Clean – The genuinely inspirational story of how ‘trauma cleaner’ Sandra Pankhurst responded to an unseen world with radical kindness.

Wendy Hanes with Sandra PankhurstIn 2017, my friend and colleague Sandra Pankhurst released her book “The Trauma Cleaner”. Five years later, the follow-up documentary Clean has been selected as the closing film of the Melbourne International Film Festival. Sadly, Sandra passed away before she could see the finished product, and it will be surreal to see my larger-than-life friend again on the big screen.

Crime scenes, death scenes, squalid and hoarded homes provide the backdrop for the story of Sandra’s amazing and difficult transition from abused little boy to successful businesswoman.

Whenever I mention the book, I get two questions: What is a trauma cleaner? And, why, as a hoarding specialist, would you work so closely with one?

In the simplest terms, trauma cleaners have the equipment and expertise to remediate the sorts of hazards that are beyond what you would find in a normal cleaning situation – blood, bodily fluids, human and animal excrement, dangerous mould, and houses so cluttered or squalid that it would be unsafe for anyone without the appropriate protective equipment to enter.

In extreme cases, hoarded homes can present serious health and safety risks to the occupants and the people trying to help them. Blocked exits, increased fire load, deterioration of the structure of the home are common. Mould, bacteria, and infestations can cause or exacerbate health conditions. A trauma cleaner can improve the safety of a home for the occupants as well as the care and service providers entering the home.

So, does this mean a trauma cleaner is the best person to resolve a hoarding situation? No, trauma cleaners play a valuable role in removing clutter and remediating hazards. But clutter is only a symptom of a more complex problem, and we know that clearing the clutter does not fix that problem. In fact, a heavy-handed approach, like the rapid clean out that is popular on TV, can exacerbate a hoarding situation. A good trauma cleaner understands that while the hoarded home might be their worksite, it belongs to a person, and that person’s wellbeing is the highest priority.

The truth is that hoarding is not a problem fixed quickly or in isolation and the services provided by a trauma cleaner are one valuable piece of the puzzle. Sandra got this and that is why we were able to collaborate so effectively for so long.

Reading “The Trauma Cleaner” was like being on a job with Sandra. It captured her unique ability to meet people where they are at, and carry out her important work with compassion, professionalism and her trademark good humour. The makers of the Clean documentary followed Sandra in the final years of her life into the world of death, hoarding and trauma cleaning.

The film is now available to view on SBS On Demand with the new title, The Cleaning Company.


Written by Wendy Hanes

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