This self-cleaning house from the 1980s is still ahead of its time

Who needs to do housework when the house can do all the work itself? For Frances Gabe, the creator of the self-cleaning house (yes, you read that correctly), the answer really was, “No one.” Though posthumously heralded as “a true American original, equal parts quixotic dreamer and accomplished visionary” by the New York Times (she died in December 2016 at the age of 101), during her life, Gabe received little attention for the invention that most of us would do almost anything to have. But now, we’re finally learning more about a decades-old invention that seems light years ahead of its time.

While a bit less elegant than many smart home solutions we see today, Gabe’s idea of a self-cleaning home certainly got the work done. In essence, she lived inside a giant car wash. Every room of the 1,000 square foot home came with a button that would activate a sprinkler in the ceiling. The first push of this button would spew soapy water over walls and the floor. The second would send a rinsing spray. And finally, a giant blow-drier would get rid of all that moisture. The whole process took less than an hour, and the homeowner could be in the room the whole time, shielded by an umbrella.

All the excess water was sent away through drains located at the bottoms of very slightly sloping floors, and the recipient of this runoff was the dog in the doghouse, who got a bath every time his owner’s home did. There was also a laundry machine, which involved a tightly sealed cabinet in which dirty clothes were hung, then washed and dried with streams of water and air, and finally pulled by a chain system back into their original clothes closet.

Of course, such a system couldn’t be implemented in just any home, because obviously, all your furniture and upholstery would quickly be ruined by constant streams of water. But Gabe coated her own floors with layers of marine varnish, covered her furniture in clear acrylic resin, and protected her bed and clothes with an awning. And yes, electrical outlets were covered.

Ultimately completed in the 1980s, this self-cleaning house was priced at $15,000, a real steal by today’s standards. So take note, entrepreneurs, this could certainly be the next billion-dollar enterprise.

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