Decomposing Body Cleanup and the Realities of Human Decomposition

The various stages of human decomposition have a direct bearing on the decomposing body cleanup process. As a consequence, in order to better understand decomposing body cleanup, a person needs to also understand some of the specifics of human decomposition.

The Stages of Human Decomposition

The human decomposition process can be broken down into a number of different stages. These stages are distinguished by what occurs to humans at that particular juncture in the overall process. The stages of human decomposition can be identified as:

  • Initial stage
  • Bacterial bloat stage
  • Active decay stage
  • Advanced decay stage
  • Dry bones stage

Initial Stage

During the initial 24 to 48 hours following the death of a person the body itself undergoes minimal observable change. Depending on the heat and the humidity at the location of the body, this stage may continue as long as 72 hours. (If it is cooler and dryer at the location of the remains, the initial stage progresses a bit more slowly.

Liquids – particularly blood – do settle in the tissues. This creates what is known as lividity or discoloration on whatever side of the body facing down.

Rigor mortis does set in during this time period, a process that locks or freezes the muscles and tendons in pace. What many people do not realize is that rigor mortis is a passing phase and a body will return to a more flexible state after the passage of time. Rigor mortis starts between four to six hours after death; rigor mortis ends between 48 to 60 hours after death.

During the initial stage, enzymes begin to cause cells to die and break down. Certain types of bacteria found in a deceased individual’s pancreas and intestines begin to multiple significantly.

If decomposing body cleanup occurs during this stage, the task is considerably easier than is the case later in the decomposition process. The task is easier provided the deceased individual did not suffer a traumatic death like a violent murder or suicide by gun or knife.

Bacterial Bloat Stage

Decomposing body cleanup becomes a far more challenging undertaking during the bacterial bloat stage. At the bacterial bloat stage bacteria have multiplied so significantly in a person’s gut that the intestines and pancreas are destroyed. Bacteria then bursts through the rest of the remains, destroying other organs in the process.

Foul smelling gases are produced in this stage that cause organs and the remains to expand. Ultimately, some organs will burst and the skin on a corpse will rupture, a process that results in the significant release of foul-smelling gases and liquids. The liquids released from the remains at this stage might contain dangerous pathogens, viruses and bacteria capable of causing illness – even serious disease – in other people.

The bacterial bloat stage typically starts a little over two to just under four days following death. Again, the prevailing environmental conditions dictate when this particular stage commences. The bacterial bloat stage usually lasts for about 10 days.

Active Decay Stage

The bacterial bloat stage is followed by the active decay stage. In the active decay stage, nearly all liquids will drain from the body. This creates a pool of putrid biohazardous liquid around the remains.

The odor during this stage is particularly foul. A variety of different gases are released during this stage, creating a stench that truly can be overpowering.

Insets, maggots, and animals will feed on the remains, depending on where the body is located. During the active decay stage, the skin turns black. This stage usually commences at about the 10th day following death and lasts until about the 25th day.

Decomposing body cleanup is extremely challenging during this phase. This type of cleaning endeavor is classified as a full-blown biohazard remediation.

Advanced Decay Stage

The advanced decay stage starts at about day 25 following death and lasts until about the 50th day. During this stage, scavengers of different types (including maggots ad insects) complete the breakdown of soft tissues associated with the remains. Bones become exposed to the environment. Towards the end of this stage, insect activity dies down as the last of the nutrients available form the remains are consumed.

Dry Bones Stage

After about 50 to 60 days following death the dry bones stage commences. By this juncture, pretty much all that remains are bones, teeth, and hair. Some dried skin may be present. Bones themselves will dry out over time and potentially become brittle.

The foul odors previously associated with the death scene will have mostly dissipated by this stage. Moreover, dangerous liquids that left the remains are likely to have dried out by this stage as well.

The Decomposing Body Cleanup Process

Safety Gear and Practices

A decomposing human body is considered a dangerous biohazard. As a result, specific safety gear must be utilized and safety protocols must be followed. At a minimum, the personal protective gear that must be worn during decomposing body cleanup includes:

  • Uniform to cover clothing
  • Protective eyewear
  • Gloves
  • HEPA mask or respirator

Cleaning and Biohazardous Waste Removal

The first phase of decomposing body cleanup is the removal of any biological waste. This includes bodily fluids that remain behind after the remains of a deceased person have been removed from the death scene. The contaminated area is then cleaned to ensure all biomatter is eliminated.

Sanitization and Disinfection

Following the cleaning and removal of biomatter, the contaminated area (and objects in that area exposed to the remains) are subject to sanitization and disinfection. This process is designed to eliminate any pathogens that may have been released from the decomposing remains.


Depending on the stage of decomposition, decomposing body cleanup will also necessitate deodorization. Deodorization involves the use powerful commercial agents and specialized equipment that are designed to eliminate foul odors associated with the decomposing remains.

Restoration of Premises

The ultimate objective of decomposing body cleanup is to restore the premises to a fully useful or habitable condition. In the end, there should be no evidence of the existence of decomposing body at the scene.