RIP This Inventor of a Self-Cleaning House

Today the wild schemes of even the most grandiose tech bros seem small-time, thanks to a remembrance of Frances Gabe, an unconventional inventor who loathed housework so damn much that she built herself a one-of-a-kind self-cleaning home and garnered national media attention for her achievement.


At the New York Times, Margalit Fox has a fond obituary for Gabe, who recently passed away at 101. While she died in obscurity, she was once lauded for an idea seen as quirky but frankly brilliant.

More than half a century ago, incensed by the housecleaning that was a woman’s chronic lot, Ms. Gabe began to dream of a house that would see to its own hygiene: tenderly washing, rinsing and drying itself at the touch of a button.

“Housework is a thankless, unending job,” she told The Ottawa Citizen in 1996. “It’s a nerve-twangling bore. Who wants it? Nobody!”

And so, with her own money and her own hands, she built just such a house, receiving United States patent 4,428,085 in 1984.

In a 1982 column about Ms. Gabe’s work, the humorist Erma Bombeck proposed her as “a new face for Mount Rushmore.”


How it worked:

In each room, Ms. Gabe, tucked safely under an umbrella, could press a button that activated a sprinkler in the ceiling. The first spray sent a mist of sudsy water over walls and floor. A second spray rinsed everything. Jets of warm air blew it all dry. The full cycle took less than an hour.

Runoff escaped through drains in Ms. Gabe’s almost imperceptibly sloping floors. It was channeled outside and straight through her doghouse, where the dog was washed in the bargain.


Unfortunately, it was a pill to maintain and required such decorative compromises as heavy marine varnish on the floors, clear acrylic resin on furniture and couches made of fabric described by the Boston Globe as like “like heavily textured Naugahyde,” and awnings over the bed. Both the house and the patent became too much to keep up with, and despite the attention and near-universal hatred of housework, the idea never caught on.

Honestly, would be nice if Samsung or whoever quit trying to cram Bluetooth into refrigerators and wifi into toasters and got to work on similar technology. I’m not trying to watch porn on my hackable tea kettle, just get the basics done quicker.

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