple act of wiping your feet prevents 85% of the dirt and contaminants outside from coming into your home? The stats come from an EPA research report called The Door Mat Study.

85% is a big number.

Think of all the cleaning saved, all from one humble doormat!

Lawson-Fenning Wire Mesh Doormat

A good, efficient doormat, like this wire-mesh one by Lawson-Fenning may prevent 85% of the dirt from coming into your vacation rental. $42 from Lawson-Fenning.

Finding a sturdy doormat is essential, preferably one that can be hosed down from time to time. This wire mesh mat from Lawson-Fenning will do the job splendidly and can be used in both winter and summer.


I would love to hear your ideas of how you get your guests to clean up. This is only the beginning of the conversation. I’m on a quest to discover more to help my subscribers.

So what methods and gizmos do you use in your own vacation rental to entice guests to keep your retreat clean?

“We want to know!!!”

To many clean days ahead…..

  • Good topic Mercedes! I’ve been dealing with this myself. My experience is that all the guests I’ve dealt with have left the kitchen very clean. They wash the dishes without me asking them and have left the place very organized. On your recommendation I started to provide a new/clean sponge with every new booking. Really good tip! My client did something brilliant with her dish & handsoap: She bought dish & handsoap from an amazing brand called METHOD and also bought the refill bags. The bottles of this brand are very well designed and the smell is absolutely delicious. So when new guests arrive we make sure to refill the bottles and clean them, so it looks like guests always have new dish & hand soap. Eco-friendly and guest friendly because they have a clean refilled dish & hand soap! Since the day I discovered METHOD I actually look forward to clean my house. A miracle!
    Lately I’ve been asking guests to clean out the fridge a little bit when leaving because sometimes they leave so much food that I don’t know what to do with it and I don’t want to leave a fridge with food for my next guests. I think it’s their responsibility to calculate how much food they are going to consume during their stay and don’t leave all their food for other people to clean up. I would personally never ask guests to do the laundry or vacuum clean the whole place, but the hand-held vacuum for small areas is a good idea. Lastly, I know that some hosts have wiping the glass after showering as a house rule, but I personally would find it very difficult to ask guests to do that because I always wonder what guests think about that …thanks Mercedes for this great article :).

  • Smart post Mercedes with very good tips. At I ask my guests to throw garbage and empty fridge and I feel cannot ask anything more than that other than respect for the property. Additionally I noticed that when guests leave areas “cleaned” like the kitchen, most time everything has to be washed again anyway. Asking to wash towels and other things does not seem a fair thing to ask and again, does not guarantee the cleaning standards that I set (washing at high temperatures, bleach, etc.). That said, I agree very much on your advices. If cleaning products are provided, it may be more expensive for the host, but chances are that the property is left cleaner and there is less time spent by the cleaning person. Thanks for recommending all the design products for cleaning or storing used towels etc. Nice post!

    • Paola, you make some good points. It is true that guests sometimes don’t clean the dishes or do the laundry up to the owner’s standards and that they must be done again anyway. A good reliable dishwasher is always a must. Thanks for commenting!

  • A very good article. Present a very clean house and provide the means to keep it clean and guests will – that is our experience too. I also think it is worth noting that most houses are rented for 5-10 days but daily service is not part of the contract as it is in a hotel. If you use your own home for a week or more without cleaning up spills as you go along or having a sweep out once a day, your house deteriorates.
    I think it is implicit in a house rental that the renters are taking over some of the responsibility for looking after the house during their stay. That does not mean that they are expected to do a full clean on departure but if they have been tidy on a day to day basis i.e. not slobs, then there should not be anything extra to do on departure. Some guests are better than others but, since we are going to clean the house from top to bottom anyway, it could be argued that encouraging guests to “be nice” is just not worth it. I defy any owner not to feel a little insulted or hurt if their efforts to ensure the maximum comfort and enjoyment of their guests are met with complete disdain by a renter leaving their house in a mess. It is just plain rude.

    That is my personal view (as opposed to a business-like view). Good manners and consideration for the people who have entrusted you with their valuable property ought to prevent anyone from leaving a home in a filthy state. I do not think that paying for the use of something precludes the looking after of that thing. It is implicit in the transaction. That surely means cleaning up spills and tidying up when renting a house.

    I and many others disagreed with Matt Landau on this. His view that it was more or less moronic to expect any guest to lift their finger to do anything on holiday was an extreme view – which was why it drew an extreme response. He has a point that we are competing with hotels but taken to an extreme over time that will mean a homogenisation of the VR industry towards a blandness that a lack of is surely one of the great points of difference between homes and hotels.

    I suggested to Matt that his view was a very male view because generally the workload on family holidays fell to the women of the family i.e. cooking, cleaning, laundry etc. No one goes on holiday expecting to do nothing. I cheekily asked Matt if he also cooked his guests’ dinner. My point was that holiday homes are not hotels. For my temerity, I was banned from commenting on Matt’s website. A pity because I am a fan and he provides a truly brilliant range of tips and insights for his followers.

    • Thanks Nick! I’m glad you commented. Do you have any recommendations for keeping your properties in good shape with longer stays?

      • Like you we provide good cleaning equipment but I will make an addition now – providing a cordless vacuum is a great idea. Not so sure about the tub buckets for wet towels. In the tropics they really need to be hung up or they get very smelly so we have towel racks in bedrooms and bathrooms.
        I think, though, that presenting a very clean house provides a strong psychological encouragement to leave a house in a more or less tidy state. We do have one long booking every year for about 6 weeks in our off peak season. They are a ship’s crew and they swop weekly with the second crew. Mostly in their twenties, they do not look after the house for the obvious reason that they are not a family and no one wants to take responsibility. I know from my own experience at that age in a house full of singles, if one person volunteers then he or she will be lumbered with keeping tidy – so no one does!
        In this situation we provide a cleaning service. We come round once a week on the crew changeover day to mainly do the bathrooms and the kitchen. We also take away the laundry and provide fresh bed linen and towels.

        I have passed on your article to all my home owners. I hope they will sign up to follow you because everyone could get new and useful ideas from reading your articles.

        • I think you make a great point in saying providing a tidy, clean property naturally encourages people to keep it that way! Thanks for sharing with your community!

        • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

          I also challenged Matt on his views…though much later than the article was written as I have only just begun with a vacation rental. He must have had time to chew over the debate. After sharing I had researched all aspects of a vacation rental for 6 months prior to doing it and there are aspects of having guests do some chores that I am not thrilled about it does seem necessary and even appropriate for me to stay competitive in my market. Matt was very gracious and inquired on the price I charged and what hotels in my area charged and concluded that I, indeed, was in a market where price point matters and, therefore, was justified in having guest participate in helping with a few of the chores, like staring the load of towels by tossing them into the washing machine with detergent and turning the knob on. I do not ask that they sweep, wipe counters down or scrub tubs…but do ask they remove the sheets from the bed (though I would rather not and may have to raise cleaning fee to pay for the additional time it would take the cleaning lady to do). He recommended I carefully include the ‘value’ in my marketing to justify the few additional items required at check out so guests will not resent doing so.

          The bottom line…there is a wide range of vacation rentals, which is awesome. Some cater to families on a budget but still want a nice place…or just hate hotels which tend to be not as clean to beautiful beach houses or grand cabins in the woods. Give me the latter and I would completely cater to the guests as it would be built into the price.

          All that said…I already have all of the above (except a $469 trash can) and none of my guests have left a horrible mess :)

          One side note: I use Meyer’s myself because I like the scents and the packaging BUT it is not all-natural. The scents are synthetic or mixed with natural scents and could be an irritant to those who are sensitive to synthetics. Still looking for an all-natural, awesome packaged cleaning products…

          • What you say makes perfect sense. There is definitely not a one size all solution!

            Thanks for letting me know about Mrs Meters. It’s so hard to find completely natural. I’m looking into a product line that only uses water. I’ll write an article on it when I know more. Thanks for contributing!

  • Valentina Madjovska

    Excellent article, Mercedes! Cleanliness standards may differ between owners and guests, but there are some standards that need to be met. Surely it is good if guests are encouraged to clean a bit more and I completely agree that “providing a tidy, clean property naturally encourages people to keep it that way!”. Here is an really bad example: Hopefully there are much more good ones. Thanks for sharing this great article!

  • Great article. I am more of a middle of the road host on this. My history is as a professional cleaner so filth really doesn’t bother me that much and honestly I like too clean dirty things more that clean things – LOL! That being said, I really don’t want guests to trash my house – please don’t think that. I love when I can tell the house has been used with love. If people really love the place they stay in they will try to care for it better.
    We do not charge any cleaning fees at all (since I’m the one to clean it and “no cleaning fees” helps us be a better price than those comparable in other aspects). We ask guests to collect their trash and take it outside, strip the beds they use (hubby’s idea – I’d rather they not) and load the dishwasher, setting it to run before they leave.
    I would say 90% of our guests follow those requests for the most part. Most everyone takes out the kitchen trash – the other trashes are kind of out of sight, out of mind. Pretty much everyone strips the beds. Though it’s funny how differently everyone does it. Some times everything goes into the laundry basket – from the shams and comforter right down to the mattress pad while others grab just the sheets. We’ve only had 1 group leave us dirty dishes but we have had a couple that have run the dishwasher without soap (though it is provided).
    We provide some cleaners – my regular cleaning bucket is very accessible should they have the urge. Our little handheld vacuum just died on me so that needs replaced and we have LOTS of paper towels and rags.
    We are always very grateful – and tell our guests so – when they have obviously gone above and beyond to clean up after themselves. I don’t like asking people to clean my house for me but I do want them to love it and not trash it.

    • You sound like an awesome vacation rental owner, Cottage Mom! As a guest, I would not mind cleaning up a bit if there were no cleaning fee. And that’s great promotion for your rental. Thanks for commenting!

    • I think like you we fall in the middle of the road, guests in our property enjoy the extra freedom and space they have and realise that they get a great deal by renting a home and not staying in hotels – so they expect to do a little light work. My first job is to get to know my guests and get them to know me, so if at all possible I talk to them personally. Just before they go on their trip I have one last phone call and wish them a safe trip and see if they have any last minute questions. Almost every time they say that they will take care of my home- they have the awareness that this is a private rental, I am not some anonymous corporate body and so they know what my home means to me and how much work I put in to it. Next when they arrive it has to look immaculate – so my cleaners are my angels, they do their job so well, it is spotless every time. That sets the bar for the guests. Having the means to clean up is next – so tools to make that job easy are provided. We find that most guests strip the beds after themselves, trash is separated and put in the appropriate containers – when the collection went to once a week we realised this was a problem for vacation rental owners and some management companies have hefty call out fees to put the trash cart by the road, and return after emptying. Being on the board of the HOA we found the solution – we have a concierge trash service who do that for the whole of our community – impossible for individual homes without an HOA but a real god send to us. I do not charge a separate cleaning fee even on my minimum stay of 4 nights but by making the guests feel some responsibility to me – they often say thanks for allowing them to stay – they usually clean up after themselves. I have only once had to charge someone from their security deposit – but they told me about the damage – if they break glasses they go to the stores and replace them. I actually end up with more- break one buy 4. I would say that I do not ask guests to do any cleaning at all -so as you say provide the right tools and they do it anyway.

  • Jamaicavilla

    Our villa has full staff including a housekeeper, so that gues can enjoy their vacation, sit back and truly relax

    • As a guest, that is my absolute favorite kind of vacation rental.

      • Jamaicavilla

        Yes, I do believe in providing hospitality type service to our guest. A vacation is for reconnecting, family time, memories or exploring and worrying about cooking and cleaning add stress. We help our guest to de- stress

  • Linda Teakell

    I have an enormous amount of hardwood floors. I wouldn’t trade my Roomba for anything!! They are just the bomb! My other pet is my Shark electric steam cleaner. It works fabulous on my rustic, rough-sawn floors! BitterSweet Retreat (AIRBNB)

    • Linda, does the Roomba work also when guests are there or only when empty? Thanks for sharing!

      • Linda Teakell

        Well, I have an AIRBNB (Creekside BitterSweet Retreat, Conner, MT) in the Bitterroot MTs. I rent the upstairs rooms and we are here so only when I clean. It not only works fabulous at helping maintain the hardwood that is so rustic and difficult to dust mop, it’s perfect for “once-overs” on the plush carpet upstairs. It’s not for deep cleaning but between renters it gets the dust and lint off the top and leaves carpet sweeper lines which tells the guests “this has been vacuumed”! Also, great about it is it goes clear under the beds every time. Having said that, you need to do a good corner maintaining frequently. The SHARK is wonderful for the wood, too. And so much easier than wet mopping.

        • I’m going to put the Roomba and Shark down for recommended cleaning products, Linda. Thanks for the tip on both of these!

          • Linda Teakell

            You can get a Roomba at Costco for 350. That’s the low end and it’s perfectly good enough. You can spend up to 700. for the latest technology but unless you just have to have the best of the best with all the bells and whistles, the 350. one works just fine.




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