The Blog

Extreme Cleaners: Daily Dealings With Death

When I saw that How Clean Is Your Crime Scene was filed under 'popular' on Netflix, it got me thinking. The documentary follows cleaners in California as they deal with the aftermath of messy or traumatic deaths.

I wondered how it worked on our side of the pond. Though I've seen a few stories about extreme cleaners, I felt as though the questions I had about the job remained unanswered.

Blood and gore can, of course, be a horrific thing to handle. But are the sights and smells really the hardest thing about the job? Sometimes, I learned, working with the living can be much more difficult than dealing with the dead.

Luke Rutterford heads up a team of extreme cleaners - specialist technicians whose job it is to manage the clean-up of murder, suicide and death scenes.

The 38-year-old from Suffolk has seen it all, and has given an unbelievable insight into just what he and the team face in their job. Blood, decay and devastated families - it's all in a days work for these invaluable technicians.

"It really is all the weird, wonderful and grimy side of life," Luke says, matter-of-factly. "It's certainly different - we deal with crime scene cleaning, fatality clean-ups, specialist cleaning and things like silo and sewer cleaning too in confined spaces."

So one day Luke's team could be abseiling down a farm silo to scrub it by hand, and the next day they could be dealing with a particularly violent murder scene.

"Often we've got a relationship with a local police authority who tell us when there's been an incident that requires clean-up, but in other cases people will have to actually go and Google us to find we exist.

"If there's a problem at home - if someone's committed suicide - people will come to take the body away to the hospital or morgue, but then they're left with a scenario where they don't know what to do because there's a traumatic clean-up required. At that point, they're often asking the people taking the body away who they should contact.

"A lot of our work comes from people who are traumatised and have had no choice but to search us out to undertake these clean-ups. So we're not only dealing with the issue at hand, but we're dealing with people when they're at their most vulnerable, finding us because they need us."

One example of that was when Luke and the team at Rentokil Specialist Hygiene were called into a shotgun suicide scene.

"When I first came into this business I was really surprised that we had such direct interaction with the recently bereaved. We got to the shotgun scene very soon after the police had arranged collection of the body, so we were dealing directly with the wife of the person that had died, so recently after it had happened.

"It's a real skill that we have to have - we have to emotionally shut ourselves off from what we're doing while also having to deal with someone who is in a distressed state."

Sometimes Luke and the team are dealing with much less recent deaths, in much lonelier environments.

"What I find the most difficult is going into someones house and cleaning up after them when they've been dead there for some time and haven't been discovered for a few weeks or a month or more.

"When you're there in the property and you've got a lot of cleaning up to do, it's sad to think someones been left there for so long with no family or friends getting involved.

"You read their story through things like photographs that are still up, and personal items that are left around. Sometimes their last meal will be still sat there. It's that kind of thing that can affect you more than the physical gruesomeness."

Staying focused on the task at hand, Luke says, helps with the emotional side of things.

"There's a real procedure around our job - often we'll be removing floorboards or carpets as part of it. So as soon as you've got past the initial shock of what you're doing, a lot of it is physical. You're not really thinking too much about the emotional side of it. We just crack on with the job. Then afterwards, there's a debrief and we'll all talk through what we've seen. Our team is like a family - we handle things together. We have counsellors and a 24 hour line to call too, for support if things get on top of us."

Despite being surrounded so often by grief and gruesomeness, Luke wouldn't want to do anything else.

"Knowing we've done the best thing possible is what keeps me doing the job. What a place looks like when we arrive is so different from how it is when we leave, and that's one of the most rewarding parts of the job.

"When you go to a traumatic scene and there's a bereaved family there, you can make it so that they can go back into that room and not be taken back to how it was. There's a great deal of satisfaction in being able to help people."