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BACKGROUND: By 1952 a 37-year-old designer and professional builder named Frances Gabe of Newberg, Oregon, had had enough of the “thankless, unending, and nerve-twangling bore” of housework. So she designed and built a self-cleaning house.

HOW IT WORKS: The house is built of cinder block to avoid termites and other wood-burrowing insects, and each room is fitted with a ceiling-mounted cleaning, drying, heating, and cooling device. The inside of the house is covered with resin to make it waterproof. The furniture is made entirely from waterproof composites. There are no carpets. The beds are covered automatically with waterproof material that rolls out from the foot of the bed.

Easily damaged objects are protected under glass.

At the push of a few buttons, soapy water jets out from the ceiling to power-wash the rooms like an automatic car wash. The same jets then rinse off the water, and a huge built-in blower dries everything. The floors are sloped slightly at the corners so that any excess water can run into a drain. The sink, shower, toilet, and tub clean themselves, too. So do the bookshelves and fireplace. The clothes closet serves as a washer and dryer, and the kitchen cabinets are also dishwashers. The house can be cleaned all at once or one room at a time, as often as needed.

Gabe’s been living in her prototype for the past 50 years (she’s 89) and only cleans the entire house two or three times a year (unless her grandchildren are coming to visit).

“Cleanliness is next to godliness.” —English proverb
“Cleanliness is next to impossible.” —Pigpen