Death, people say, can be messy. It’s bandied about in a figurative way, as in the complexities of human existence. But death can be literally messy, and shockingly so. As in blood on the living room walls.
Most of us, if we’re lucky, only know this from TV. “CSI” and “Law & Order” show us all the post-death activity. Police officers, paramedics, crime-scene investigators and coroners are at the scene of a violent incident, checking the victim, questioning, collecting evidence, recording the scene and finally removing the body. What you seldom see on TV is what happens after that: All those professionals gone, family members standing in a room still covered in blood, facing the prospect of living, even temporarily, with that scene. Because one thing those professionals do not do is clean it up.
Trauma Cleaning is a niche market within the cleaning industry, and it involves cleaning up dangerous material. This could mean the biologically contaminated scene of a violent death (homicide, suicide or accidental), the chemically contaminated scene of a methamphetamine lab, or an anthrax exposure site . Trauma cleaners come in and restore the scene to its pre-incident state, known in the business as remediation.
When a violent death occurs in someone’s home, the family typically doesn’t move out. The cleaners’ job is to remove any sign of what happened and any biohazards that resulted from it. Regulations deem all bodily fluids to be biohazards, so any blood or tissue at a crime scene is considered a potential source of infection. You need special knowledge to safely handle biohazard material and to know what to look for at the scene – for instance, if there’s a thumbnail-size bloodstain on the carpet, there’s a good chance that there’s a 2-foot-diameter bloodstain on the floorboards underneath it. You can’t just clean the carpet and call it a day. You also need permits to transport and dispose of biohazard waste. Trauma Cleaning specialists have all of the necessary qualifications, training and, perhaps most important, willingness to handle material that would send most of us running out the door to throw up in the bushes.
A lot of them come from medical fields that prepare them for the gore — they may have been EMTs or emergency room nurses. A construction background is helpful, too, because some clean-ups (especially meth labs) require walls and built-in structures to be removed.
While Trauma Cleaning companies will clean up practically anything, the most common scenes they’re called in to address are suicides, accidents and “unattended deaths” (a.k.a. decomposing bodies). And they arrive at these scenes with an enormous body of equipment. Once they assess the damage, they decide which tools will help them them return the room, house or business to its pre-incident state. The gear they choose from typically includes:
- Personal protective gear: a non-porous, one-time-use suit; gloves; filtered respirators and chemical-spill boots
- Biohazard waste containers: 55-gallon (208 liter) heavy duty bags and sealed, hard plastic containers
- Traditional cleaning supplies: mops, buckets, spray bottles, sponges, brushes
The site of a messy death poses dangers not everyone can see. In addition to the infection that can result from blood-borne pathogens, any bodily fluids that remain in floors, baseboards or walls can end up making people sick months or years later. The area has to be truly clean, not just apparently clean.
Cleaning up after a violent death can take anywhere from one hour to 40 hours or more. It all depends on the type of trauma and the amount of biohazard material at the site. Cleaners use hospital-grade disinfectant to wipe or scrub every drop of blood from all surfaces, including counters, ceilings, walls, light fixtures, glass trinkets, family pictures, artwork and appliances. They scrape brain matter off of walls and collect any bone fragments embedded in the drywall. They rip out and discard blood-soaked carpeting and remove blood-soaked upholstery, window treatments or rugs. Sometimes, they need to collect and remove small pieces of the body – the coroner takes most of it, but if it was a particularly violent death, there may parts left behind.