#truecrime in the realest sense! Check out these secrets from actual crime scene cleaners.
Until a few decades ago, the task of cleaning up after a loved one died fell to family and friends, potentially adding trauma on top of an already terrible event. In the 1990s, a small group of companies and entrepreneurs sprang up to tackle the problem, specializing in the removal of blood, fluids, human tissue, and hazardous substances. By 2012 (the last year for which reliable data is available), crime scene cleanup was a $350-million industry in the United States and included more than 500 companies. In 2015, we (4C: Central Carolina Cleaning Company) came on the scene to serve North Carolina communities in their greatest times of need as professional crime scene cleaners.
Crime Scene Cleaning is a profession that few people realize exists—until tragedy strikes, and suddenly they have to deal with the unimaginable. That’s when they call a select group of iron-stomached, steel-nerved workers known as trauma scene restoration specialists, biohazard remediation technicians, or simply crime scene cleaners.
Little is known about what we actually do by the general public, so here is what we want you to know about our work.
1.) Our work is not limited to crime scenes.
The phrase crime scene cleanup brings to mind police tape and furrow-browed detectives. In reality, only a fraction of the calls we receive—which can come from family members, property managers, hotel owners, or anyone with a dead body on their property—are the result of a major crime. Unattended natural death (i.e., a person who dies alone and isn’t discovered quickly) and suicide are the most common scenarios.
In addition to cleaning up crime scenes, we supplement with other kinds of biohazard removal, like removing tear gas from a property after it’s been used by law enforcement or hoarding situations. We have also adapted to our current climate and offer decontamination of office spaces and homes after COVID-19 exposure.
2.)Many crime scene cleaners are veterans, law enforcement, or emergency medical technicians… and women.
These groups don’t become crime scene cleaners because they’re gluttons for punishment. Most are already desensitized to foul odors, blood, and tragic situations. On top of that, they have seen many people on the worst day of their lives. They may have also seen patients, friends, or colleagues die and can understand the grief families may be going through. It’s not easy being a crime scene cleaner, but we have a strong group ready to help you.
The owner of 4C (Raven Coleman) is a woman, a veteran, and a criminal justice instructor, so she is prepared for anything. It may not be expected, but the field of forensics is mostly women and their numbers are still growing. 4C’s employees are also mostly women so be prepared to see our hardworking ladies on the job. No matter the gender, 4C is proud of all of its strong and dedicated staff!
3.) The death scene can spread beyond the body.
We all hope to go peacefully in our sleep. Sadly, this is not always the case. Sometimes death is caused by an injury, violence, or can be a slow process. Gastrointestinal bleeds can cause vomiting of blood throughout a home, head injuries can have lacerations that bleed and the person may move through the house while attempting to staunch the bleeding. Violent deaths involving a firearm can cause blood to spatter or tissue to travel long distances in a room.
Sometimes, it’s not the death, itself, that causes the mess, but the lifestyle of the individual. Families may not be aware that a relative has hoarding tendencies and some people pass with animals in the home that urinate on the floors without their owner to attend to their needs. Death can be a messy business, but we have you covered.
4.) Our cleaning supplies are next-level.
Many of the chemicals we use aren’t any stronger than the items you may find in your own home, but we know exactly how to use them. We’ve perfected using sanitizing, degreasing, and deodorizing chemicals, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a few tricks up our sleeve.
One of our best tools is the ionizer. It produces negative ions, producing an electrical charge. Similar to what happens when you feel a shock after rubbing your socks along a carpet. These ions stick to contaminants in the air and are trapped and fall to the ground. The smell is mild and dissipates quickly.
Another handy trick we use is odor-covering paint. Generic interior paint alone won’t cover a strong odor, such as cigarette smoke. Special paint is required to cover the odor so it no longer produces foul odors. It’s not just for walls, but can be used in areas that cannot necessarily be removed, like joists and other structural parts of a building that are often not visible.
5.) Crime Scene Cleaners can mitigate the smell…sort of.
Smells can be the result of old left-out food, animal urine, and feces, or from products of decomposition as a body decays. These are impossible smells to cover up so odor elimination has to begin at the source. Any items, carpet or flooring, that has been contaminated needs to be removed. This can include subflooring and within crawlspaces. Then, the process of deodorizing can begin.
We utilize a heavy-duty ionizer that battles the odor at the molecular level to eliminate it completely, but that may not be the end of it. Sometimes the smell has penetrated a home so completely that the owner will have to decide if they want to have the home painted and all the carpets removed to completely get rid of the smell. If that is what is necessary to make your home feel refreshed then we can help.
6.) We hate seeing cats on the scene.
We love cats, that’s not why we hate seeing them. First, cats are innately curious. They want to know what is going on and will come to inspect everything and can cause more of a mess in the process or get into chemicals that could harm them.
Second, if it’s an unattended death, the cats may have urinated on the floors and furniture from uncleaned litter boxes or stress. Cat urine is a very difficult smell to get rid of because of the very concentrated ammonia.
Lastly, cats can track bodily fluids all over a home and can get into nooks and crevices where the smell can linger. Also, it’s hard to concentrate when there’s a furry feline to pet.
7.) The turnover rate is pretty high among crime scene cleaners.
This career choice is not for everyone. Sometimes it takes a few months to a year to find out if working with grieving families and seeing the after-effects of traumatic scenes is something that can be handled emotionally and physically. Therefore, the turnover rate is high as some people find that this path is not right for them.
It can be very strenuous work and all staff members have to be able to put their personal feelings and emotions aside in order to assist the family during their time of need. What most people won’t tell you is that working alongside death requires excellent compartmentalization skills. Each person has to be able to put the situation in a mental box so they can perform their duties and not take the family’s grief home with them.
8.)Our techs usually double as counselors.
The unspoken truth of working in the death industry is that we become counselors during our careers. We have seen grief, death, and tragedy. We have seen families at their emotional low points. We have seen many stages and reactions to grief. Our experiences don’t just make us capable of doing the job, we can’t help but empathize as well.
We don’t judge or dismiss because we’ve seen how tragedies can impact a family. We’ve all had a family tell us their woes and their feelings and we keep in mind that while we get to go home at the end of the shift, there are families that are still struggling with an emotional crisis.
9.) Each tech adapts their own style of working.
There are procedures that need to be followed in order to get a place into tip-top shape, but how the work is done is unique to the tech. The team works to their strengths. Those who would rather do the deep cleaning, usually volunteer for that task, whereas others prefer to dismantle soiled furniture (it’s more fun than you’d think).
Other team members are skilled at working with families or business/home-owner insurance companies. We all have our preferences and strengths and we use those and teamwork to get a scene back to comfortable living conditions as quickly as possible. It takes a village to get the job done!
One of the most memorable experiences we’ve had was at a remote county home that had seen years of hoarding and alcoholism. There were personal items, trash, and large glass alcohol containers everywhere. The family requested that everything other than furniture be removed during the cleaning process. Volunteering to clear out the clutter meant having a dumpster delivered adjacent to the house for disposal. It’s the only time it’s been permissible to throw glass bottles out a two-story window. That was a task that was entertaining to help with.
While all these points are things we want you to know about our chosen profession, the most important thing we want to share is the immense satisfaction we get from our job. Despite the smells, the gore, and the grief, we obtain great reward in the help we are able to provide to others in their hour of greatest darkness.
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