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How to Clean up After an Unattended Death

Death is always difficult to face, especially when a loved one dies alone. This kind of death is called an unattended death and requires a thorough, careful approach to remediate the scene.

In this blog, we’ll discuss the steps you can take to clean up after an unattended death, and when to hire after death cleaning services.

What Does Unattended Death Mean?

The term unattended death refers to a case where nobody discovers the deceased’s body for days, weeks, or months.

Today, unattended deaths are most common with older adults, especially those who live alone and do not have family or friends that check on them frequently.

In other cases, unattended death can be the result of an accident, suicide, or homicide. 

What to Do after an Unattended Death

When a person dies, the natural process of decomposition begins quickly. Within hours of death, dangerous bacteria are released into the air surrounding the body and will start to impact nearby materials. This bacteria causes the odor of decomposition, and remediating it requires a comprehensive, skilled approach. It’s not enough to bleach the floors and throw away the bedding.

Instead, take the following steps to begin reclaiming the area:

  1. Contact the authorities. The first thing you should do if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of discovering an unattended death is to call 911. Police will arrive at the scene to investigate and determine the cause of death. Even if the deceased died of natural causes, this is a critical step. The police will help you contact the local coroner’s office, who will transport the body to the morgue. 
  2. Notify friends and family. Since the death was unattended, friends and family won’t know the deceased has passed. Reach out to notify friends, family members, congregants at the individual’s church, and other individuals in the social circle of the person’s passing. 
  3. Avoid DIY cleanup. Biohazard cleanup can be dangerous. Don’t risk your health or wellbeing by trying to clean the area on your own. Instead, contact a professional cleanup service to deal with substances like bodily fluids, blood, and other pathogens. You should also wait to collect sentimental items from the deceased’s home, as they may be contaminated. 

Why is Proper Unattended Death Cleanup Important?

Cleaning and sanitizing an area after an unattended death isn’t an easy job. When an unattended death occurs in a residence, it creates a variety of infectious materials that can be dangerous for years–unless they’re dealt with properly. If you intended to sell or rent the property in the future, it’s critical to ensure proper cleanup now. 

Here are a few reasons it’s critical to hire a professional unattended-death cleanup service team: 

  • Porous material, including wood, carpet, drywall, and concrete absorb body fluids. Unfortunately, surface cleaning these porous materials won’t sterilize them, and you should never attempt to do so on your own. Instead, contact a bioremediation company that can properly dispose of these items for you.
  • Depending on the health of the deceased person before their death, there’s a potential to encounter bloodborne pathogens at the unattended death site, which can be dangerous for anyone in the area. Professional cleanup crews wearing commercial-grade personal protective equipment (PPE) are the only ones who can enter the area safely.
  • While decomposition is perfectly normal, traditional home cleaning solutions aren’t sufficient to safely clean, sanitize and disinfect areas affected by human decomposition. Instead, you need a professional team that has access to the cleaning compounds and commercial tools needed to resolve contamination resulting from decomposition. 
  • It’s impossible to get rid of all traces of biological material with DIY cleaning tactics. Unfortunately, even a trace amount of biological material left behind can make a residence unsafe to live in and render it impossible to sell or rent. 

Don’t the Police Help Clean up? 

The short answer to this question is no. Paramedics, law enforcement officials, the county coroner, and fire rescue teams may all respond to an unattended death scene, but none of them are responsible for cleaning and sanitizing the space afterward. 

Instead, these professionals typically recommend contacting a privately-owned company like ServiceMaster of Lake Shore for unattended death cleanup services. Teams like ours are the only professionals who understand how to use microorganisms to degrade and neutralize organic contaminants and sanitize an unattended death site. 

What is the Cost of Unattended Death Cleanup?

The costs of unattended death cleanup vary depending on the severity of the scene, your location, how long the body has been unattended, the number of technicians needed to sanitize a space, the amount of time they spend doing so, and the extent of organic matter in the area. 

While unattended death cleanup can cost as little as $1,000, it can also cost upwards of $10,000. Contact ServiceMaster of Lake Shore for a quote or to learn more about service prices today.  

5 Common Mistakes Families Should Avoid

Dealing with an unattended death is a difficult experience. What you do now, however, impacts how you can use the residence in the coming years. With that in mind, avoid these common mistakes:

1. Not asking your network for recommendations

Instead of relying solely on your insurance company for recommendations, reach out to the professionals close to you and ask for their opinion. Speak to counselors, law enforcement officials, and friends. 

Ask what they’d do and who they’d trust  if they were in your situation. Ultimately, you want to find a qualified local provider who understands the difficulty associated with an unattended death, and can provide compassionate, comprehensive service you can rely on. 

2. Attempting DIY cleaning

Unattended death scenes are very difficult to clean. Usually, it’s impossible to fully disinfect porous surfaces like untreated wood or concrete. While it may feel important to clean the space to honor your loved one or to put the unfortunate chapter behind you, don’t try to take this step on your own. 

Instead, contact a skilled unattended death cleanup professional who understands how to handle the area safely, how to neutralize biohazards, and how to restore it to livable condition. 

3. Going without support

Experiencing an unattended death can be a significant psychological toll. Do not underestimate this or try to “power through.” Instead, seek the support you need to navigate the experience. 

Contact a counselor or psychologist to help you unpack your emotions and care for yourself throughout the experience, which can take months or years to fully process. 

4. Relying on household cleaning products

Household cleaning products are simply not strong enough to properly disinfect an area affected by body fluids or decomposition. That’s why professional biorecoverey teams use commercial-grade cleaning compounds. The result is a fully sanitized area that’s safe for inhabitation. 

5. Assuming it will get better with time

Don’t assume that the smell or contamination associated with an unattended death scene will resolve on its own. Decomposition odors can linger for years, and won’t go away without being properly addressed. Unattended death cleanup teams use highly concentrated solvents and specialized equipment to resolve odor and other troubling aspects of unattended death sites. 

The Unattended Death Cleanup Process

Cleaning up after an unattended death is a solemn task that requires professional expertise. Here are the steps unattended death cleanup teams take to restore a home to a livable condition:

Removal of Affected Property

As previously stated, porous household materials will absorb decomposition odor, fluids, and bacteria. Because of this unattended death cleanup specialists recommend throwing them away rather than cleaning them. Keep in mind that these items are considered biohazards, and must be disposed of properly. A bioremediation company can help ensure safe disposal. 

Disinfection of all Surfaces

Once the affected property has been removed from the scene, the cleanup team will focus on  cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting all hard surfaces surrounding the body. This critically important process removes bloodborne pathogens and infectious materials, and makes the space safe to inhabit once more.


One of the most troubling aspects of an unattended death is the odor associated with decomposition. If a human body is left unattended for more than a few days, the smell of decay will become intense and challenging to eradicate. Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to get rid of these odors on your own. Instead, you must contact a commercial remediation company that uses commercial-grade deodorizing chemicals to eliminate the odors. 

Issuing of a Certificate 

Once the unattended death cleanup process is finished, our team will issue a certificate to the owner of the property. If you want to sell the property later, the certificate will serve as a guarantee that the residence is safe to inhabit. Our team uses fluorescence testing and similar procedures to ensure this, and to guarantee that no biological material remains. 

Dealing with an Unattended Death in Chicago? We Can Help

Here at ServiceMaster of Lake Shore, we specialize in unattended death cleanup services. We know how difficult these situations can be, and we strive to provide compassionate, discrete, comprehensive cleanup services you can rely on at one of life’s most challenging moments. We help you navigate what to do when someone dies at home in Chicago — whether expectedly or unexpectedly.

Whether the accident was the result of a crime, suicide, or natural causes, our team will remove all biohazards and other sensitive materials and restore the space to a livable condition. Our after-death cleaning services are thorough and sensitive enough to respond to jobs that require the utmost care and attention. 

Contact us today for emergency help, or to learn more about our unattended death cleanup services: (312) 707-8597