Mary Stringer and her husband, Steve Whaley

Mary Stringer and her husband, Steve Whaley, founders of Grand Canyon Decon, distribute information about their company to attendees of the Maricopa County Home and Landscape Show at State Farm Stadium in March.

Cleaning homes contaminated by suicides, hoarding, trauma or hazardous chemicals is an arduous task. As the owners of Grand Canyon Decon LLC, Mary Stringer and Steve Whaley do so with compassion for their clients. 

“I have a psychology degree, so I look at the psychology of every situation — personal and professional,” Stringer said. “I analyze from every point of view. I understand what people are going through. 

“Steve and I are very compassionate people — and we do care. We’re very simple people. We’re not extravagant. We’re business owners who want to help.”

The family-owned Grand Canyon Decon LLC is certified and insured, the latter of which didn’t come easily. To be insured, the couple “searched high and low” and found an underwriter to take on Grand Canyon Decon LLC at a high price, said Whaley, who has also owned Sun Devil Pools for 32 years. 

“Our business is so unique that they had to write it especially for us,” Stringer added. 

Stringer and Whaley are proud of their staff’s two-hour response time, a rarity in the business. The couple are the only owners, and they love what they do.

“We want to help people,” Stringer said. “We’re living in a time when this is needed.”

Whaley added, “Because of the nature of the business, we do cleanups of hoarder homes (and) decontaminate homes with meth labs in them. Meth, when it’s cooked, has dangerous chemicals. The residual from the cooking has to be removed from the entire residence. You can’t see it, but it’s there — in the air vents, for example.”

Prior to Grand Canyon Decon LLC, the couple bought foreclosed homes and flipped them. With the moratorium on evictions, Stringer and Whaley’s business stopped as well. 

“It’s been a really rough couple years for everyone,” she said. “I’ve been buying since I was in my 20s.”

Founding Grand Canyon Decon LLC was a logical move, Stringer explained. The two never knew what they were going to encounter when they bought foreclosed homes.

“They leave behind dog feces and people feces,” she said. “They do horrible things to properties. They rip out cabinets. We were cleaning every property, so we decided to start our own company and have that in our wheelhouse.”

Decontamination services are recession proof, Whaley said. People die every day, and some folks may not be immediately discovered. He sees the effects daily, but Stringer said her husband handles it very well. 

“I go out and do the bids, quotes and estimates,” said Whaley, who is awaiting his contractor’s license, adding another certification to the already-impressive portfolio.

“You see a lot of tragedy. You know you have a job to do, and that lessens the blow of seeing something that’s tragic. You learn to look beyond the circumstances.”

In terms of a suicide, cleanup is difficult because the contamination may be widespread. The staff uses PPE, including goggles and face masks, and steam cleans and/or uses HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) vacs. They capture 99.97% of particles at 0.3 microns, much smaller than the width of a human hair, a red blood cell, bacteria, pollen and allergens.

“Blood and hazardous material have to be handled delicately,” Whaley said. “We have to bag that and have the medical waste company come for proper disposal. We decontaminate everything we use, except the PPE suits. We throw those away. We can’t take any residual into the truck or it’ll follow us the rest of the day. It’s a big setup and teardown. The job is sometimes the easiest part.”

Hoarding is another delicate situation. The couple understands the issues behind hoarding — and suicide for that matter — and the associated feelings. Hoarding clients have generally been traumatized, and that’s why they hold on to items. 

“We’re passionate and gentle when we’re trying to go through the items,” she said. “We do it discreetly, too. Someone you know is a hoarder. You just don’t know it. It can be very hard to deal with and embarrassing. We just want to ensure everyone is OK.”