Cleaning Up Rental Properties

By Diane Tait

A couple of weeks ago, I covered the ins and outs of short-term rentals.  Today, I’m going to take the next step by discussing what all landlords need to know about cleaning their rental units after a tenant moves out.  While you may think you know how to clean a unit, in the new normal world of COVID-19, sanitizing a short or long-term rental property isn’t as easy as you might think.   Get it right and you’ll be able to reap the rewards that a rental property has to offer.   Get it wrong and not only can you endanger your tenants, you too could find yourself at risk or even have your property closed due to contamination.  

While readying a rental for the next tenant has always been important to landlords, in the past 6-months it has taken on a whole new meaning.  That’s because it’s possible for someone to contract COVID-19 by touching a contaminated doorknob, light switch or counter top.  Since the pathogen can live on surfaces for days, this not only poses a threat to your next tenant, it can also pose a threat to you.  To avoid the threat, you first have to understand the difference between cleaning a property and disinfecting a property.  You also need to know what precautions to take if you or an employee cleans the property immediately after a guest or tenant has checked out.

An ounce of prevention…

If you or anyone in your employ is going to venture inside a rental within 24-hours, the first thing that needs to be done is to understand that someone doesn’t have to show symptoms of COVID-19 to have it or carry it.  This means it’s vital that anyone assigned to clean a property first don gloves and a mask before venturing inside.  The next step should be to ventilate the unit by opening doors and windows or employ a ventilation fan to increase air flow and remove pathogens.

According to the CDC: It is unknown how long the air inside a room occupied by someone with COVID-19 remains potentially infectious. Facilities will need to consider factors such as the size of the room and the ventilation system design (including air changes per hour and location of supply and exhaust vents) when deciding how long to close off rooms or areas used by an infected person before beginning disinfection. Taking measures to improve ventilation in an area or room where someone was ill or suspected to be ill with COVID-19 will help shorten the time it takes respiratory droplets to be removed from the air. 

Cleaning versus disinfecting – If you are looking to prevent the spread of germs, cleaning a unit is not enough.  You need to disinfect, which involves the use of chemicals.  According to the CDC, disinfectants capable of killing COVID-19 and other pathogens include ammonia, ethyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, provided that cleaning solvents that containing any of these ingredients are used at the recommended strength.  It is also recommended that surfaces be cleaned with soap and water prior to disinfecting.  Below are ten additional recommendations for sanitizing a unit:

      1.      Wash your hands thoroughly before and after cleaning a unit. – While hand sanitizers have proven quite popular, washing your hands with soap and warm water for 30-seconds can prove just as effective.

      2.      It’s vital that you refrain from touching your face, nose or eyes while cleaning. – Scratching an itch, rubbing your eyes or blowing your nose could prove disastrous since these areas are onramps to infection.

      3.      Clean is as clean does. – When it comes to disinfecting as opposed to cleaning, it’s a process, not an injection.  Before you sanitize an area, you should wash it thoroughly with soap and water.  Only then should you spray on a disinfectant.  Let the disinfectant stand for at least 3-minutes before wiping away with a clean paper towel or wipe.  Last but not least, toss the paper towel or wipe in the bin before moving onto the next area.  Reusing these could actually spread any germs that weren’t killed by the disinfectant.

      4.      What do you need to sanitize? – While door handles, wall switches, toilets and countertops are obvious suspects, don’t forget to vacuum rugs, drapes, chairs and sofas thoroughly before sanitizing with a disinfectant approved for those surfaces.

      5.      Blitz the bathrooms. – Wash and sanitize sinks, toilets, tubs and fixtures.  Polish mirrors and showers with an ammonia-based disinfectant.  Dust inside and outside of bathroom cabinets.  Remove all towels and washcloths to the laundry.  Scrub bathmats, shower curtains and vacuum any carpets with a HEPA filter.

      6.      Launder linens including bedspreads, mattress covers, sheets, pillowcases and comforters on the highest temperature setting recommended by the manufacturer.  – Hot water works best along with a detergent that contains bleach, provided that you wash and dry bedding and towels thoroughly. The process of washing, rinsing, spinning and machine drying is enough to remove microbes from laundry.  That being said, it’s imperative that you wear gloves and masks while handing soiled laundry.

      7.      Toss or reuse? While it’s always good to save a buck, when it comes to stopping germs in their tracks, nothing beats tossing unused paper towels, toilet paper, newspapers, magazines, paper plates and disposable cups into the trash once a tenant moves out.

      8.      Empty the vacuum cleaner after every use. – While a HEPA filter can remove microbes from carpeting, drapes and furniture, failure to toss the waste collected amounts to toting around a ticking time bomb.  So too does failing to clean and disinfect the vacuum itself before you venture into another unit.

      9.      Sanitize or dispose of your cleaning supplies. – Once you finish cleaning and disinfecting a unit, don’t forget to disinfect your cleaning supplies, as well as tossing disposable cleaning supplies, including gloves and mask.  Last but not least, relegate the clothes you wore to the laundry and don new apparel when you’re finished cleaning.

     10.  Can you wash too much? – Not if you want to remain pathogen free.  Once you’ve disposed of or removed your clothing after completing the task of cleaning and disinfecting your property, it wouldn’t hurt to wash your hands again, followed by a long, hot bath.  You can never wash too much.  If all this seems to be too much, consider outsourcing the task to a professional cleaning company.

Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance.  To find out more about how you can save money on insurance, go to her site or fill out the form at right.


  1. While the Coronavirus has gotten everyone's attention, this isn't the only pathogen that can spread like wildfire inside rental properties. The lessons in this article apply to any rental unit.


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