Cleaning house is not something anyone wants to think about when vacationing or traveling to new exotic destinations. Did the previous guest prepare a fresh goat on the counter? Who cleaned the bathroom? And god knows what went on in the bedroom!
Fortunately, at hotels, there is normally some assurance of cleanliness. There’s a maid and individually wrapped soaps and drinking cups and a paper strip over the toilet that says “sanitized”. The room often smells like cleaning products.
In contrast, at home stays and Airbnbs in developing countries; anything goes. And as perpetual international slow travelers, household sanitation is never far from our minds. So we always carry a budget travel cleaning kit.
In truth, only one time in our nearly 100 Airbnb rentals have we walked into a place and felt it was not suitably clean. In that case, we simply went to the corner store, purchased some cleaning supplies, and within 90 minutes had the apartment ready for our two-month stay. Taking action ourselves seemed easier than starting a negotiation with the rental agent — and beside, the price and location were amazing.
Since that episode, however, we have taken to carrying with us a small travel cleaning kit. And my wife and I have developed a routine which we do immediately upon check-in at any new ‘home’ no matter how it looks.
Whether you are staying somewhere long-term, vacationing for a week, or even spending just one night in a hotel, you can’t go wrong by having these few small items at the ready to assure your space is tidy, germ-free, and pleasant smelling.
What’s inside our retired budget travel cleaning kit
1. Rubber gloves
A pair of latex dish washing gloves is advisable. They roll up to nothing, protect hands, skin and nails against filth and cleaning agents, and come in handy for occasional bigger and messier situations which sometimes develop during travel. These are the first items out of the travel cleaning kit. I put on the gloves to begin our move-in sanitation sweep.
2. Disinfectant wipes
A package of 20-30 alcohol-based, disinfectant wipes is the largest and most important weapon in our travel cleaning kit. If you carry nothing else, these could suffice for most needs. In our case, five or six individual wipes are needed upon arrival for several specific uses.
The first area of our attention is the kitchen. The sink faucet and handles are thoroughly wiped as is each of the kitchen cabinet and drawer handles and edges where food-prep hands might grab or touch. I always wipe the exterior of any soap bottles, brush handles and drain plugs and baskets too.
The cooking controls are next; each knob or digital button is wiped, the oven handle and microwave door and controls too – then the refrigerator handles and door edge and jam. With all the ‘touching surfaces’ now cleaned, I go back and do the larger areas; the dish drying rack, the countertops, the rest of the sink itself. It’s usually surprising how dirty the disinfectant wipe is after this quick wipe-down. Sometimes I’ll do it twice.
3. New dish washing scrubbie sponges
Once the sink/counter is cleaned, my wife will begin the process of hand washing every dish, cup, glass, piece of silverware, pots, pans, etc. Everything that we might want to use for eating during our stay is washed and dried. We always bring a new scrub sponge with us for this purpose. Sometimes a new scrub sponge is provided. More often there is a used one – which sometimes looks or smells like death.
Most likely, all the kitchenware has already been washed. It’s in the cabinets/drawers. It looks clean. Still, I didn’t wash it. For all we know, the last renter used a serving fork to scratch his hairy back, or fed the neighborhood dogs from a dinner plate. Everything is washed thoroughly.
4. Small bottle of dish washing detergent
Usually there is some dish washing detergent provided. Sometimes not. To wash the dishes, we carry a small, hand-sanitizer bottle – refilled with dish soap. It’s enough to last for a few days if necessary (until we get to the store) and in a pinch it can be used as hand soap during travel or if there is no soap at all at check-in (it has happened). While the wife cleans the kitchenware, I continue the disinfectant wipe down.
The next thing I clean in a new living space is the toilet seat. Seems wise. If our bare asses and private parts are to be on an unknown commode, I’m surely going to be confident it is clean. After the seat, I wipe the flushing handle, lid, tank, rim, and exterior of the bowl. Most often, there is a toilet brush provided – and I use that too. When finished, I know the toilet is clean.
Another disinfectant wipe is then used for the rest of the bathroom. I do the sink faucet and handles next, then the shower door handle and water controls, and also the bathroom doorknob and lock. I wipe down any shelving we might use to store our personal products then wipe the sink top. The final use for wipe #2 is to clean the edge of the bathroom door and door jam; specifically, any place where unwashed hands are likely to have touched when opening the door or using the room.
Similarly, the next disinfectant wipe is used to clean every other door knob in the place, any closet or cabinet or drawer handle, then every light switch and individual lamp on/off control, and every window handle/latch/lock, even the door keys themselves and any key chains — again, the things that dozens/hundreds of other people may have touched with unclean hands. We’ve often been stunned at how filthy these ‘forgotten’ items are, even in an otherwise spotlessly clean dwelling.
A final new disinfectant wipe is used first to clean the spigot on any bottled water dispenser/garrafon (common in developing countries) then on any remote controls; television, air conditioner, fans, etc. I then use that same wipe on any control buttons on fans, TVs, coffee machine, hot water kettle, toaster etc.
Lastly, I go around with the last wipe doing other larger areas – the coffee table top, the kitchen table, and the backs and edges of dining table chairs where food/germ covered hands are used to pull-out and slide-in. I end the wipe-down with the bedroom nightstand tops and the headboard if it is a solid surface.
At the very end, I will often have a few of the disinfectant wipes with some ‘life’ left in them. Usually, I wipe any clothes closet shelves we will use, then I toss them into the shower stall/tub and wipe the floor before pitching them all into the trash.
Thank you, wet wipes! Time to unpack.
5. One small hand towel; one washcloth
These final items of the travel cleaning kit have come in handy on several occasions. Usually, there is a hand or kitchen towel of some kind in our rental units. But sometimes none – or they look more like stained, grubby rags. Did the previous renter polish his shoes with that? We advise carrying a small clean towel or handi-wipes for drying dishes or fingertips or for use as an emergency door or bath mat or sweat rag.
There are certainly more cleaning related supplies that a traveler might want or need. But we purchase those as needed at local stores. In fact, we will typically buy and leave behind unused paper towels and tissues, laundry detergent, hand and body soaps, bug sprays, air fresheners, etc. at each of our long stays. We do also carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer and a few other multi-use personal care items.
Still, with just the handful of cleaning items listed above, we have confidently lived in over 20 countries on four continents.
We urge all travelers to consider creating your own compact travel cleaning kit and routine. It’s a sure way to put your mind at ease and render irrelevant whatever bizarre cooking, personal hygiene, or hobby was practiced by the previous guest.
If something really isn’t right — if your Airbnb rental is just too dirty or something else is really wrong, the company has a grievance/refund process.
Hopefully, it won’t come to that.
Happy trails and more beer! Life is now!