Window cleaner

Last updated
Window cleaners in Dresden Dresden - Window cleaners - 1749.jpg
Window cleaners in Dresden
Cleaning the Fernsehturm Berlin Berlin - Berliner Fernsehturm - Fensterreinigung.jpg
Cleaning the Fernsehturm Berlin

Window cleaning, or window washing, is the exterior cleaning of architectural glass used for structural, lighting, or decorative purposes. It can be done manually, using a variety of tools for cleaning and access. Technology is also employed and increasingly, automation.


Commercial work is contracted variously from in-person transactions for cash or barter, to formal tender processes. Regulations, licensing, technique, equipment and compensation vary nationally and regionally.


Window cleaning with a water-fed pole in Bath, England Window cleaning with a pole in bath arp.jpg
Window cleaning with a water-fed pole in Bath, England


A scissor lift aerial work platform is being used to access high windows Scissor Lift Aerial Work Platform.JPG
A scissor lift aerial work platform is being used to access high windows
Window cleaning platform, or suspended scaffold, also known as a swing stage Platform window cleaner.jpg
Window cleaning platform, or suspended scaffold, also known as a swing stage

Where glass is found are window cleaners, and methods of access and equipment related to both access and cleaning vary nationally and regionally. If a window is not easily accessible using one type of equipment then it is advisable to combine different tools to be able to clean it properly.

Windowsill access

Direct access to a window obtained by egress from that window. This method is still used at the Empire State Building in New York City. [1] [ failed verification ]

High rise window cleaning

Three window cleaners at work 3 Window Washers - Cleaning the Westlake Center Office Tower.jpg
Three window cleaners at work

Windows that needed cleaning became higher as buildings became higher. A trade in window cleaning developed, for instance, in New York City in the late 19th century when early skyscrapers were being built. The height increased the risk to the washers. At first, washers cleaned skyscraper windows by standing on the window ledge and holding onto the frame. Later, leather safety belts attached to anchor bolts were introduced and then scaffolds. For example, the Otis Elevator Company built an electrically operated scaffold for use at Lever House. [2]

Three window cleaners were working at the World Trade Center at the time of the September 11 attacks. Jan Demczur, working in the North Tower, survived and helped save five other people who had been trapped in an elevator with him. Roko Camaj and Fabian Soto, working in the South Tower, were killed. [2]


Window cleaner climbing out of a scaffold in Shanghai Shanghaid02.jpg
Window cleaner climbing out of a scaffold in Shanghai

Risks include slipping on water or soap, and falling from heights. In 1932 in New York, an average of one out of every two hundred window cleaners was killed per year. [2] On May 29, 1962, four window cleaners were killed when a scaffold fell at the Equitable Life Building. [2] [3] [4] In 1993 Local 32BJ, the New York window cleaners' union, launched an apprentice training program, increasing job safety among its members, although increasing numbers of New York window cleaners are non-unionized. [2]

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. [5] Several window cleaners die each year, and many are injured. [6]

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. However, the government denies this stipulation, as ladder use for window cleaning is "low risk and short duration": [7]

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. [6]

The Working at Height Regulations came into force in 2005 and does not ban ladders [7] 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. [8] [9]

The HSE favours the use of scaffold towers, i.e. temporary workstations, for window cleaning but says 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." [10]

Although Water Fed Pole (WFP) systems are meant to be safer than ladders, the Health and Safety Executive has said that they spill large amounts of water which either the window cleaner or their client could slip on. [10]

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 60 ft. Window cleaners could return to the bucket-and-mop method, because Health and Safety Working at Heights allows such for temporary access. [7] Many window cleaners and window cleaning companies argue that their usage of water is minimal in comparison with water usages of large industry and energy companies, and that their water usage accounts for a small percentage of overall water consumption in developed countries. [11] [12]

Technological progress and decline in labor requirements

Much progress has been made in the area of minimizing the need for labor in this industry by use of technology. The availability of technology such as the pressure washer has made it more efficient.

Robotic window cleaners

More recently, in high tech societies the use of fully automated robotic window cleaners, also for houses, is starting to become common. [13]

Robotic cleaners use fans, vacuum or magnets to stay firmly attached to glass, while cleaning windows on the inside or outside in an “N” or “Z” pattern, squeegeeing them dry as they move on.

Cultural references

Window cleaning and window cleaners are the subject of songs, films and comment, often with comic intent. Examples include George Formby's comic song "The Window Cleaner", also known as "When I'm Cleaning Windows" is one of the best known. Films about window cleaners include The Window Cleaner (1968) [14] and Confessions of a Window Cleaner (1978). [15] Journalists sometimes comment on the peculiarities of the trade. [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

Vacuum cleaner Device that sucks up dust and dirt from floors

A vacuum cleaner, also known simply as a vacuum or a hoover, is a device that causes suction in order to remove debris from floors, upholstery, draperies and other surfaces. It is generally electrically driven.

Ladder A vertical or steeply inclined set of rungs or steps

A ladder is a vertical or inclined set of rungs or steps.

Washing machine Machine that washes clothes automatically

A washing machine is a home appliance used to wash laundry. The term is mostly applied to machines that use water as opposed to dry cleaning or ultrasonic cleaners. The user adds laundry detergent, which is sold in liquid or powder form, to the wash water.

Scaffolding A temporary structure used to support a work crew and materials

Scaffolding, also called scaffold or staging, is a temporary structure used to support a work crew and materials to aid in the construction, maintenance and repair of buildings, bridges and all other man-made structures. Scaffolds are widely used on site to get access to heights and areas that would be otherwise hard to get to. Unsafe scaffolding has the potential to result in death or serious injury. Scaffolding is also used in adapted forms for formwork and shoring, grandstand seating, concert stages, access/viewing towers, exhibition stands, ski ramps, half pipes and art projects.

Windscreen wiper Device on vehicle

A windshield wiper or windscreen wiper is a device used to remove rain, snow, ice, washer fluid, water, and/or debris from a vehicle's front window so the vehicle's operator can better see what's ahead of them. Almost all motor vehicles, including cars, trucks, buses, train locomotives, and watercraft with a cabin—and some aircraft—are equipped with one or more such wipers, which are usually a legal requirement.


A squeegee or squilgee is a tool with a flat, smooth rubber blade, used to remove or control the flow of liquid on a flat surface. It is used for cleaning and in printing.


A steeplejack is a craftsman who scales buildings, chimneys, and church steeples to carry out repairs or maintenance.

Housekeeping refers to the management of duties and chores involved in the running of a household, such as cleaning, cooking, home maintenance, shopping, and bill payment. These tasks may be performed by members of the household, or by other persons hired for the purpose. The term is also used to refer to the money allocated for such use. By extension, it may also refer to an office or organization, as well as the maintenance of computer storage systems.

Fire escape

A fire escape is a special kind of emergency exit, usually mounted to the outside of a building or occasionally inside but separate from the main areas of the building. It provides a method of escape in the event of a fire or other emergency that makes the stairwells inside a building inaccessible. Fire escapes are most often found on multiple-story residential buildings, such as apartment buildings. At one time, they were a very important aspect of fire safety for all new construction in urban areas; more recently, however, they have fallen out of common use. This is due to the improved building codes incorporating fire detectors, technologically advanced fire fighting equipment, which includes better communications and the reach of fire fighting ladder trucks, and more importantly fire sprinklers. The international building codes and other authoritative agencies have incorporated fire sprinklers into multi-story buildings below 15 stories and not just skyscrapers.

This is a glossary of firefighting equipment.


A glazier is a tradesman responsible for cutting, installing, and removing glass. They also refer to blueprints to figure out the size, shape, and location of the glass in the building. They may have to consider the type and size of scaffolding they need to stand on to fit and install the glass. Glaziers may work with glass in various surfaces and settings, such as cutting and installing windows, doors, shower doors, skylights, storefronts, display cases, mirrors, facades, interior walls, ceilings, and tabletops.

Windshield washer fluid

Windshield washer fluid is a fluid for motor vehicles that is used in cleaning the windshield with the windshield wiper while the vehicle is being driven.

Potable water diving Underwater diving in potable water systems

Potable water diving is diving in a tank for potable water. This is usually done for inspection and cleaning tasks. A person who is trained to do this work may be described as a potable water diver. The risks to the diver associated with potable water diving are related to the access, confined spaces and outlets for the water. The risk of contamination of the water is managed by isolating the diver in a clean dry-suit and helmet or full-face mask which are decontaminated before the dive.

Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations United Kingdom legislation

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013, often known by the acronym RIDDOR, is a 2013 statutory instrument of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It regulates the statutory obligation to report deaths, injuries, diseases and "dangerous occurrences", including near misses, that take place at work or in connection with work.

Floor cleaning

Floor cleaning is a major occupation throughout the world. The main job of most cleaners is to clean floors.


Cleret is an American manufacturer and brand of squeegees and related products based in Lake Oswego, Oregon. The company's original squeegee won an International Design Excellence Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America, and sits in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

<i>Window Cleaners</i> 1940 Donald Duck cartoon

Window Cleaners is an animated short film produced in Technicolor by Walt Disney Productions and released to theaters on September 20, 1940 by RKO Radio Pictures.

ISO 7010 is an International Organization for Standardization technical standard for graphical hazard symbols on hazard and safety signs, including those indicating emergency exits. It uses colours and principles set out in ISO 3864 for these symbols, and is intended to provide "safety information that relies as little as possible on the use of words to achieve understanding." It is distinct from the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals specified by the United Nations to standardise hazardous material classification and labelling.

In occupational health and safety, a tagging system is a system of recording and displaying the status of a machine or equipment, enabling staff to view whether it is in working order. It is a product of industry-specific legislation which sets safety standards for a particular piece of equipment, involving inspection, record-keeping, and repair. This sets standardized umbrella terms for equipment and machinery to be deemed 'safe to use'.


  1. Bell, Fred A. (September 1934). "How a Skyscraper Window Washer Faces Death". Modern Mechanix : 36–37, 128, 148. Retrieved 2015-03-17.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Higginbotham, Adam (February 4, 2013). "Life at the Top". The New Yorker . Retrieved 2015-03-17.
  3. "Four Window Washers Die As Work Platform Plunges Down 43-Story Building". Lewiston Evening Journal : 1. May 29, 1962. Retrieved 2015-03-17.
  4. "Use of Powered Scaffolds for Window Cleaning and Building Maintenance Suspended". The Building Industry. Building Industry Employers of New York State. 26-27: 24. 1962.
  5. Ball, Matt (October 18, 2004). "MSN Money article". Archived from the original on May 9, 2006. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  6. 1 2 "Health and Safety Executive issues new guidance for window ..." 2003-10-16. Archived from the original on 2009-09-28. Retrieved 2010-01-19.
  7. 1 2 3 "Ladders are not banned - but they should be used sensibly". 2005-09-12. Archived from the original on 2010-01-28. Retrieved 2010-01-19.
  8. The Work at Height Regulations 2005,, 2005-03-29, ISBN   0-11-072563-8 , retrieved 2010-01-19
  9. "The Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR)" (PDF). 2005-03-17. Retrieved 2010-01-19.
  10. 1 2 "Safety in window cleaning using portable ladders - HSE Information Sheet MISC613" (PDF). 0?-09-03. Retrieved 2010-01-19.Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. "Office for National Statistics (ONS) - ONS". Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  12. "Window cleaners' job threat". 2006-03-29. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
  13. "Window walking Windoro robot scrubs windows clean". Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  14. "The Window Cleaner". IMDb.
  15. "Confessions of a Window Cleaner". IMDb.
  16. Barlass, Tim (7 February 2016). "Confessions of a window cleaner". The Sun-Herald. Retrieved 7 September 2017.