A decomposing body emits an odor that can fairly be described as most foul. Sadly, there are situations in which a death occurs and the remains of the deceased individual remain undiscovered for a period of time for one reason or another. In such situations, because the decomposition process progresses, the scene of the death ends up infused with a stench that can prove overwhelming. Faced with such a grim scenario, a person naturally will want to know how to get rid of dead body odor.
Understanding Human Decomposition
In order to achieve a basic understanding of the process of dead body odor removal, a person must first have some concept of what is involved in the human decomposition process. Many people do not appreciate that the human decomposition process begins the moment an individual dies. Consequently, if human remains are left undiscovered and unattended for more than a few days, decomposition becomes apparent. In other words, the body visually changes and the odor associated with death begins to develop at the death scene.
When a death occurs, blood stops flowing throughout the body. The cessation of blood flow brings an end to the distribution of nutrients to the body and to bacteria that exist in the body. The human body is flush with billions of bacteria of a myriad of different types. These bacteria are crucial to the healthy operation of the body and oftentimes are referred to as “good bacteria” while a person is alive.
The most common types of “good bacteria” in the human body are:
- Escherichia coli
The vast majority of these bacteria are located in the intestines and pancreas. When blood flow stops, these bacteria have no “food.” As a result, they begin to attack the pancreas and intestines. Within a couple of days, the action of the bacteria on these organs destroys them. When that happens, the bacteria are released throughout the body in massive numbers. They begin to destroy other elements of the body. This action of bacteria is human decomposition.
Foul Smelling Gases Emitted During the Decomposition Process
As the body is attacked by bacteria, foul-smelling gases of different types end up being released. The most common types of gases emitted from a decomposing body that create the incredibly foul odor are:
- Cadaverine and putrescine (rotting fish odor)
- Skatole (feces odor)
- Indole (mothball-like odor)
- Hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg odor)
- Methanethiol (rotting cabbage odor)
- Dimethyl disulfide and trisulfide (foul garlic odor)
As noted, within a couple of days of a person’s death, the corpse smell begins to appear. Within a week, the stench becomes utterly overwhelming. The pervasive foul smell can persist for an extended period of time. Gases cease to be released when the remains approach the skeletal state. There simply is nothing left to decompose.
Although the release of foul gases ceases, the stench can end up working its way into items located at the death scene. In other words, even when gases cease to be emitted from human remains, the foul smell can persist until the odor remediation process commences.
Overview of Dead Body Odor Removal
Decomposing body smell removal is not an easy task. The removal of the stench associated with a decomposing body is a multifaceted process. The procedure commences with ensuring that an individual undertaking this task has appropriate personal protective equipment. In the case of dead body odor removal, and the tasks associated with it, personal protective equipment needs to include:
- Mask or respirator
- Smock, apron, or uniform
Removal of Remains
A key element of the dead body odor removal process is the removal of the remains itself. This task is undertaken by the country Coroner. Indeed, the scene of a death is not released to a property owner or other responsible party until the remains are removed and law enforcement and coroner complete their investigation of the scene.
Elimination of Contaminated Material
Once the remains of the deceased individual are removed, the first primary phase of the dead body odor removal process is the cleanup of biological matter and contaminated materials. These items are placed in appropriate biohazard bags or boxes for proper disposal. Extreme caution must be taken during this phase of the cleanup and dead body odor removal process because of the presence of hazardous pathogens that can be present in the blood, bodily fluids, and other biological materials that are emitted from a corpse. These pathogens have the potential for causing serious and even fatal diseases.
The reality is that the removal of the remains together with the elimination of remaining biological materials and items that have been contaminated by blood and other bodily fluids is a major step in dead body odor removal. With that said, the process of truly eradicating the stench is only beginning.
Death Scene Cleanup
Once remaining biological materials and contaminated items are eliminated from the scene, full-scale cleanup is undertaken. Using layperson’s terminology, this means scrubbing or washing away the remaining contaminants left behind following the death and decomposition of the remains. This is not only done as an effort towards odor elimination but as part of the overall objective of restoring the death scene to a livable or useable condition.
The next step of dead body odor elimination is one that also serves multiple objectives: Sanitization. The sanitization phase is designed to aid in the elimination of odor but also to eliminate any remaining hazardous pathogens that may still be present at the death scene.
Although there are different products on the market that can be utilized to sanitize a death scene, a solution of common household bleach and water can serve the purpose of sanitizing the death scene to eliminate health risks and contribute to the elimination of odor. The solution should be prepared in a 1-part bleach to 10-parts water ratio. Of course, bleach is not suitable for all surfaces and all items, even in a diluted state. Thus, another product or procedure may be necessary.
Although the physical elimination of the aftermath of death and decomposition, coupled with the sanitization of the scene, will work to eliminate dead body odor, further deodorization will also be needed. Various factors can render the complete elimination of the stench associated with death a complicated and challenging task. These factors include:
- Bodily fluid absorption into such objects as the flooring or walls
- The nature of the physical structure of the premises where the death occurred
- The nature of objects contaminated by fluids and gases discharged after death
- The level and nature of airborne odor-causing molecules
- The level and nature of absorbed odor-causing molecules
Different equipment options are available when it comes to deodorization, depending on the type of process utilized:
- Pump Sprayers
- Trigger Sprayers
- Ozone generators
- Hydroxyl generators
- Vapor modification units
Rather than merely mask dead body odor, enzymatic cleaners typically are recommended for dead body odor removal. The enzymes contained in these types of cleaners work on any remaining bacteria, destroying them and eliminating associated odors in the process. In addition, fogging is a viable means of addressing airborne odors
Undertaking the elimination of dead body odor can prove to be a herculean task for a layperson. Thus, serious consideration should be given to engaging an experienced professional biohazard remediation specialist. In addition to experience, a professional dead body odor removal specialist has the tenacity, tools, and supplies needed to take on the task of ridding a home or other location of a corpse smell.
The potential safety risks associated with cleaning up after an undiscovered or other types of traumatic death presents another reason why professional assistance is needed when it comes to this type of cleanup or remediation. It is also important to note that the discovery of a person who experienced an unattended death, and whose remains were not promptly discovered, is a truly traumatic experience in and of itself. Mental health professionals make it clear that an individual who has lost a loved one through this type of death should not add an additional emotional burden by taking on dead body odor removal on his or her own.