How Crime-scene Clean-up Works

The Job

Crime-scene cleanup is on most people's list of worst possible jobs, but it's not on everybody's. There are people who are well-suited to the work. To start with, a crime-scene cleaner needs at least three qualities: a strong stomach, the ability to rationally detach from his or her work, and a sympathetic nature. It can be an emotional job.

Crime-scene cleaners tread a delicate line between detachment and sensitivity, and not everyone can do it. Depressives are probably not great candidates for the work. Empaths shouldn't apply, either. In Whitmarsh's experience, "Getting too emotionally involved in the situation can lead to a negative outlook." Most companies will also reject people who show signs of voyeurism or a great enthusiasm for gore.


If you pass the psychology test, you may move on to training – in bloodborne pathogens (learning the dangers, characteristics and proper safety procedures regarding the handling of bodily fluids), in the proper use of protective gear, and in the safe and legal transport and disposal of dangerous waste. Candidates also have to pass a "gross factor" test to make sure they can handle the work without throwing up. This ranges from a graphic visual presentation of previous clean-ups to an actual clean-up of animal remains.

Most of this preparation occurs through the crime-scene clean-up company, but it may also include training and certification programs offered by a trade group, like the American Bio-Recovery Association, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Workers in this field have to get a Hepatitis B vaccine, as mandated by OSHA, and they need to be in good overall health and physical condition [source: Stephen]. A job might require eight hours of scrubbing in a plastic suit in close quarters in summer heat, as well as breaking through walls and moving furniture. The work is sporadic, but you're on call 24/7 (as Whitmarsh puts it, "tragedy has no schedule, which means you have no schedule"), so you're looking at a potentially exhausting job. People burn out pretty quickly.

It can be worth the trouble, though: In a field that doesn't require a college degree, pay averages about $40,000 per year, and it can be significantly higher in a big city with a lot of violent deaths and meth labs. Some who own their own businesses make in the six figures [source: Davidson, Sahadi].

Which brings us to an uncomfortable fact of crime-scene clean-up: The more people who die violently or alone, the more money crime-scene cleaners make.