When you clean ambulances, sewage and crime scenes for a living, you know a thing or two about disinfecting surfaces.
Petr Skvaril, is a forensic cleaner who owns several cleaning business in Tasmania, offering services as diverse as death cleans to clearing out the homes of hoarders.
His Specialist Cleaners business has been booming since the coronavirus outbreak and now has a contract looking after the state’s ambulances.
“I started off carpet cleaning, but I was always looking at different ways to better myself and to find interesting things to do,” Mr Skvaril told news.com.au.
The Burnie resident found himself doing cleans for storm or fire damaged houses and then began being asked to do things like picking up needles found on railway tracks. Gradually authorities started asking him to do death cleans, something he needed to get special qualifications to take on.
“When government and community groups know you’ve done things, it grows from there, then you find yourself in adventurous situations.”
While some might see cleaning as a stomach-turning job, Mr Skvaril said he found it really satisfying.
“There’s never a dull moment, it’s interesting,” he said.
However, it does have its difficult moments. Mr Skvaril said his least favourite cleaning job was sewage. “There’s something about human poo — I don’t know.”
Mr Skvaril recalls cleaning a post office that had been flooded with sewage, describing the human waste as looking like “minced meat that’s been browned”.
“We were ankle deep in it, the guy who was with me, it was his first job and he was disgusted.”
But Mr Skvaril said he spotted a green pea that looked like it had not been touched.
“I took a photo because if you washed it, you looked like you could have eaten it. You’ve got to make fun of it … we have fun and games with it.”
During a death clean, a home is cleaned so thoroughly that even blood that’s dripped in the garden is dug out and disposed of correctly in “deep burial”.
“You don’t take it to the tip,” Mr Skvaril said.
One of the cleans Mr Skvaril finds most satisfying are those for hoarders.
“One property you couldn’t hardly walk through, it was a two-bedroom, but we turned it around in 24 hours. We had the carpets cleaned and it looked absolutely Mickey Mouse,” he said.
“You can really make an impact on people’s lives so you can get a lot of job satisfaction out of that.”
He said one thing that infuriates him is people criticising hoarders.
“I think hoarders’ cleans are very interesting, I find most have a story to them. You don’t get many who are just pigs, usually there is a bad-luck story,” he said.
“Some people say there’s no excuse but some people have got genuine reasons why they just can’t cope with things.
“We never judge, no matter what the place looks like.”
One of the hardest parts of being a cleaner is the call-outs because they have to be available at all hours, seven days a week for specialist jobs such as death cleans.
And not everyone can handle every situation.
“I think it’s the suicides that you remember the most,” Mr Skvaril said.
“I think because when you get there it can, you can actually think a bit too much about it … but you can’t dwell on that sort of stuff.
“We interview staff to see whether they are up to taking on stuff like that because some people can’t deal with it. You don’t want someone with a depressive side to their personality going to that, it’s not good for them.
“With forensic cleaning, murders or death cleans, there’s a psychological element to it that you’ve got to take into consideration.”
When it comes to cleaning, Mr Skvaril said there seemed to be a lot of confusion around cleaning, with terms like “deep clean” being used.
“Some people think a deep clean means you just spray disinfectant everywhere,” he said.
“Cleaning is the removal of soil both visible and invisible, forensic cleaning is the removal of biological contaminants both visible and invisible to prepare surfaces both horizontal and vertical for professional disinfection.
“You don’t become a good forensic cleaner overnight by spraying disinfectant.”
The process of a full forensic service involves dry wiping down every surface with a microfibre cloth before they are cleaned again with detergent. After that the surfaces are disinfected with antibacterial wipes and sometimes a ultra-low-volume fogger is used that releases fine droplets of disinfectant into the air.
Mr Skvaril said the important thing was to make sure surfaces were clean before disinfecting.
“If it’s got dirt on it, you can’t disinfect it, you have to clean the dirt off first.”
He said it was easier to deal with cleaning jobs at work than at home.
“Sometimes I’ll struggle at home if I have to clean dog’s vomit but then I can do a forensic clean or a sewage clean – which is as gross as you can get,” he said.
“Once you are at work, you switch your emotions off and do what you have to do.
“Some of the smells you have to deal with are pretty full on. But it’s an interesting way of life.”
Mr Skvaril said his own home was “reasonably clean” at the moment as him and his wife were working long hours due to the coronavirus outbreak. He admits his wife, who is also involved in the business, takes care of a lot of the housework but he loves to do the washing and the cooking.
“We actually enjoy what we do,” he said.
“My wife knows how to talk to people and I think she’s a big reason why we can survive this service because she knows how to talk to people in distress.
“We do this sort of work every day but if someone’s house gets flooded, that’s a one-off experience for them and they don’t know how to cope with that.
“It’s easier for us because we deal with that situation every day and know how to cope with it.”
Mr Skvaril believes attitude is the most important thing about being a good cleaner.
“To me it’s all about attitude, you may not necessarily have the highest skilled people but if you have got a fantastic attitude, and get along with fellow staff and clients, that’s the main thing.”