Saturday, August 13, 2022 Aug 13, 2022
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Cleanliness is Next to…Impossible

Decades of neglect had left my Dream House in shambles. Before I could lift a hammer to start the renovations, I had to give her a good, long bath. 
By Amanda Tackett |

“What’s that…smell?” my father asked me. His eyebrow was cocked up, way up, indicating disapproval. I was the proud new owner of my Dream House. I had invited my parents over for a tour. Surely they could see what I saw: potential.    

Now that it was vacant for the first time, I could really see the house. Real estate experts and decorators often talk about “the bones” of a house. The Dream House, in that case, had osteoporosis. But, that wasn’t its worst malady. The Dream House also had B.O. and halitosis.

It was filthy, and yes, dear old Dad, I will admit, it stank.

I’m not germaphobic or a clean freak. I can’t be; I’m married to a man, I am a parent, and I have an ever expanding brood of rescued dogs. All three of those elements suggest a certain level of grime. But, the Dream House? It exceeded anything man, child, or animal might shed. It was gross.

Imagine the fragrant mix of a locker room with some public restroom thrown in. Part bus station blended with festering garbage. Wood rot and decay. Moldy food and guano. My olfactory was shaken to its core.

This was war. 

Military style, I belly crawled under the house. Outfitted with a headlamp, a rebreather, and chemical gloves, I gathered the putrefied corpses of dozens of rodents. I placed blower fans under the pier and beam, and, for weeks, I forced fresh air where none had dared dwell before. 

I spent weeks going room by room, doing extensive sniffing. Like a parfumeur, I carried a little jar of coffee beans to clear my palate. Once located, the sources of the odors were physically removed. I never realized a bag of potatoes forgotten on a pantry shelf could sprout eyes, turn, rot, and eventually liquefy. I felt like Sigourney Weaver in Alien. I was seeing the stuff of science fiction. While scraping away the fluid, the shelves collapsed.   

Whereas I used to be somewhat squeamish, I learned to suck it up, literally. My husband gave me a Shop-Vac for Valentine’s Day—he’s romantic like that—and it has become my trusty sidekick. The machine aspirated things that aren’t fit to discuss in polite society. Some of the offending debris I could never identify, so I just vacuumed it away. 

My first attempts to mop the slate floors did little more than create a thin coating of mud. I blasted them with acid and then enzymes, but even that didn’t work. Then I hired a professional company to extract the dirt, and when that failed and all hope seemed lost, I purchased a commercial-grade steam cleaner. Using boiling hot steam, I tortured and melted the filth. The Geneva Convention be damned. It felt good.

After three months, and yes, it took three months to remedy the smell, the house was finally livable. By August, the Dream House was sweet smelling and beckoned me to move in. It would stay vacant another 10 weeks, however, because I learned something about gravity. What goes up, must come down. In the Dream House, that meant the ceiling.

Read the next installment of Amanda’s Dream House renovation in our May/June issue. Write Tackett at [email protected].