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$550 Cleaning Fee? Avoid Making These Big Mistakes on Airbnb How a $400 Airbnb cleaning fee turned into $550 with a guideline violation included.

Alex Jarbo
5 min read
$550 Cleaning Fee? Avoid Making These Big Mistakes on Airbnb

A $400 cleaning fee? (Soon to be $550.)

That was the exact thought my wife and I had as she booked a trip to upstate New York. There was definitely sticker shock to the final price compared to the daily rate initially shown on the listing. But after viewing the pictures and the reviews, my wife felt confident in booking the property even with the crazy cleaning fee, or so she thought.

Recently, Airbnb has been getting a lot of bad press on social media because of its increasing fees, such as service and cleaning fees. The internet has recently been riddled with blog, Instagram, and TikTok posts of guests complaining about paying ridiculous cleaning fees. For the record, hosts cannot do anything about the service fees but have control over the cleaning fee. 

In this article, I’m going to go over what you shouldn’t do as an Airbnb host. 

1. Don’t Make Your Guest Clean

As my wife checked into the short-term rental, she was greeted with a list of items that had to be completed before checking out. This list went beyond the average tasks a guest is expected to do. 

That brings me to my first point: your guest is not your cleaning crew. Imagine if you were staying in a hotel. It’s rare to strip beds and clean the sink before leaving. Airbnb is no different. It’s fine if towels are used, it’s fine if there are dishes left in the sink, and it’s fine if the place is left in somewhat of a mess—as long as nothing is damaged. 

If you have people stay in your listing, they shouldn’t be expected to leave the place immaculate, especially since they are paying a cleaning fee. Isn’t that the whole point of the cleaning fee?

Another issue I see a lot: if you are charging a pet fee and allow pets, don’t complain if dog hair is all over your property when the guest leaves. That is the point of the pet fee. 

To make my cleaning crew’s life easier, I purchased pet blankets that go on the couches. Once a quest checks out, those blankets are stripped and replaced with new ones, and the old ones are washed and reused. 

We want our guests to relax during their stay. Whether they are traveling for work or vacation, we don’t want our guests to worry about anything during their stay. Imagine you’ve had a rough couple of months; you book a stay on Airbnb, go through the hassles of traveling, and once you check in, you are greeted with a huge laundry list of items you must do during your stay and before you check out. Wouldn’t you be annoyed? 

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guest list airbnb

2. Provide Basic Amenities 

As my wife settled into her Airbnb, she realized that there was barely any silverware and no paper towels. We assumed the lack of silverware was to minimize cleaning. 

Now, I will point out that before Airbnb and VRBO, it was normal for guests checking into a short-term rental to bring their own silverware, towels, and sheets. Today, it’s different. Things like clean towels, sheets, and silverware are common (and expected) amenities. 

My rule of thumb for kitchen items is two sets of bowls, glasses, plates, and silverware per guest. For example, if the property can sleep six people, there will be 12 bowls, 12 glasses, 12 plates, and 12 sets of silverware. I also provide salt, pepper, sugar, olive oil, and ground coffee. Things like paper towels and tissues are expected as well. 

Amenities are one way you can set yourself apart from the rest of the properties in your area. Some other complimentary amenities you should include are:

  • Hand soap 
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner 
  • Body wash 
  • Makeup wipes
  • Travel size toothpaste
  • Travel toothbrushes

Free breakfast, too. Hear me out. I like to leave out a serving tray with a small $7 waffle maker, pancake mix, and a spatula with syrup in the fridge. It’s one of the biggest things mentioned in all the positive reviews we get. It costs $3 for those pancake mixes, and the guests love it!

airbnb free breakfast
Our Airbnb listing with free breakfast.

3. Do Not Communicate with the Guest Outside of the Platform

When my wife checked out of the property, she was surprised that the host texted her outside the Airbnb app to request another $150 because she and her group left the place “a mess.” If you’re keeping track, that’s now $550 in cleaning fees. 

airbnb host text message
Text message from the Airbnb host.

This property had only two bedrooms with a sleeper sofa. To put that into perspective, we host a luxury log cabin with five bedrooms that can sleep 14 people. It’s a 3,000-square-foot cabin with a large living room, kitchen, and dining room, and the cleaning fee for that property is $300. How could this small two-bedroom property cost $550 to clean?

Communicating with the guests outside of the platform is against the guidelines that online travel agencies like Airbnb and VRBO have. You can call if there is an emergency, but in this case, the host was making contact outside of the platform to request more money. They probably knew that it was against the guidelines. They would have requested it through the platform if they felt like it was the right thing to do. 

Other Things to Consider

As a general rule of thumb, I always advise anyone trying to figure out if a cleaning fee is too high to refer to their daily rate. Your cleaning fee should not be higher than your nightly rate. So if your average nightly rate is $200, your cleaning fee should not be more than $200.

I do ask my guests to do some things. Just two, in fact. I ask them to strip the beds and take their trash to the bins next to the cabin. But here is the key, I don’t penalize them or get angry if they don’t do it. 

Once you start hosting, you will quickly see that many guests will ask you a day or so before their checkout if there is anything they need to do before leaving. If they ask, I simply tell them to strip the beds and take the trash out.

Conclusion 

In conclusion, let your guests enjoy their stay. 

They shouldn’t be cleaning anything if they’re paying a cleaning fee. Charge a reasonable cleaning fee that doesn’t exceed your one-night average daily rate. Provide your guests with basic amenities like silverware, plates, and paper towels. It’s the norm for today’s short-term rentals. 

Lastly, do not text your guests outside of the platform. That is the quickest way to lose your account. These issues were not particular to the one listing that my wife stayed at. I see it every day through guest complaints on social media and in articles. It’s a real problem and one of the reasons short-term rentals get a bad rap. It starts with the hosts. It falls on us to ensure we provide a comfortable experience to our guests during and after their visit. We’re in the hospitality business.

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.