Who Invented the Self-Cleaning House?

Boy using vacuum cleaner in living room
Boy using vacuum cleaner in living room. Getty Images/Boy using vacuum cleaner in living room

The ultimate convenience invention for domestic living must certainly be inventor Frances Gabe’s self-cleaning house. The house, a combination of some 68 time, labor, and space saving mechanisms, was conceived as a way to make the drudgery of housework obsolete.

The Early Years

Frances Gabe (or Frances G. Bateson) was born in 1915 and now lives in Newberg, Oregon, in the prototype of her self-cleaning house. Gabe gained experience in housing design and construction at an early age from working with her father, Frederick Arnholtz. She adored her father, a building contractor and architect, and rode with him to his job sites beginning at the early age of 3. Her mother died when Frances was young and her father had jobs across the Pacific Northwest and so her “family” became the construction workers who taught her all she would ever need to know about building her “dream house” someday.

She attended 18 different grade schools and at age 12 she started attending the Girl’s Polytechnic School in Portland, Oregon. In two years, she completed her high school education, graduating in 1929 at age 14. In 1932, at the age of 17, she married Herbert Bateson who was an electrical engineer. Bert never worked much aside from odd jobs here and there, so Frances was forced to support their family, including their two children. 

Gabe did not let her 18 years of partial blindness that followed her child's birth stop her from starting her own business. Soon after losing her sight, she started a home repair business in Portland. The business was quite successful and, according to Charles Carey, author of American Inventors, Entrepreneurs, and Business Visionaries, her husband was so embarrassed by her success that he demanded she stop using his name. Grace chose to take the initials of her entire married name “Grace Arnholtz Bateson,” and tack an “e” on the end to become "Gabe."  In 1978, shortly after changing her name, she and Bert separated and eventually divorced.

Features of a Self-Cleaning House

Each of the rooms in the termite-proof, cinder block constructed, self-cleaning house is fitted with a 10-inch, ceiling-mounted cleaning/drying/heating/cooling device. The walls, ceilings and floors of the house are covered with resin, a liquid that becomes water-proof when hardened. The furniture is made of a water-proof composition, and there are no dust-collecting carpets anywhere in the house. At the push of a sequence of buttons, jets of soapy water wash the entire room. Then, after a rinse, the blower dries up any remaining water that hasn’t run down the sloping floors into a waiting drain.

The sink, shower, toilet and bathtub are all capable of cleaning themselves. The bookshelves dust themselves while a drain in the fireplace carries away ashes. The clothes closet works as a washer/drier combination and the kitchen cabinet functions like a dishwasher—simply pile in soiled dishes, and don’t bother taking them out until they are needed again. Not only is the house of practical appeal to overworked homeowners, but also to physically handicapped people and the elderly.