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What is a Clean Window?

A truly clean window starts with a scrub agitation to loosen dirt, then rinsing clean or cleaning away with a squeegee.

Many believe squeegee cleaning to be the professional window cleaning method with the best results; myself included. I started cleaning windows in 2003 when I moved to Vancouver, and was taught some simple things about cleaning windows that hold true today, including: what is necessary for the customer to have a truly clean window, and what is the accepted ‘industry standard’ for clean glass.

A truly clean window involves 2 things:

1) Professionally clean the outside of the glass.
scrub with the applicator all the exterior glazing, top to bottom to loosen the dirt
clean away with the squeegee
check edges for drips
2) The INSIDE SURFACE must also be cleaned. Looking at the photos, you can see that the outside is cleaned, but there are still drippy marks down the surface of the glass. Checking the inside, it is noted that this is on the inside surface, and can be wiped away easily with a cloth. This is a reminder that no matter how well the outside surface is cleaned, the window will still look dirty if the inside has not been cleaned as well.

Accepted Industry Standard for Clean Windows

The way it was explained to me by a respected leader in our industry, was that all the glazing should be cleaned, with no more than a pinky finger width of drip or run down each side of the glazing.

This is because when the water is squeegeed away, some water may remain on the rubber gasket and rundown along the edge of the glass.

Since people look through their windows rather than AT the glass, unless something blocks their view and draws attention to the glass itself, then all glass in the middle must be completely clean and clear, but if a small amount runs down each side (less than a pinky finger nail width), then this should still be acceptable. Often times, that water doesn’t appear until after the worker has moved on. Waiting in front of each pane long enough to check would considerably slow down the process and add to the cost charged to the customer.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Window Cleaning Methods

High Rise worker 1Spring cleaning of strata’s windows will be happening soon.  It is that time of year when property managers gather quote requests for window cleaning at their properties.  They take them to strata meetings and present them for consideration.  Price is examined, and what the various companies are offering to do in terms of cleaning methods.  That can sometimes lead to debate, confusion, or questioning of beliefs because there are many methods to clean windows, and no one method is best in all situations. Just as every building is different, every building may have window cleaning needs that are best addressed by a particular method of having the glazing cleaned.  That doesn’t necessarily fit in with popularly held beliefs however. An example of a popularly held belief which should be challenged is: the hand cleaning squeegee method is the best method for cleaning the windows no matter what. False.

While it is true that hand cleaning by squeegee can in many or even most cases provide superior results, there are situations where trying to clean by squeegee can be disastrous.  In those circumstances, another approach would be much more effective.

The following is a breakdown of each method of window cleaning, its’ advantages, disadvantages, and when each should be used.

The Methods
  • Squeegee (Hand cleaning)
  • Squeegee on a Pole (using a squeegee from a distance)
  • Tucker Pole water fed pole
  • Brush and Hose Rinse
  • Pressure Washing

Squeegee

Advantages: Scrubbing dirt and squeegeeing away very effective to remove all surface dirt.  Workers can use soap or chemicals in their buckets as required.  Easy to inspect and repeat the process as necessary to ensure glass is clean.  Razors or pads easily used to support this cleaning method.  Window frames can be wiped.  Edges can be cleaned with chamois or cloths to remove soapy water left behind on edges.

Disadvantages: This method can leave lines along top and sides that need to be wiped away, or ‘blips’ which are only seen easily in direct sunlight.  Squeegee rubber that is damaged or worn out can become less effective.  Requires skill to be employed effectively and quickly.  Water in buckets used to clean requires frequent changing. Soapy water used to clean glass can dry out quickly in sunlight.

On a high rise or low rise building, cleaning windows by squeegee provides excellent results, especially provided the windows are large sections of glass and the cleaner can get right in front of them.

Let’s consider the first variable that affects this method’s use; how large the windows are.

Variable 1.  Breaking up the panes of glass with window frames.

Facing a big sheet of glass undivided by framing, a window cleaner can use his tools with large, easy motions to scrub and squeegee the glass clean.  However, with each window frame introduced that divides the window into smaller sections, the more skill is required to clean each piece of glass, the more time is taken to do so, and the more challenging it becomes to ensure no ‘blips’, drips, or dirt is left behind.  It also increases the number of edges to check and ensure are cleaned or are wiped clean with a chamois or cloth if required.

The more the glass is divided into smaller sections, the less effective squeegee cleaning becomes, and another method of cleaning should be chosen.  (More on which methods below).  Insisting on cleaning many small windows sections by squeegee will slow down your workers, cost the strata more, and provide inferior results.  In these cases, it is recommended to keep an open mind and consider one of the other methods.

Now the second variable: how close the cleaner can get to the glass.

Variable 2.  Distance.

When right up next to a window, cleaning by squeegee provides excellent results when employed by a skilled window cleaner.  (For the sake of this article, we’re assuming the window cleaner is skilled in all techniques.  Lack of skill is in an issue no matter what method of cleaning is used.)  A window cleaner can scrub and squeegee off the dirt, check the corners of the glass carefully to ensure no ‘blips’ are left behind, scrub off bird droppings with a razor or non-scratching pad, wipe up drips with a chamois or clean cloth, and even wipe the window ledge clean.  It is fast, effective, and usually provides the best results.

However, if a window cleaner needs to stretch to reach a window, the odds of providing a good result diminish.  The greater the distance, the greater the odds of leaving drips or marks behind.  This is because the more a window cleaner has to leave his comfort zone in which he applies this method of cleaning, the harder it is to do so effectively.  So, on high rise building that means overhangs that keep the ropes away from the glass, meaning the cleaner has to swing in and grab the glass with suction cups to clean.  On low rises, that variable comes into play when someone has very difficult ladder positioning and has to stretch way out from the ladder to get to the glass.  Which leads nicely to our second method: squeegee on a pole.

Squeegee On A Pole

In skilled hands, cleaning windows that are out of reach using a squeegee on a pole can provide good results.  It is difficult for this method to provide great results, unless you’re dealing with a window cleaning master.  Distance increases difficulty, and while the use of a pole helps address this, this method has many disadvantages.

Advantages: Getting those hard to reach windows addressed.

Disadvantages: Slow, equipment may fall off the pole, edges of the glass are difficult to clean without leaving drips or ‘blips’, including the top, bottom and sides, difficult to effectively identify and clean any stubborn residue, more difficult to use a razor or pad to remove stubborn residue, and much more difficult to clean edges with a cloth if required.

The greater the reach or longer the pole needed is, the more difficult it is to provide great results.  Sometimes, when used sparingly on a job, cleaning hard to reach windows with a squeegee on a pole can be acceptable as there are only few windows that need to be cleaned that way.  I wouldn’t recommend it for a large portion of the work.

Instead, perhaps the next method should be used:

Tucker Pole Water Fed Pole

A water fed pole is an extendable pole with a soft bristle brush on the end.  Water runs through a hose inside the pole and out through the brush.  Windows are cleaned using these poles by scrubbing the glass with the brush while the water is running, and rinsing the loosened dirt clean.

Advantages: Can work around challenging building architecture, landscaping, and other obstacles.  Water used for cleaning is always clean water going onto the glass, frames are rinsed clean during the process, edges cleaned, no risk of ‘blips’.

Disadvantages: Can’t use soap on the glass.  Very difficult to remove baked on bird droppings or stubborn residue.  Difficult to evaluate if there are any issues until the water has dried.  May leave drips if not rinsed 100% effectively.  Water running downward can wet areas below on patios, balconies, etc.

The use of a water fed pole can be great to clean glass where a squeegee cannot effectively be used.  Many may argue that a squeegee would do a better job.  However, a squeegee cannot always provide good results, and in those areas where it is at a disadvantage, the results yielded by tucker pole cleaning can be far superior than if windows were attempted to be effectively cleaned by squeegee anyway.  This method is faster than squeegee use, which also means cheaper for the strata.  It is a good option which should be considered based on the building’s requirements.

Soapy Brush and Hose Rinse

Advantages: use of soap helps clean glass compared to tucker pole use, scrubbing action loosens dirt, hose rinse is gentle on window gaskets and seals, addresses issues of distance and windows divided by many frames, cleans frames as well.  Cleans edges.  More effective than tucker pole at removing stubborn residue due to soapy scrubbing action.  Less skill required to be effective.

Disadvantages: workers must ‘juggle’ many tools, windows must be rinsed effectively to ensure no soapy residue left behind, range of hose rinsing not as great as tucker pole or pressure washer.

This method is one of the most often overlooked and underused for difficult to clean buildings.  It is very effective, especially when used on windows that are dividing into many small sections by frames, hard to reach due to building structure like overhangs, and the building is very dirty.  I highly encourage property managers to consider it over squeegee cleaning on difficult to clean buildings.  It will provide excellent results and be much faster than a squeegee clean.

Pressure Washing

Personally, I have never used a pressure washer to clean windows.  Our technicans at ServiceMaster do not use this method when cleaning glass on a strata either.  I’m only including it in this article as I’ve seen others do it, most notably ground floor commercial businesses in my neighbourhood.

Advantages: Fast, cleans frames, no possibility of drips, can clean glass from a distance.

Disadvantages: Use of pressure – May cause water ingress behind the building envelope.  May damage window seals.

Due to the listed disadvantages, we never use a pressure washer to clean windows.  There is too much risk of doing damage to the seals or causing water ingress.  I would advise against ever using this method of cleaning at a strata.

We All Want The Same Thing In The End

So as we’ve gone over, there are many ways to clean a window.  They will all do the job, and should be considered – or rejected – depending on building structure, the type of windows on the building, and the desired cost range as well as results.

With that in mind, hopefully you will consider what your service providers suggest when offering a cleaning method that may not be what you expected.  After all, insisting on the use of a squeegee in situations where this method is actually at a disadvantage will be very slow, and therefore very costly; and it may not yield great results anyway.   Also, consider asking for pricing using different methods of cleaning on your stratas where this could be to your advantage.  Don’t forget to look at the methods being quoted when you receive your spring window cleaning pricing from various service providers as well, to ensure you are comparing the same or similar methods.

Windows – Mineral Deposit Staining

Hopefully, you haven’t seen this on your windows – milky drips or streaks that won’t come off. They’re translucent, most visible in direct sunlight, and most noticeable right after your windows have been cleaned.  You can complain and have the window cleaner come back – but watch him scrub the glass, and these marks still don’t disappear.    These are mineral deposits staining your window.

These marks are an assortment of minerals leached over time from mortar and concrete by the rain.  When the rain strikes the building then runs down the surface of the glass, it leaves these residues behind.  They adhere to the porous surface of the glass, building up in vertical streaks or running water patterns over time, and gradually adhering and becoming permanent.  They can also look like spatter marks if rainwater hits a concrete ledge below your window and bounces back up on to the glass.   The longer those minerals stay on the window, the more visible the build up becomes and the more difficult to remove.   The good news: mineral deposit stains are removable in most cases if you catch them in time.

There are solvents designed to combat these stains, and we have the know how to use them.  Combined with razors, glass scrubbing pads, and effort, mineral deposits can be greatly reduced and in most cases removed.  However, the degree that they stain and etch themselves into the glass worsens over time.  If they’ve been sitting on the glass for more than two years, they may not be able to be removed completely.  After several years, the appearance may only be improved by up to 80 – 90%.   In these cases, the best way to bring back crystal clarity to your view through the glass: install new glass.

So, in order to ensure these mineral deposits to not occur, take the following steps:

  • Wash the exterior surface of windows at least once per year
  • If any mineral deposits appear to be on the glass, get a professional to remove them – sooner rather than later
  • Install a drip cap above the window, or extend this awning like guard to prevent       water from dripping down the glass when it rains.
  • Lower window ledges that are concrete should be treated with a sealant or covered: paint them, put a planter over it, or just be aware to keep the lower half of your window clean.  (Clean it at least once or twice per year)

If you have mineral deposit staining on your glass, and need to get it out, contact ServiceMaster Clean Residential: We’ll take care of it.

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