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Cleaning Up An Unattended Death

unattended death cleanup

When death is not attended to or an individual dies all alone with his or her remains not found for a period of time, it is termed as an unattended death. The time frame could be from many days to weeks to some months. Our biohazard remediation team of specialists is compassionate and carries all the background that is essential to address the toughest scenes of unattended death cleanup.

When you find yourself in such an unsettling situation where you have to carry out the post-operation work associated with an unattended death, two important aspects have to be understood clearly that link the tragic circumstance. Initially, you require fundamental knowledge on the associated risks of identifying an unattended death. The next is the aspects that involve biohazard remediation or cleanup in an unattended death.

Unattended Death- What is it? 

An unattended death is referred to a death that is classified as occurring whenever an individual dies alone. In such a case, the reality is that that person’s remains are not found right away. The body of the deceased person could take days, weeks, or even months to be found. The majority of unattended deaths are surprisingly found long after the event occurred.

Some instances of the common kinds of unattended deaths incorporate: 

  • Suicides 
  • Accidents 
  • Homicides 
  • Fatal illness or diseases 
  • Natural reasons

A number of these events often occur in that person’s residence. At times, this person is living alone. As a consequence, the person deceased might not have visitors regularly in his or her life. This becomes the cause of death going undiscovered for a time frame.

There are variations in the immediate outcomes of an unattended death. This is based on the demise being tragic or not. In the case of traumatic death, there is a high chance of bodily fluids and blood released. The event area is contaminated right away with bloodborne pathogens and other bacteria. The decomposition of the body occurs in the process with time.

In the case of a non-traumatic death, the process of decomposition of the body begins immediately. The only difference is that harmful bloodborne pathogens are not released at the event scene. It takes around 24 to 48 days for the release of pathogens in this case.

The person deceased or his/her remains show some noticeable changes at a physical level right away post-death. This includes the temperature change of the body and the cooling impact surrounding the deceased. Blood pools at the nearest body point that is close to the floor due to gravity. This is because there is no more blood circulation within the body. The deceased muscle stiffens, also referred to as rigor mortis. This starts from 8 – 12 hours post the occurrence of the death.

As per Science Daily, the process of human decomposition is scientifically explained as the body reduction to simple forms of matter from an earlier living organism. In layman’s terms, the decay of the body has started. 

Several individuals consider rigor mortis to be the final and permanent state. However, it’s not. Once the rigor mortis sets totally in the body, the remains are rigid for about 12 hours. Post this time frame, the body regains flexibility. You will observe several other profound changes in the deceased immediately post-death. The changes go unnoticed initially and at the center of the body’s decomposition.

What is the process of decomposition?

Understanding the process of body decomposition is very unpleasant. However, when you are in a face-to-face situation of an unattended death, there is a requirement of the fundamental knowledge of the process involved. 

The body of a human comprises several bacteria. It is surprising to know that our body cells are outnumbered by the body bacteria. They both make a human body. The majority of the body bacteria is located in the intestines and pancreas of a human body. In a living human, there are about 500 to 1000 bacteria types that reside in the gut.

When a human loses a life, the supply of the nutrients to these bacteria present in the body is disconnected. The bacteria start to look for their survival through these essential nutrients somewhere else. 

The bacteria present in the intestines and pancreas start to feed themselves on the bodily organs. This results in the total breakdown of the organs within a body of an unattended death in 24 to 28 hours of time frame. The disintegrated organs and the rest of the human body are full of these bacteria.

Body decomposition is classified into 5 stages:

  • Stage 1: Autolysis – the first stage of the decomposition process is referred to as autolysis, or self-digestion and this process start immediately after death.  The blood in the human body will stop circulating and without respiration, there is no fresh oxygen being infused into the body to remove waste.  Carbon dioxide will begin to build causing an acidic environment that helps the breakdown of cells.  After the cells have ruptured, enzymes (a protein that speeds up a chemical process) are released eating the cell from the inside out. Rigor mortis will begin to set in causing the muscles of the body to stiffen.  The body will continue to go through massive changes as the process continues, attacking the internal organs and breaking down from the inside out.
  • Stage 2: Bloat – As the enzymes continue to release and flood the inside of the body.  Many gases will be released, the sulfur compounds released will contain bacteria.  This will cause the skin to discolor and the body could double in size from the bloating.  A very foul odor, known as putrefaction will be produced.  That odor is a direct result of all the bacteria and other microorganisms being released.  
  • Stage 3: Active Decay – Bodily fluids will begin to release through the orifices in the beginning stages of active decay.  The enzymes that were released in stage 1 autolysis have been continuously breaking down the organs, muscles, and other connective tissues from the inside out.  Throughout the active decay process, the body will lose a majority of its mass.
  • Stage 4: Advance Decay – By this stage, most soft tissues have already decomposed and only bones, hair, cartilage, ligaments, and sticky byproducts of decomposition are left. Insects with chewing mouthparts such as beetles and certain types of flies are attracted at this stage and arrive to chew on and process this tougher material.
  • Stage 5: Skeletalization – The last stage is when all byproducts of decomposition have dried up and only the skeleton and perhaps some hair are left. Beetles and flies eat anything softer that remains, and mites and moth larvae digest the hair. Exposed to the elements, the bones lighten in color and are eventually reclaimed by the earth.

After two days, the skin will start to break down to form tears. These skin tears result in the gushing of the biohazardous liquids present within the body remains. 

Eventually, the process of body decomposition results in the release of harmful pathogens into the event area. The release of these pathogens into the region encircling the body through the body fluids from skin tears and disperses into the encircling air via harmful gases.

What can be done when an unattended death is discovered?

In an event that you discover an unattended death, do the following 2 primary things right away:

  • Firstly, get out of the location area of the dead body first to protect yourself from the unlikely biohazards. 
  • Secondly, make a call to 911 to get help from suitable emergency personnel.

It’s a general instinct of a human to go to the deceased person’s side, especially if the deceased is your loved one or a family member. You should leave the scene immediately, this is because this puts you in danger of exposing yourself to very hazardous biohazardous components. 

Wait until the personnel comes in. This way you ensure your security and others too thereby preserving the death scene in case of any crime involved in the deceased death. 

The unattended death scene is treated variably based on what initial determination is found in the reason for the death. For instance, if the death is a homicide, the coroner’s office and the police will invest their time accumulating sufficient evidence available at the death scene. 

The deceased body is then transferred to the coroner’s office for a further forensic exam. In the majority of the cases, the remains are released or available in a frame of 24-48 hours. For a deceased family member, you are provided around 72 hours for arranging a body or remains transport to the funeral home from the coroner’s office. 

On the other hand, if the final reason for the unattended death is not determined, then lab testing might be required. This process can take more than 6 weeks. However, the coroner will issue the certificate of death with the reason of death written as pending for now. This death certificate is provided to proceed to dispose of the deceased remains and to start the probate procedure wherever needed.

What does a biohazard remediation professional do in an unattended death cleanup?

A biohazard remediation professional should commence unattended death cleanup as quickly as possible. As soon as the deceased remains are eliminated, the area is cleared out by the coroner’s office or law enforcement. This is when remediation can begin. 

Handling the biohazards is the core component in an unattended death cleanup. A biohazard could be any biological material such as blood or bodily fluids.  It comprises pathogens that are capable of generative negative impacts on humans. The process of removing hazardous materials in the deceased remains is referred to as biohazard remediation. It involves a lot more than a clean-up, an obvious result in an unattended death.

Biohazard remediation steps in an unattended death cleanup are:


The first and foremost step in the remediation process is to clean up the aftermath of physical remains post a person’s death. This involves the clean-up of bodily fluids, blood, and other biohazardous materials. Cleanup of any physical items that could be contaminated by these hazardous substances is also necessary.

While cleaning, the following gear or personal shielding equipment is a must: 


The subsequent step is to sanitize the death scene area. This is because the preliminary clean-up is not sufficient to eliminate the harmful viruses and bacteria that are in the unattended death area. At 360 Hazardous, we go beyond a standard deep clean by implementing our multi-phase remediation process using EPA-approved cleaning agents and testing technology. 


Body decomposition releases putrid gases. In an unattended death cleanup, the body remains left for a few days and releases the odors due to decomposition. They are intense and tough to eliminate. Biohazard remediation professionals use EPA-rated unique deodorizing chemicals to remove the persistent strong odors.


The last goal of the biohazard remediation process in an unattended death cleanup is to restore the area to a habitable condition. This is essential to secure the family or other member’s safety living in the area. Complete remediation is essential if you are planning to keep the property or market it to sell. The area should be rendered to an overall usable and safe form. 

Our certified and trained professionals at 360 Hazardous are trauma scene death cleaners. They understand the sensitive natural environment of an unattended death. Our main goal is to maintain the integrity of the deceased and their loved ones. The experienced teams at 360 Hazardous put the needs of the family first by alleviating the emotional trauma, and discreetly restoring properties to normal as quickly as possible. We are here for you every step of the way, you can count on us 24/7/365.


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