I Charge Guests a $400 Airbnb Cleaning Fee. After Seeing How Filthy Guests Can Be, I Refuse to Let It Cut Into My Profits

I'm an Airbnb Host Who Charges a $400 Cleaning Fee.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Michael Townsend, a 35-year-old Airbnb owner who owns a property in Cooperstown, New York, and charges a higher than usual cleaning fee.

This decision was shaped by his early experiences and the unique challenges of maintaining his property.

This story has been edited for length and clarity.

Greetings from Cooperstown!


I’m Michael Townsend, a 35-year-old vacation rental owner who, along with my partner Jessica, dove headfirst into the world of Airbnb a few years back.

We manage a charming cottage in Cooperstown, New York—a quaint little town that’s as picturesque as it is serene.

What started as a modest investment quickly turned into a significant endeavor that demanded a lot more than we initially anticipated.

Starting Out

The journey began in late 2020.

As the world shifted due to the pandemic, we noticed a trend: people were choosing private homes over hotels for their vacations.

Seizing the opportunity, we purchased a small, former inn located near a state park, perfect for guests interested in escaping into nature.

Cooperstown cottage

Transforming this property into a cozy getaway for families and groups wasn’t just about buying furniture and painting walls; it was about creating a space where people could feel at home while experiencing the beauty of upstate New York.

The Cleaning Conundrum


At first, Jessica and I managed all the housekeeping ourselves.

Our initial cleaning fee was a mere $75, under the naive assumption that we could keep up with the demands ourselves.

But as bookings picked up, so did the mess.

Each guest left a little chaos in their wake, and soon, balancing cleaning with our full-time jobs—myself as a magazine editor and Jessica in finance—became untenable.

Deciding to Raise the Fee

By 2021, the need for professional cleaning services was clear.

We raised our cleaning fee to between $200 and $400, varying by season.

This wasn’t a decision we took lightly. It was driven by several factors:

  • Property Size and Layout: Our cottage spans over 2,000 square feet, includes multiple bedrooms, extensive outdoor areas, and a swimming pool. Each of these spaces requires meticulous attention to ensure they meet our high standards.
  • Seasonal Demand: Summer sees a surge in bookings, with the pool requiring regular maintenance. We found that guests tend to make more of a mess during this season, likely because they spend more time enjoying the indoor and outdoor amenities.
  • Quality of Service: We aspire to offer a cleanliness standard that rivals top hotels. This isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s about providing a sanitary, comfortable environment that enhances the overall guest experience.

Guest Experiences and Operational Insights

Running this Airbnb has been a revealing experience in human behavior.

We’ve seen the spectrum: from guests who treat our place with impeccable respect to those who forget their manners at home.

We once discovered a wall in the living room mysteriously punched through—a baffling and frustrating situation.

Instead of a simple patch job, we remodeled the entire wall, which thankfully made the space feel larger and more open.

One thing has become clear: guests appreciate not having to clean up before they leave.

This policy, while it means a higher fee, has been a key selling point.

It’s something that sets us apart in a market where many hosts still ask guests to take out the trash or strip the beds.

Looking Ahead

Jessica and I are constantly thinking about how to enhance our service.

We’re exploring adding more properties to our portfolio and considering unique offerings like themed stays or exclusive packages that include local tours.

Financial Perspectives

The rental doesn’t replace our full-time jobs in terms of income, but it’s a substantial supplement that allows us to reinvest in the property and save for our own adventures.

We’ve established a reserve fund from the excess cleaning fees for repairs and replacements, which keeps the property in top shape and ensures we rarely have to ask guests to pay for damages.

Community and Lifestyle Impact

Living in Cooperstown and running this Airbnb has changed our lifestyle.

We’ve become more connected to our community, often collaborating with local businesses to enhance our guests’ experiences.

It’s a symbiotic relationship that supports local commerce and enriches the stays of our visitors.

We Aim to Keep Renting Out This Property and Generating Income From it

This Airbnb venture has been a journey of discovery—about the hospitality industry, our guests, and ourselves.

It’s taught us about resilience, adaptability, and the importance of maintaining high standards.

We look forward to many more years of welcoming guests to our beloved cottage, providing them a clean, comfortable, and memorable stay.

Running a high-end vacation rental isn’t just about managing a property; it’s about creating experiences and making connections.

It’s a demanding job, but one that is immensely rewarding.

Whether it’s through the sparkling reviews we receive or the repeat guests who come back year after year, it’s clear that our efforts—and our cleaning fee—are well worth it.

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