The Science and Significance of Decomposing Body Odor

The odor of a decomposing body is unmistakable and often overwhelmingly unpleasant. This scent is a result of the biological processes of decomposition, which begin almost immediately after death. Understanding the factors that contribute to this distinctive odor not only provides insights into the decomposition process but also has important implications for fields such as forensic science and biohazard cleanup.

The Process of Decomposition

Decomposition is the process by which organic substances are broken down into simpler forms of matter. Human decomposition is a complex process that involves various stages, starting with autolysis, where the body begins to break down from the inside out due to the action of its own enzymes. This is followed by bloat, active decay, advanced decay, and finally, dry remains.

During these stages, particularly during active decay, microbial action accelerates, and the body begins to release a range of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These compounds are the primary source of the potent smell associated with body decomposition.

Chemicals Contributing to the Odor

The smell of decomposition is largely due to the chemical compounds produced during the breakdown of body tissues. These include:

  • Cadaverine and putrescine These foul-smelling compounds arise from the breakdown of amino acids and are among the first VOCs produced during decomposition.
  • Skatole and indole: These chemicals are responsible for the fecal odor due to the decomposition of gut and associated tissues.
  • Hydrogen sulfide: This gas gives a rotten-egg smell and is a by-product of the breakdown of proteins and other organic tissues.
  • Methanethiol: A sulfur compound that adds to the pungent, distinctive smell.

These and other chemicals create a complex scent signature that can vary based on factors such as the environment, the cause of death, and the presence of clothing or wrappings.

The Role of Decomposition Odor in Forensic Science

In forensic science, the smell of decomposition can serve as an important indicator of the time elapsed since death, which helps in determining the post-mortem interval (PMI). Specially trained cadaver dogs can detect the scent of decomposition, aiding in the location of human remains for criminal investigations and disaster response.

Biohazard Cleanup and Odor Removal

The presence of a decomposing body can pose serious biohazard risks, necessitating professional cleanup services. Biohazard cleanup technicians are trained to deal with the strong odors and potential health hazards associated with decomposition. They use industrial-grade chemicals and specialized equipment to thoroughly clean and disinfect the area, as well as techniques to neutralize and remove the pervasive odor.

Health Implications of Exposure to Decomposition Odors

Prolonged exposure to the odors of decomposition can have health implications, including nausea, vomiting, and psychological effects due to the distressing nature of the smell. In cases of extreme decomposition, there is also a risk of airborne pathogens or toxins, which can cause respiratory problems and other health issues.


The odor of a decomposing body is a natural consequence of the death process, and while it may be distressing, it plays a significant role in ecological cycles, forensic science, and mortuary practices. Understanding the origins and implications of this odor allows for better management in situations where decomposition occurs, ensuring respect for the deceased and safety for the living.

For anyone dealing with the aftermath of a decomposing body, whether in a professional capacity or during a tragic personal experience, knowledge about the process and access to professional biohazard cleanup services is critical to handle the situation safely and with dignity.

We have all heard the food recalls because a product is or may be contaminated with one of the various bacteria that can lead to what’s referred to as food poisoning. This term is a broad, generic one and includes things like salmonella and e.coli. These are the most common ones, but there are others.

Improper Food Handling Can Lead to Food-Borne Illnesses

Would you be surprised to know that a significant percentage of food poisoning results not from commercially prepared food but from home cooking? Random testing of home kitchens that appeared extremely clean showed high concentrations of bacteria and viruses, the most common places being the kitchen and the bathroom. (Believe it or not, the kitchen is worse.)

The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) found that areas where food is stored or prepared had more bacteria and fecal contamination than other places in the home.


As you probably realize, people often look to social media as the source of information. The problem is, it’s usually just opinion and not necessarily accurate or reliable unless it’s from a reputable source. We caution people about relying on what they see on Facebook or elsewhere when it comes to safe food handling.

We recently saw a post from a food blogger that alarmed us. She posed the question, “Do you wash your raw chicken before cooking it?”

First of all, we’d comment that was probably a very irresponsible question. Just because lots of people do it doesn’t make it right. And as you might imagine, there were two sides in the answers, both very vocal. And those who were diehard poultry washers refused to believe information posted from the CDC, the USDA, the FDA and other official sources. One vehement individual commented that “if you want to make your family sick because you don’t wash your chicken, go ahead.”

You may have learned from mom or grandma or whoever taught you to cook that you should always wash that slimy meat before you prepare it. But doing so is highly advised against. Much like flushing a toilet without the lid closed sends hundreds of droplets of bacteria-contaminated water airborne, washing a chicken in your sink can spread that invisible bacteria all over your kitchen, including up your nose.

The basic issue here is clean vs. disinfected. That washed chicken may look clean and no longer feel slimy, but appearance can be deceiving. Microorganisms are generally too small to see (except for mold), and they usually don’t smell.

That’s why our biohazard cleanup and remediation technicians don’t rely on just cleaning products, and neither should you. Know the basic safe food handling rules and use disinfectants to regularly treat your kitchen, both before and after food preparation. And don’t forget your hands!

You’ve probably seen the ads alerting people to a lawsuit involving contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. And while we don’t want to downplay the seriousness of what some people may have been exposed to at this military base, the reality is that contaminated water is a very common problem. It can cause serious illness in some and even be fatal, depending on the contaminants. Here are some things you need to know.

In this post we’ll cover the dangers of contaminated water other than household tap water. Exposure may involve things such as swimming or even wading in water that is polluted. Or perhaps you’ve eaten fish or shellfish taken from contaminated waters. Each year we see reports of people dying from infections developed as a result of swimming in recreational waters contaminated with certain bacteria. Generally government oversight of beaches and waterfronts will result in posting of unsafe notices when waters have been found to be polluted with dangerous organisms.

The most commonly-occuring one is toxic algae bloom, or blue-green algae. Intestinal issues such as nausea and diarrhea often result, but you may see skin or mucous membrane irritations. In the case of blue-green algae, it can cause neurological and liver problems and may result in death. It’s also very deadly to dogs.

Typical toxic algae bloom

We cannot stress this enough: If you believe you have been exposed to toxic algae, seek medical help IMMEDIATELY

Other problems may result from water that is contaminated with fecal matter. Human and animal feces can carry a whole host of organisms that can be life-threatening. Swimming in waters adjacent to agricultural property where livestock are raised isn’t recommended. Water runoff can carry animal waste into nearby ponds or rivers. While fast-moving waters may dissipate contaminants, beware of swimming in slow-moving or still waters. Those stagnant waters are often breeding grounds for harmful bacteria.

Recreational waters are often also contaminated after severe flooding. Sewers may overflow and household waste can be carried into nearby waters. You may even get it in your home should flooding seep in. Avoid contact with flood waters; wear protective gear if it’s necessary.

As a Pacific Northwest biohazard remediation and cleanup company, at times we are called in to deal with contaminated water, such as flooding. Our cleanup technicians are trained in proper removal of polluted waters as well as decontamination of the affected areas.

As a biohazard remediation company, we do a variety of tasks to make sure that surfaces are not only clean but are free of any hazardous residue that might cause health problems. Often that involves the same sort of thing you’d do to maintain your home. It starts with cleaning, of course. Clean surfaces are not only more visually appealing but also are easier to work with for the next step: Disinfecting.

And no, just because it’s clean doesn’t mean there are no infectious organisms present. And there’s often confusion or misunderstanding on that issue. Never assume that because something looks clean that there is nothing hazardous lurking on it. Particles of bacteria, viruses, and fungi are microscopic and cannot be detected with the naked eye. And what’s worse, if the surface is a porous material such as carpet or fabric or even wood, getting what you see clean doesn’t deal with what may have been absorbed into it.

That alone is why we often have to pull out carpet when there is a major blood spill or human or animal fluids like urine. A wet substance will be wicked into the material and drawn beneath the surface. In the case of a carpet, it might even soak into the wood sub-floor and require a tear-out and replacement of the wood.

This is kind of a long explanation, but perhaps you’ll understand now why ‘clean’ doesn’t always mean disinfected. And vice versa.

Unless a product is labeled as a ‘disinfecting cleaner,’ it won’t do both. Disinfectants may not clean. For example, if a surface is greasy, a disinfectant may neutralize infectious organisms but don’t deal with the grease. Same thing with a stained spot. And cleaners won’t necessarily disinfect. That’s why our biohazard crews use both types of products.

What about sanitizing, you may ask. That’s another issue for another post. But you should be aware that disinfecting and sanitizing may be similar, but they are not the same thing. Watch our blog for our upcoming article discussing these two processes. (You can also read an earlier article on the three processes with some detailed information by clicking here.)

When most people hear the word ‘biohazard’, they think of things like hospitals or other locales were bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms may be present. But did you know that your house is full of them, too? As a company that specializes in biohazard cleanup, one thing we also offer is educational information such as this post, so that you can be informed and take precautions to protect yourself and hopefully not need our services.

Before we discuss what kinds of infectious organisms you might find in your own home, we should define the word ‘biohazard.’ Knowing what this means will help you understand what follows. From the Merriam-Webster dictionary, its most basic meaning is:

a biological agent or condition that is a hazard to humans or the environment

A biological agent is something that is (or was) alive. This is different from an inert substance that might be poisonous or dangerous. We think of biohazards mostly in terms of infections microorganisms like certain bacteria, fungi, and viruses. (Note that there are friendly fungi and bacteria as well.)

So, with that in mind, let’s take a look of what biohazards are commonly found in a home. Except for needles, these all originate in human and/or animal bodies.

Blood: It might surprise you just how common blood is in a home. Have a cold? You might get a bloody nose when you blow it. Bloody diarrhea might result from an intestinal illness. Someone working in kitchen preparing supper might nick themselves with a a knife or on the can opener, perhaps without even realizing it. That blood then might make its way into the food. Blood can carry all kinds of viruses and bacteria. Some of the most dangerous bloodborne pathogens are HIV as well as Hepatitis B and C. (These can all be fatal.)

Human and Animal Waste (Feces and Urine): Waste products from both humans and animals can carry all kinds of infectious or dangerous biohazards. Some may even be part of the dust that you commonly find in your home, because as feces particles dry, they crumble and if fine enough can be inhaled. Cleanup of animal or human waste should always be done with caution, as waste products can carry diseases. Fecal contamination of water and food is common; hence the frequent outbreaks of e coli and other ‘food poisoning’ organisms.

Pathological (Tissue) Waste: Though more commonly found in labs and hospitals, at times human or animal tissue may be found in a home. Here’s an example: Home births are becoming more common, and the placental tissue is considered a pathological waste product and needs to be disposed of properly. You may also have similar placental tissue if you have pets giving birth at home.

Sharps (Needles): Though technically not a biohazard themselves, we’ve included needles because both legal and illegal both drug use as well as insulin injection are common. Because of how they are used, needles automatically become contaminated with blood and may result in transmission of a biohazard (see ‘Blood’ above).

So how do you protect yourself and your family from these things? Knowing how to property clean, dispose, and disinfect is the answer. If you have any questions, we’re here to help. And if you have recently experienced a trauma in your home that has resulted in a large amount of biohazard material – especially blood – we offer safe, sanitary cleanup. We are a licensed biohazard cleaning and remediation company serving the Pacific Northwest, particularly in the Spokane and Seattle areas but other PNW communities as well.

One biohazard we often encounter when doing cleanup in a hoarder home or water damage remediation and restoration is mold. Mold is much more than just an eyesore or an annoying residue that needs to be removed – it is actually a health threat. And there doesn’t have to be much of it present to cause problems. It also doesn’t take long for a small bit of mold to grow into a huge mess.

Finding mold when it first develops is crucial to keeping it under control and even eliminating it. But how do you spot it when it’s first growing?

Detecting Mold in Your Home

Believe it or not, one of the first signs you may have mold isn’t visible dark blots like those shown below. Here are a few that are indicators you may have a mold problem.

Smells: Mold – like mildew, a related microorganism – has a telltale unpleasant odor. If you’ve noticed a new smell recently, it could be mold developing. Some people describe it as musty or earthy, or even like old socks. You may also smell what seems like dirt.

Allergic Reaction Symptoms: Mold allergies are very common (it affects one in five of us) and while for many people who suffer allergies to mold the symptoms are more like hay fever, there are those who may have life-threatening respiratory issues such as difficulty breathing. If someone in your household is having itching, watery eyes or sneezing without an apparent cause, it might be mold. Runny noses and stuffiness may also occur. A rarer reaction is dry and scaly skin.

Condensation or Water Leaks: Whenever water appears in a home and is not immediately dried up, mold will likely develop. First it’s important to get to the cause of the water and eliminate the problem, or any mold remediation will be temporary. As the water continues to develop, so will the mold. For example, if you get condensation on your windows in the winter and don’t periodically wipe it up, you may find mold growing in the corners of your window frame. Damp basements are mold-prone.

Wet Areas: Certain parts of our homes are prone to moisture build-up.

Mold developing in a shower

Moisture should never be left confined. After you take a shower, leave the door open and let the bath fan run for about 10 minutes.

Mold may also develop in places you wouldn’t expect it to. Leave your washing machine lid up after use to let it dry out. Same thing with your microwave. If you take your food out and then shut the door, the steam from cooking will get trapped inside and could develop into mold if you don’t use your microwave often.

Another common source of mold is from a roof leak. This one is particularly hard to spot because the mold will grow in your attic space or area just under your roof, a place you most likely rarely are in. So it can grow undetected for quite awhile. Or it may develop in your insulation and even in your walls.

One thing is for sure, if you spot these potential signs of mold in your home, it’s time to call a professional biohazard remediation company. Getting rid of mold takes much more than just cleaning off the black spots. We offer biohazard cleaning of mold and other potential biohazards in Washington state and other parts of the Pacific Northwest. Contact us today – we can help.

With the advent of COVID-19, it seems like the entire world has become focused on infection prevention. As a company that specializes in cleanup of biohazards (including infectious organisms), this isn’t new to us; it’s how we’ve been operating for a long time. Whenever we tackle a biohazard remediation project, we use all three of these methods to remove the biohazards and restore the property to a safe, clean state. There may be other things involved, such as physical repairs and restoration, but our priority is first to eliminate the health threat that infectious organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms present.

Cleaning: Before any area can be disinfected or sanitized, it first has to be cleaned. Removal of dirt, grime, and debris is our first step. This is an important one, because germs may be hiding underneath. Removing anything on the surface may be done through scrubbing, washing, and rinsing. Of course, we may also do things such as trash removal, sweeping up dust, etc. But the priority is to get to a clean surface. However, “CLEAN” doesn’t mean it’s free of biohazards. Germs are invisible, and dirt-free doesn’t mean it’s sanitized or disinfected.

Sanitizing: Sanitizing should not be confused with disinfecting, and it’s used mostly for porous surfaces such as fabric. Using a sanitizing agent is useful when doing laundry. Read the label on the product you are using as a sanitizing agent, because it should list specific organisms it is effective at reducing. Note that chlorine bleach is both a disinfectant and sanitizer when used according to label directions.

Disinfecting: Disinfecting is a process used to eliminate infectious organisms on hard, non-porous surfaces such as glass, countertops, stainless steel, tile, porcelain, etc. Disinfectants are designed to either eliminate or inactivate germs, viruses, bacteria, funguses, and other biohazards. But again, read the label for the specifics of what organisms the disinfectant will work against.

If your concern is addressing the COVID-19 virus, disinfectants and not sanitizers should be used on hard surfaces. Why? Because of the main difference between sanitizers and disinfectants. Sanitizers that are approved by the EPA will kill only bacteria; EPA-approved disinfectants claim effectiveness against both bacteria and viruses.

Is your disinfectant approved for use against COVID-19? Look for an EPA registration number on the back label. You can also visit the EPA website for a list of approved products.

If your concern is addressing the COVID-19 virus, disinfectants and not sanitizers should be used on hard surfaces. Why? Because of the main difference between sanitizers and disinfectants. Sanitizers that are approved by the EPA will kill only bacteria; EPA-approved disinfectants claim effectiveness against both bacteria and viruses.

The most important thing you should know is that these three methods are NOT the same, and there are different substances and methods needed to accomplish each.

Perhaps you’ve seen the term ‘biohazard’ on a disposal container or trash receptacle at your doctor’s office. Or maybe you’ve seen the term in news articles. But do you know what a biohazard is and why there are specialized containers as well as companies that do biohazard cleanup? Biohazard remediation – that includes cleanup and restoration – is our business, and we’d like to give you the basics so you’re informed.

The first part of the word – bio – comes from the Greek word indicating something living. That’s an important distinction. And ‘hazard’ indicates that it could be dangerous. A biohazard is something that can threaten the health of a living being. But it also indicates that the contaminant is (or was) alive or contained living matter. Examples range from blood, vomit or feces to organisms that can cause infectious diseases, such as viruses and bacteria. Surgical waste is a biohazard. and so are molds.

The current COVID-19 virus is a biohazard. But so are used syringes and needles that could be contaminated with blood. That’s why medical facilities have special bins (usually red) for safe disposal of needles, sometimes called sharps. The international symbol is an interlocked set of 3 broken circles, usually on a yellow background. But signs use a variety of styles and colors. Shown below are some examples of biohazard warning labels.

Biohazards are classified from Level 1 to 4 in terms of danger or threat. These are:

Level 1: Minimal risk; usually gloves or a face covering are sufficient to protect yourself. Chicken pox and e. coli bacteria are examples of level 1 biohazards.

Level 2: Biohazards classified as 2 can cause mild illness, although for some it can be severe, depending on state of health. Transmission is by contact, and Level 2 biohazards include the various hepatitis strains, Lyme disease, and HIV.

Level 3: These biohazards cause severe illness that can be fatal. But treatments for Level 3 organisms are available. Level 3 includes malaria, West Nile virus, and SARS-CoV-2. (This is the medical term for the disease caused by COVID-19.)

Level 4: Level 4 represents something that causes severe and often fatal illnesses, and there is no current treatment. These include the ebola virus and certain hemorrhagic fevers.

There are biological safety procedures that go along with each of these hazard levels. And there are 3 stages: containment (so that the biohazard doesn’t spread), decontamination, and disposal of contaminated materials. At times reconstruction and repairs might also be involved. For example, sometimes we need to remove carpeting and pads that have been soaked with blood. The underlying subfloor might have to be replaced, and then new carpeting installed. We also perform these tasks or work with contractors to get it done.

While you might be able to safely handle cleanup of a Level 1 biohazard, it’s recommended that for anything that is Level 2 or greater that you let a professional biohazard cleanup company handle it. If you don’t know the proper procedures, you could actually make things worse in your attempts to clean.

If you have any questions about whether you should be taking care of a biohazard cleanup yourself or arranging for a professional to handle it, please contact us. We serve a number of communities in the greater Pacific Northwest. We handle COVID-19 cleanup as well as other biohazards.

The EPA just announced it has approved two Lysol spray disinfectants as effective against the COVID-19 virus (technically SARS-CoV-2). The announcement indicates the sprays will kill the virus when sprayed on hard surfaces that are not porous. (This excludes cloth surfaces, carpet, furniture, etc.).  According to the EPA – which lists over 400 products on its list as effective against what they term ‘harder to kill’ microorganisms, these two are the first to be tested against this particular virus and shown to be effective.  They are:

  • Lysol Disinfectant Spray
  • Lysol Disinfectant Max Cover Mist

This video from ABC7 news shares the information:


But there is a catch – spray and wipe won’t do it.  Disinfecting is a different process than cleaning, and you need to use different techniques. We’re used to spraying and then immediately wiping when cleaning, but using that method for disinfecting simply wastes the product and does not disinfect.  (Most disinfectants need to remain wet on a surface for an extended period – usually about 2 or three minutes.)

With these Lysol sprays, it takes 2 minutes to be effective, which means that the surface sprayed needs to remain wet the the product for at least 2 minutes. We want to point out that use of these disinfectant sprays – as well as any other disinfectant product – will only achieve the desired results when the instructions on the label are followed. 

As a bio-hazard cleanup and remediation company, we understand the importance of reading and following label directions for any products we use, regardless of whether they are for cleaning or disinfecting.  If you have questions about COVID-19 approved cleaners and disinfectants and how to use them, we encourage you to visit the EPA website.

MedTech Cleaners is currently offering COVID-19 cleanup and disinfecting in a number of areas of the Pacific Northwest, specifically in the greater Spokane and Seattle areas, but we also have other locations in Idaho, Oregon, and Montana.  To find out if we cover your area, please callus at (877) 691-6706.  Our phone is answered 24/7. 



You might wonder with all the focus on food safety and recalls of contaminated foods as well as modern tools to control infection that at times there is an outbreak of a contagious disease.  There are a number of reasons for this, but often it’s because the organism itself has become resistant to disinfectants.  (Other times it’s because of a bacteria that has become antibiotic resistant, but that’s another topic.) This is something of great concern for our biohazard cleanup crews, because we endeavor to follow best practices to decontaminate places where the existence of a contagious organism might be present.  Disinfectants commonly used successfully against many viruses and bacteria sometimes will not be enough against particular organism.

Plain and simple, sometimes clean is not clean. Despite best efforts, certain bacteria and other infectious organisms can still survive and thrive to infect.  A good example of this is the norovirus.  And what makes this a major issue is that this virus is the most common cause of stomach distress such as vomiting and diarrhea.  Something (or someone) becomes infected with the norovirus because of contact with a substance that has been contaminated with fecal matter where the virus is present.  It can also come from direct contact with an infected individual, but more often than not it’s due to either ingesting food or water where the virus is present, or by touching a surface where it is present and then touching one’s mouth without washing the hands.

And believe it or not, many infection control experts believe that part of the cause of this is the overuse of disinfectants. Many people are aware of the rise of what’s referred to as ‘superbugs’ that are resistant to treatment by antibiotics, but there are also organisms such as viruses that can’t be successfully controlled by disinfectants that work well against most others. And even more problematic is that at times the transmission of an organism is due to contamination of the disinfectant itself.

Alcohols are used as common spot disinfectants, especially for surfaces. Alcohol solutions are also commonly used to store medical equipment following sterilization. But alcohols have been found to be ineffective against certain viruses, including the adenovirus (a common but unwelcome visitor to mucous membranes, airways, and more, including ‘pink eye’ or conjunctivitis).  The tips of instruments called tonometers, used to test the pressure in the eyeball, are often cleaned ineffectively with alcohol, and this practice can in fact cause the spread of an infection called keratoconjunctivitis.

There is also speculation that the over-use of hand sanitizers may be contributing to the rise of disinfectant-resistant microbes.  Many individual use this alcohol-based preparations in place of the recommended soap-and-water hand washing regimen, believing it to be safer. But in fact the CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water whenever possible, and using a hand sanitizer only when that is not available.

Formaldehyde solutions are often used in medical settings and usually are effective against bacteria, fungi, spore-type organisms such as mold, and tuberculoids. However, there have been reports of outbreaks of infection due to klebsiella oxytoca.  Normally a healthy gut bacteria, it can cause infections in the body when it is present outside the intestinal area.  This bacteria is responsible for most infections acquired by hospitalized adults. Due to its resistance to most of the commonly-prescribed antibiotics, this bacteria may be pathogen whose threat has been underestimated.

Are these organisms mutating to resist disinfectants?  At present the question is up for debate. Some believe that user error is at the root of the problem, with the culprits being excessive dilution or storing improperly-cleaned materials in a disinfectant, which then contaminates it. One thing is extremely important in using disinfectants:  cleaning prior to their use.  Removal of proteins and biofilms on a surface must occur first.

As a company specializing in cleanup of infectious agents here in the Pacific Northwest, we endeavor to stay current on industry information such as this so that our biohazard cleanup and remediation technicians are using the best practices possible to reduce the spread of infection in areas we are responsible to clean.




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