Check Out Instructions for a Perfect Vacation Rental Departure

The Perfect Vacation Rental Check Out Procedure for Guests

Have you ever sat down with a cup of coffee to enjoy your last morning in a vacation rental only to read the check out instructions and realize you should have started deep cleaning the house two hours ago?

I have.

Back in the day, check out procedures looks like this: you stripped the hotel bed if you were feeling magnanimous, left the key on the dresser, and closed the door behind you. But with the soaring popularity of vacation rentals like VRBOs and Airbnbs, what’s expected at check out has changed.

Even though VRBO check out instructions seemingly vary as much as the rentals themselves, I’ve got you covered with the only vacation rental check out procedure you’ll ever need to follow again.

As a resort owner, I clean rental cabins for a living. Trust me, I’ve seen the good, bad, and downright filthy. But that also means I know exactly what a space should look like before it’s professionally cleaned. By following the check out procedure I lay out in this post, you’ll score a five-star review from your Airbnb/VRBO host every time.

Pressed on time? Pin this handy check out instructions reference for the next time you depart a vacation rental.

Bryant Park Tree Radio City Hall Lobby Empire State Building Christmas 2019

Step One: Practice good vacation rental guest etiquette

A good check out experience at a vacation rental begins the moment you arrive, if not before. Try to review check out requirements before you book the VRBO to see if you’re a good fit. At the very least, read over the check out instructions the night before your departure. That way you’ll know what to expect, can acquaint yourself with the location of dumpsters and laundry hampers, and actually spend that last morning sipping coffee instead running around the house looking for laundry detergent and spare linens.

My friend Betsy suggests that whether you’re a vacation rental host or guest that you think of the Airbnb as going over to a friend’s house. As a guest at your friend’s house, you wouldn’t leave a mess behind figuring, “it’s their house. They’re the ones who are supposed to clean it.”

Likewise, if you had friends over, at most, you’d probably just ask them to strip their beds and maybe help with the dishes before they took off. You wouldn’t think, “I’m just using these guests to pay my vacation house mortgage. Why shouldn’t they make up their beds, mop the floor, and clean the windows before leaving?”

Practice good karma and clean up after yourself throughout your stay. Wipe down counters and sweep the kitchen floor every night to avoid a big, cumulative mess on the morning you depart. If something spills, clean it up to the best your ability right then. It’ll make your check out process so much easier!

Things to always do before leaving the hotel room or rental house

Obviously if your host outlined a check out procedure, follow it.

But sometimes vacation rental check out instructions are vague or nonexistent. Or maybe you had an exceptional stay and you want to go above and beyond to thank your host. Below, I’ll lay out the perfect vacation rental checkout process for each room of the house. No matter if you’re in an Airbnb, VRBO, rental apartment, or hotel room, you should always do these things before leaving.

Bedroom Check Out Instructions

  • Strip your bed
  • Take out trash
  • Open the blinds

I fully acknowledge, as a resort owner, I can ask guests to strip their beds until I’m blue in my face, but if they don’t know what that means, it’s going to be a frustrating experience for both of us. Stripping the bed just means pulling all the blankets, sheets, and pillowcases off. However, I’ve seen enough to incorrectly stripped beds to realize we’re not all on the same page.

How to Properly Strip Your Hotel Bed

  • Only strip beds that were used during your stay
  • Remove all blankets and decorative pillows. Place on a chair, dresser, or even the floor. Do not fold. If they need to be washed, the housekeepers will have to unfold them. If they are going back on the bed, they need to be unfolded. It might feel wrong, but trust me, just pile them up in the order that you pulled them off the bed.
  • Remove all sheets (flat, fitted, and matching pillowcases) and place them in the center of the bed. Again, no need to fold.
  • Place the stripped pillows on or near the pile of blankets.
  • Leave all pillow protectors and mattress protectors in place.
  • Do not remove cases from throw pillows.
  • Do not remove comforter covers.
  • Keep blankets and pillows separate from sheets so your housekeeper can quickly grab what they need to launder.

Bathroom Check Out Instructions

  • Pile used towels in an easily accessible corner.
  • Throw away any used soap bars
  • Check behind the shower curtain and in cabinets for your toiletries.
  • Take out trash

Kitchen Check Out Instructions 

  • Leave any unwanted food still in its original, unopened packaging in the fridge. (Not sure if you can leave or toss it? Refer to my note below.)
  • Throw out all leftovers. Wash and put away their containers if they belong to the rental.
  • Wash all dishes, dry, and put away. If there’s a dishwasher it’s okay to load the dishwasher and simply start it on your way out the door.
  • Remove coffee grounds from the coffee maker.
  • Sweep.
  • Wipe down counters and tables.
  • Take out the trash if instructed. If there’s nothing in the check out instructions about trash removal, leave the kitchen trash. This might sound counterintuitive, but housekeepers generates garbage as they clean. By leaving one trash container in the rental full, you’ll save them from tossing the things they discover or generate into a fresh trash bag.
  • If you want your items recycled (and this is a service the rental offers) make sure they are completely empty, rinsed out, and sorted from the trash in a separate bag or box.

What You Need to Know About Leaving Food in a Hotel Room

As a general rule of thumb, only leave items that could be purchased in their present state at a grocery store. Unopened beverages, whole pieces of fruit, or a sealed container of lunch meat are fine to leave. Food waste is no joking matter, so if you can’t or won’t use these food items, it’s perfectly fine to leave them. Housekeeping can decide if they want to toss or take home.

This does not give you carte blanche to leave ALL your food. No housekeeper should be responsible for throwing out your half-eaten yogurt or disassembling last night’s cheese board.

Living Room Check Out Instructions

  • Return all items and furniture to their original location.

It’s 100 percent okay to move around chairs and items during your stay. Just remember they were probably placed where you found them because that’s the easiest way to clean the space. Return loose items like books and coasters to where you found them. Most importantly, get all lamps, chairs, and rugs back to their original location.

Before You Head Out the Vacation Rental Door

  • Do a final sweep through the house to check for any items that you brought.
  • Communicate with the host anything that broke or didn’t work properly during your stay.
  • Open/shut any window blinds or windows that were open/shut when you arrived.
  • Make sure the door locks behind you and/or the key’s left where you found it.

While you should mostly be on the lookout for personal items, check for things like grocery bags that may come in with you and need to be tossed rather than shoved in a corner of the kitchen counter.

Did something break or not work in your vacation rental?

Even the most diligent vacation rental owner can’t be a 100 percent on top of every aspect of their rental 100 percent of the time. Defective oven lights, microwaves, and toasters are a few examples of items that could go unnoticed unless a guest points them out.

It’s not rude to let your host know something isn’t working. In fact, don’t wait until check out to communicate the issue. Your host can probably fix or replace the defective item very quickly, so no need to be a martyr and go without toast during your entire stay!

What Qualifies as Excessive Dirtiness: i.e. Vacation Rental Cleanliness Faux-Pas

Yes, the cleaning service is designed to clean up after you, but their role is to sanitize and prepare for the next guests. They’re not your personal maid servant. They don’t expect to find the space immaculate, but it shouldn’t be so filthy that they assume you had some sort of medical emergency and left suddenly. (Actually we’ve had guests leave in the middle of the night due to a medical emergency and they left the rental significantly cleaner than others who checked out normally.)

A quick list of absolute vacation rental no-nos include:

  • A floor so dirty that dirt pools against wall edges
  • Sheets draped over a table like a tablecloth
  • Bowls in the sink filled with stuck-on food
  • Bathroom sinks smeared with hair, dental floss, and toothpaste

What’s not a vacation rental guest’s responsibility at check out

  • Anything involving cleaning chemicals other than dish detergent
  • Cleaning the toilets, sinks, shower
  • Vacuuming
  • Dusting
  • Mopping
  • Making the beds
  • Starting laundry

While you should leave the vacation rental tidy, you do not need to clean your VRBO. More often than not, a cleaning fee is tacked on top of your nightly rental fee. Even if there isn’t, I prefer to leave the actual cleaning to the professionals. Why waste my time vacuuming (unless you’ve tracked in an egregious amount of dirt) when I know the housekeeping crew will just do it again?

Likewise, it feels like a slippery slope if a host asks guests to make up beds or do any real housekeeping. The likelihood of guests performing these tasks to a standard that doesn’t require the housekeepers to redo it seems low.

Five Worst Things To Do When You Leave an Airbnb or Vacation Rental 

1) Leave furniture rearranged

2) Leave dirty dishes, or even worse, put dishes away dirty

3) Make your bed

4) Leave prepared food in containers or pots in the fridge

5) Forget personal belongings

Tips for vacation rental owners writing check out procedures

Maybe you just purchased a vacation rental and you’re wondering what to include in your check out instructions. You want guests to respect your rental space, but you also want them to return and leave you a five-star review. I’ve definitely been at Airbnbs that have placed an undue burden of housekeeping on their guests. Trust me, no guest wants to spend two hours on the morning of their departure doing laundry and making beds.

When crafting your vacation rental check out instructions, remember, clear is kind. If you want guests to place their dirty sheets in a hamper, tell them that and let them know where the hamper is. I recommend including no more than three asks in your check out instructions. Personally, I ask guests to strip their beds, take out the trash, and do their dishes.   

You can’t expect your guests to be professional housekeepers and leave the space check-in ready for your next guests. It will be more frustrating than helpful to assign guests tasks traditionally performed by housekeepers. Guests expect a certain level of cleanliness in their vacation rentals. The best way to maintain a high cleanliness standard is to do the housekeeping yourself. Your vacation rental = your responsibility.

Do you tip your housekeeper at a hotel or vacation rental?

You don’t have to tip the housekeeper or cleaning service when you stay in a hotel or vacation rental. That said, they’re certainly not going to be offended if you do.  

How much should you tip the cleaning crew? American Hotel & Lodging Association suggests a $1 – $5 tip per night. Most often, I find a $20 bill on the kitchen table after a weeklong stay.

As a housekeeper, I never expect a tip and I actually rarely leave one when I travel. (Apparently my aversion to tipping . . . or rather my fear of getting tipping etiquette wrong, is a hallmark of my millennial tendencies.) In lieu of a tip, I just follow the check-out procedure I’ve outlined in this post. It feels good to leave after a lovely vacation knowing that the housekeepers who come in after me can do their jobs efficiently and painlessly.  

Winter in New York scene near Rockefeller Plaza

What’s your procedure when you check out of a hotel room or vacation rental? What do you think check out instructions can ask of a guest and what do you think is the host’s responsibility?


Hi! I’m Ada, a travel writer who believes “there’s no place like home.” I started Beyond the Yellow Brick Road to share my travel experiences and lessons learned from the road to help fellow travelers have the best travel experiences possible.

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  1. Most of this is great, common-sense advice. But, when I have used AirBnBs and VRBOs they generally charge very high cleaning fees. That has lead me to believe that I wasn’t responsible for more than I would be in a hotel. I have never had a list of instructions. I leave things clean like doing my dishes and leaving a tip but had never cleaned or stripped beds. This was an eye-opening read but may lead me to stay in hotels more often. When I pay for a cleaning service for my home I have never stripped my beds, so I guess I have always considered it like that. When I am staying at a friend’s I always completely clean up after myself but am not paying them for the privilege to stay or a cleaning fee.

    • Maybe this is a super Midwest thing? Pretty much every vacation rental I’ve stayed at includes a list of check out instructions.

      I totally agree with you on the cleaning fee. I honestly don’t understand why it’s even allowed. Any cost the owner incurs to clean their space after guests check out should just be folded into the base rate price. Listing it out separately makes it unclear what you’re paying for AND can really drive up the nightly rate! Plus, as a housekeeping professional, I always think, “hmm, so if I left this place clean enough to re-rent, does that mean you’ll pay me the cleaning fee?” 😉

  2. That is a very interesting article. I am a bit confused because I have worked in the hospitality industry in Europe and stripping the bed has never been mentioned anywhere. I never strip the bed once I check out and I actually do not know any of my friends who do that – neither in a hotel or a rental place. I am also surprised by the sweep the kitchen part – I presume this is for rentals only (where you are provided with something to sweep with), because I have stayed in a few hotels with a small kitchen and there has never been anything to sweep with.

    • To me, stripping the bed is an easy way to show housekeepers that they’re seen and appreciated. And don’t worry, I’m not implying that you should go track down a broom. If you haven’t been provided one, you’re definitely off the hook for sweeping!

  3. I used to be an Airbnb super host, and I was never this picky. I’ve actually stopped using Airbnb because of the cleaning and extra fees. Not making the bed makes sense, and not leaving piles of KFC bones in the room (yes this happened) but otherwise I don’t go overboard, especially if they charge for cleaning.

    • Oh gosh, you’d go crazy as a host if you expected this every time you walked into your rental after guests left! Super gross about the KFC bones. Ick!

  4. I must admit I have packing lists but not check out lists. A great idea. It would save a lot of second guessing after I have left a place. We often take pictures as soon as we arrive so we can leave a place exactly as we found it. Some great insider tips.

  5. Interesting post!

    Like the other commenters I don’t normally strip the bed when I leave hotel rooms or airB&Bs, and I have never seen a check out list apart from taking out the rubbish (although I would follow them if I saw such a thing)

    We normally leave the used towels in the tub/shower and make sure it looks tidy. I have to admit, we mostly stopped using AirB&B because they add on such high cleaning fees. I’d be very confused if they charge $100 cleaning fee aaaaand included a list of things for us to clean.

  6. Great tips here. I love the comparison of treating a vacation rental like staying at a friends’ house. It makes the check out process feel pretty straight forward, common decency. One thing I’ve noticed is several vacation homes ask us to start the first load of bed linens in the washing machine – this only takes seconds and I don’t ever mind doing that.


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