window washer

Window cleaner

A window cleaner (US slang; window washer) maintains the cleanliness of windows, mirrors and other glass surfaces. The work is mostly cleaning of exterior window panes - interior panes are usually maintained by maids or janitors though many exterior cleaners will clean both sides of a pane if required.

Often thought of as an unskilled job, window cleaning requires mastery of special techniques. A window cleaner lacking in experience or training can take considerably longer to complete a project and the work may be lower quality. Moreover, the use of proper window cleaning tools results in a better clean than home methods such as rubbing windows with newspaper or a wet rag. Rubbing a pane of glass with a cloth can result in 'stroke' marks that are visible in sunlight due to the residue left behind. "All that rubbing isn't a good idea", says Brent Weingard, owner of Expert Window Cleaners in New York City. "You're just moving dirt around from one spot to another and putting a static charge on the glass, which attracts dust and dirt."

The qualities a window cleaner should have may include:

  • be fit and healthy
  • be prepared to work outdoors in most weathers
  • be able to work at heights, i.e. climb ladders
  • be able to learn to use power-operated lifting equipment or abseil
  • be happy to work alone (although some may work in teams)
  • be safety-conscious (this is a dangerous job)

The methods

The first and most basic of all methods is the left-right motion, usually used for edges or places that require such motion.

Second, the rainbow method, employed by many window cleaners, both professional and unprofessional. In fact, this is the natural method of window cleaning that many instinctively use. Non-professional cleaners who use this method, often stroke between a 2 and 3 foot radius; while professionals, who have honed this skill more, make slightly larger and less arced 4 foot strokes, enabling them to wipe more rapidly and efficiantly.

The third and most difficult method to master is the corner wipe. This is actually les of a stroke than a dab. Many professionals are able to dab and twist quick enough to scrape away the dirt and dust, before it is rammed into the corner; wheras unskilled wipers tend to forget the twist portion. This means that they must use more towels and more time to wipe away the dirt that they were unable to reach before.

Almost all window cleaners use a squeegee where possible to save time and avoid 'stroke marks' from 'scrims' (cleaning cloths). Scrims have to be used sometimes for wiping drips or to clean frosted glass or tiny windows. Water fed pole systems have entered the industry, however ladder, telescopic pole, and squeegee remain the principal equipment used.

Some window cleaners prefer expensive "professional" solutions as opposed to dish soap. However dish soap is still the most common cleaning solution used by professionals (although when improperly mixed it can leave a film which attracts dirt and dust).

Water Fed Pole (WFP) cleaning is at least twice as fast as traditional window cleaning methods. However, costing between $500 - $45,000 it is a considerable investment relative to a ladder. To use the WFP system, the window and frames are scrubbed with a wet brush to loosen dirt and then rinsed with highly purified or de-ionised water. Because the water is pure, it leaves no marks when it dries. Some firms have a large container of de-ionised or purified water in the back of their van, which is pumped up the WFP to the window. Small firms or those with restricted access (like at the back of a home) use trolleys or backpacks to move about a small container and pump unit.

The advantage of a WFP system is that it leaves windows and trim cleaner than with a squeegee, it removes more dirt from the grooves on window frames and it reaches windows in places too dangerous to put a ladder. Also WFP systems can be used in the rain as rainfall will not re-activate any soap residue that causes white rain spots.

For very high access window cleaners use access platforms such as cherrypickers, or if it is very high, i.e. a skyscraper, abseil down buildings or use a cradle.

Window cleaner history

In the twentieth century, window cleaners began using the Chicago squeegee, a bulky tool with two heavy pink rubber blades. Changing the blades required the loosening of twelve separate screws. The modern single-blade window cleaning squeegee was patented by Ettore Steccone in 1936; it was lightweight brass with a very flexible and sharp rubber blade. The Ettore Products Co. is still the leader in the squeegee market today.

During the September 11, 2001 attacks, window washer Jan Demczur used a squeegee to free himself and five others from an elevator shaft in the World Trade Center.

According to Guinness World Records, the world's fastest window cleaner is Jason Hughey of South Ockendon, Essex, England, who cleaned three standard 45-inch x 45-inch office windows set in a frame in 9.24 seconds at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham in March 2005. He used an 11.8-inch squeegee and 2.4 gallons of water.

Hazards of the trade

Falls from height and slips on water are the foremost risk for window cleaners. Unlike in Scotland, there is no government licensing in The United States, England or Wales - this means anyone can claim to be a window cleaner.

Window cleaning is considered the most dangerous job in the UK. Several window cleaners die each year, and many are injured.

Many window cleaning businesses are claiming that laws are about to come into force due to European Directive 2001/45/EC that will make ladders illegal for window cleaners, forcing a change to WFP systems. However, the government denies this stipulation, as ladder use for window cleaning is "low risk and short duration" :

To clarify the situation HSE is not attempting to ban ladders or stepladders, but ladders should not be the automatic first choice of access. They should only be used after a suitable assessment of the alternatives and the prevailing site conditions. The selection process for access equipment is coming under increasing scrutiny at HSE inspections. This guidance clarifies that for short duration work like window cleaning, provided a number of well-recognised precautions are taken, ladders will remain a common tool for many jobs.

The Working At Height Regulations came into force in 2005 and do not ban ladders but merely restricts their use to safe methods, i.e. foot it by person or with a ladderstopper:

4.2.2. The feet of portable ladders must be prevented from slipping during use by securing the stiles at or near their upper or lower ends, by any anti-slip device or by any other arrangement of equivalent effectiveness. Ladders used for access must be long enough to protrude sufficiently beyond the access platform, unless other measures have been taken to ensure a firm handhold. Interlocking ladders and extension ladders must be used so that the different sections are prevented from moving relative to one another. Mobile ladders must be prevented from moving before they are stepped on.

The HSE favours the use of scaffold towers, i.e. temporary workstations, for window cleaning but acknowledges this is rather awkward,

"For some jobs, a mobile elevating work platform will be the best option. However, for many jobs, especially on domestic and small commercial buildings, risk assessment will demonstrate that because of the short duration of the work and features on the building that cannot be altered, ladders are the only realistic option."

Though hailed as safer than ladders, the Health and Safety Executive acknowledges that WFP systems spill lots of water which either the window cleaner or their client could slip on.

Ecology and water shortages

Another issue is how "green" window cleaning companies are seen to be. During the spring of 2006 Defra considered banning the non-essential use of water and extending their already tight restrictions to prevent the use of water-fed safer which reach up to 60ft. Window cleaners could return to the bucket-and-mop method, because Health and Safety Working at Heights allows such for temporary access, , but the use of water-fed poles is far safer and also more practical than installing abseiling equipment and using safety harnesses.

Associations

The first organisation to represent window cleaners throughout Great Britain was started in the late 1940s and became known as the National Federation of Master Window Cleaners, later the National Federation of Master Window and General Cleaners and now the Federation of Window Cleaners (FWC). Another professional body is the Association of Professional Window Cleaners (APWC).

Scottish window cleaners formed the Scottish Licensed Window Cleaners Network (SLWCN) - however, this was applicable to Scotland, not England or Wales. Therefore, in 2006, after discussion between some window cleaners in Southampton, England, they formed the Association of Window Cleaners (AWC) - known as the Institute of Exterior Cleaning

In the USA and though out the world the International Window Cleaning Association, (IWCA) , addresses safety and other issues that face the window cleaning industry. The IWCA was formed in Lubbock, Texas, USA in 1989 and as of 2006 had more than 650 member companies in over 25 countries. Through distribution of the I 14 Window Cleaning Safety Standard and its Safety and Training Program, the IWCA has endeavoured to raise safety awareness and decrease accidents and injuries.

The National Window Cleaning Directory NWCD was founded in 2003 to meet the needs of window cleaning professionals requiring inexpensive marketing and networking opportunities. It is home to the NWCD Forums which is a popular on-line destination for window cleaners.

In 2006 the Australian Window Cleaning Federation was established.

In 2006 the Association of United Window Cleaners was formed in the USA to represent the route and residential aspect of the industry.

In 2008 The Master Guild of Window Cleaners was setup in the UK with the aim of making membership affordable to window cleaners worldwide. Among the aims of the guild is to raise standards within the window cleaning industry, furnish new cleaning techniques to all window cleaners and supply information on water fed poles.

Misconceptions

  • It is sometimes claimed by clients and some workers that window cleaning cannot be carried out in the rain. However, this is a myth.
  • Using ladders while cleaning windows is sometimes claimed to be illegal in Britain. The UK government has denied such a claim.

References

See also

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