Operations 101: How to Manage Vacation Rental Laundry & Linens

Koryn Okey
Koryn Okey

November 30, 2023

Welcome to the final installment of Operations 101: Laundry & Linens. Over the last 4 weeks, we’ve shared insights for you to consider as you’ve focused on improving your business’ operational efficiency. We enlisted the help of industry veteran, Steve Craig, who weighed in from his 42 years of experience building world-class housekeeping teams.  

Linens are a complex part of the vacation rental business. They’re time-consuming to care for, easily stain, and often “grow legs and go missing”, but they’re also essential to the guest experience so it’s important to cover this part of the operational process. 

When starting to work with a new owner, you’ll want to discuss how the property will be stocked. When it comes to linens there are typically two ways that this can happen: either the property management company purchases and owns the linens or the homeowner purchases and owns the linens. Best practice recommends that a business purchase all linens and develop a Standardized Linen Program (SLP) that new homeowners join.  An SLP allows you to purchase in bulk, place linens across multiple houses (they’re all the same!) and reduce replacement costs.

Master Linen & Inventory Management
Breezeway's inventory management program uses data from property care tasks to help you manage supply levels
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How does a Standardized Linen Program work?

When each new owner joins your program, they pay a linen start-up fee. This is not an ownership fee, but a fee paid to “join” your SLP. They do not own the linens and if they leave your rental program all the linens come back to you.  The only additional cost they incur is the annual linen replacement costs.

How many linens should I provide at my vacation rental?

Linens should be supplied based on occupancy, not room count. One bath towel and washcloth per occupant, along with 2 hand towels per bathroom is the baseline. Some companies choose to offer designated towels, marked “makeup” for makeup removal to help reduce staining, but this is not a requirement.

How do I determine annual linen replacement costs?

The easiest way to determine this is to understand what you have to purchase. Divide this by the total occupancy of all units in your rental program. That number is multiplied by the occupancy at every property to determine what each owner owes. 

For example 

Costs of replacements: $2,500

Total Program Occupancy (all units): 152 (19 properties that sleep 8)

Replacement Cost per Occupancy: $16.45

Property A Annual Linen Replacement costs: $131.57 ($16.45x 8 person occupancy) 

If your homeowners still own the linens in their property, you may want to consider introducing an SLP. This may take some time to roll out and is something you can do over a few seasons, but the long-term benefit will be widespread if you can commit to this early on. Here are a few ways to ensure the rollout is successful:

  • Share low replacement costs and improved guest satisfaction scores with homeowners who chose not to participate in the first year to help them see value!

  • Put more requirements on linens that can be provided to ensure they are inline with the linens provided through your SLP.

  • Know that some owners may prefer their own linens when using the property and be willing to accommodate this.

Hopefully, it won’t come to this, but you may need to be willing to walk away from homes that reuse to join the SLP after a set timeframe. The additional operational burden is likely not worth it for your business.  

Having a Standardized Linen Program sets you up for success, but that’s just part one. In order to ensure costs remain low, you have to properly launder the linens, and that starts with WHERE they’re washed. Too often companies launder the linens in the unit on a departure clean. While this may seem like a good idea, specifically because there is no additional investment in laundry machinery, there is a long list of reasons against going this route. 

  • Stains! In-unit laundering can means stained linens not being treated properly. This can result in the constant replacement of linens. If you don’t have an SLP and the owner purchased the linens it’s entirely possible you won’t be able to replace them with the same style or quality, which can quickly become a paperwork and accounting problem as well as a linen issue.

  • Cleanliness. Residential units are not intended to be used for commercial linens. This results in low-quality of linen cleaning as a result of poor cleaning chemicals, overloading of machines, improper rinsing, no attention to stains, etc. The machines are abused and often linens are hung still damp.

  • Time. A 2 bed/2 bath condo can be cleaned in under 90 minutes, but laundry can take nearly 3 hours. This means excess housekeeping time is required to prepare units and time is spent waiting for laundry to dry. Often this results in shortcuts being taken (eliminating rinses to speed loads, rinsing, not laundering sheets, and  spraying with a linen spray).

    • Example: A 2/2 condo has 3 loads of laundry.

    • A typical washer takes at least 24 minutes per load. 

    • To dry towels it takes at least 30 minutes.

    • 3 loads of linens will take a minimum of 2 hours and 48 minutes.  

Too often, companies without laundry will purchase duplicate sets of linens and expect the housekeepers to take soiled linens offsite to launder outside of turn days (likely at a laundromat). If you are working with subcontractors this is not an option because it is not within the scope of the cleaning contract. 

While the most cost-effective and efficient process is to develop an SLP and invest in a commercial laundry facility. We understand that for many, this is simply not feasible, especially if you’re just starting out. An alternative is to roll out the SLP and partner with a local service that can launder linens.

What should I look for in a linen partner?

  • Your linens must be kept completely separate from all other linens.

  • Confirm they charge for the clean pound (charging for soiled linen is unethical).

  • Visit the laundry: Is it clean? Are linens lying on the ground? If so, keep looking. This is not the partner for you.

  • Ask for references from other companies they work with (where the linen is owned by that company). Ask them about the service; do they ever get linens from other companies?

  • Identify your linens so you know the linens you are receiving are yours. You can do this by placing your company initials on the corner of the linen with a laundry marker (just be sure to use a marker that won’t come out in the wash!).

Before signing a contract, run a test. Send a set number of linens that you have counted. When you get the clean linens back, it should be an exact match. This should instill confidence in their process. Be sure to sporadically check for quality assurance throughout your partnership and ensure there is a process for feedback and resolution, should issues arise. 

Note: There are also companies that provide linens and charge a per-item fee to supply and launder these to you. While this is not the most economical option, you can include these fees within your cleaning fee and it does reduce the burden of linens and laundering on your company. In this scenario, you do not need to institute an SLP.

Should I consider building in-house laundry?

It’s a worthwhile activity to contact a machinery supplier at the beginning of your STR journey to understand what size machine and how much space you would need to build your own laundry facility. You may be surprised how small of a space is actually needed, depending on the size of your company. And, typically there is no charge from the machinery provider to do this. Machines can be purchased, rented, or leased.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the Operations 101 series. If there are specific topics you’d like to see covered, please let us know by emailing community@breezeway.io and we’ll do our best to address them in the future!

Master Linen & Inventory Management
Breezeway's inventory management program uses data from property care tasks to help you manage supply levels
Learn More