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Is It Safe to Rent an Airbnb or Vacation Home Right Now?
Kentaroo Tryman/Getty Images

Consumed with wanderlust after months of quarantine? Same. But even as the world slowly reopens during COVID-19, is it safe to rent an Airbnb or vacation rental home right now? We spoke to a few experts to get clearer answers on the complicated question.

Can I book a rental home or Airbnb and be safe?

“It is certainly safe to rent a vacation home this summer,” says Dr. Erika Schwartz, M.D. and founder of Evolved Science. And, according to Dr. Linda Anegawa, internist with virtual primary care platform PlushCare, a home rental, like Airbnb, is actually preferable to a hotel room, which has probably had way more people in it. Still, viruses don’t take vacations, so both doctors emphasize that COVID-19 safety measures must still be taken very seriously if you do book. Those include what you’ve already been doing—washing hands, avoiding touching your face, practicing social distancing and wearing masks­—in addition to a little elbow grease to do your own deep clean (we’ll get into that).

How to Ensure Your Rental Is Low-Risk

1. Research how the rental has been cleaned

While information on COVID-19 is still evolving, recent research suggests that the virus can remain contagious in the air for up to three hours, and on some surfaces (like stainless steel and plastic) it can survive as long as three days. Still, Dr. Schwartz says the biggest consideration should not be how recently the place was occupied, but rather “how it has been disinfected and its prior history of guests.”  Bottomline: Be sure to reach out to potential hosts before you book, so you can suss out whether or not the previous occupant was sick during their stay and get the scoop on not just if, but how the home will be cleaned and disinfected before you arrive.

2. Crosscheck that information with CDC

Once you’ve gotten some information straight from the source, Dr. Anegawa recommends you make sure it aligns with the official CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting.

3. Give it 24 hours

Regardless of the lag time between guests, the CDC recommends that a 24-hour waiting period should be observed following disinfection of a potentially infected area—so find out the date of cleaning if you can, and then give it a day.

Questions to Ask a Host Before You Book

Worried you won’t know what to say when you drop your prospective hosts a line? No problem--we asked the American Cleaning Institute to weigh in on what renters should ask before booking if they want to cover all the bases. Here’s the breakdown.

  • Is your home professionally cleaned in between rentals?
  • Does your cleaning crew disinfect surfaces around your home?*
  • Do you have an adequate supply of cleaning products, like hand soap, dish soap, disinfectant spray or wipes, available in your unit?
  • Do you have a washer and dryer available and any detergent that we can use?

*Note: Cleaning and disinfecting are not one in the same. Learn more about the distinction between the two on the CDC’s Covid-19 FAQ page.

How and What to Clean When You Get There

To reiterate, cleaning practices are a major factor when it comes to the risk associated with any given vacation rental. In acknowledgement of that, Airbnb has updated their cleaning protocol to better protect both guests and hosts from Covid-19 infection. While these policy changes are reassuring, compliance still operates under the honor system, which of course is not always the most reliable. Since you won’t be present to confirm the extent to which your Airbnb hosts have followed the recommended disinfecting procedures, the doctors advise all travelers to take matters into their own hands upon arrival at a rental location.

Bring your own alcohol-based disinfectant

Pack  household cleaning supplies—Dr. Schwartz says any alcohol-based disinfectant should do the trick—and spray down all surfaces as soon as you check in.

Pay attention to “high-touch surfaces”

Dr. Anegawa advises paying particular attention to “high-touch surfaces.” What are those, you ask? According to the American Cleaning Institute those hot spots to sanitize ASAP include: 

  • Doorknobs
  • Light switches
  • Flat surfaces (table or desk)
  • Bathroom (toilet, faucet, sink)
  • Remote control or phone
  • Countertops
  • Handles (drawers, appliances, etc.)

Pack your own sheets and towels

Finally, it might be wise to bring your own clean sheets; otherwise, plan on doing a load of laundry on day one, so you can rest assured that all the towels and linens have been washed in the warmest water possible and thoroughly dried.

Dos and Don’ts of a COVID-19 Vacation

So you’ve settled into your home away from home...now what? Cities are gradually reopening across the country, but certain safety measures are still in effect.

Do: Wear masks in public.

Both experts agree that no matter where you are, masks should still be worn in public places. In fact, Anegawa advises that travelers “bring a supply of masks wherever they go”—’cause you’re going to need one if you want access to a cafe for a barista-made cup of delicious in the morning.

Do: Social Distance

No matter where you are, social distancing is still the rule, so avoid crowded places. (For example, if the beach is packed, go with plan B and find a nearby hiking trail instead).

Don’t: Throw caution to the wind

If a vacation is in the cards for you, bon voyage. Just be sure to enjoy your new surroundings without being reckless to yourself or the community you’re entering.

Please note that the information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, things are evolving, and some data may have changed since publication. Before booking a vacation rental, be sure to consult the latest advisories from public health authorities, like the CDC and World Health Organization.

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