International window cleaning challenges

12th of July 2017
International window cleaning challenges

Windows are cleaned all around the world. Yet each country has its own particularities, each market has its individual challenges and demands. An overview of window cleaning around the world from equipment specialist Unger, based in Germany.


National challenges- Window glass is not just window glass: In Germany, there are many different types of glass with different features and cleaning behaviour. For instance, single pane safety glass has different requirements in terms of care than laminated safety glass. “German professionals have to have precise knowledge of all technical properties and adapt their cleaning method and tools accordingly”, says Manfred Mihatsch of Unger Germany.

Generally, many things have to be considered in Germany in terms of window cleaning. Regulations, standards and laws greatly affect the work of professionals. For instance, if the building in question is a listed building, the cleaning method has to be clarified with the insurance provider beforehand.

When using work platforms, the deployment of barrier systems has to be applied for at the city council. And industrial clients often commission individual cleaning tasks separately. These bureaucratic processes complicate the work of Germany’s glass cleaning professionals and require good time management.

Cleaning methods - Cleaning with pure water continues to be on the rise in Germany. For us, demonstration and training on this topic comprises more than half of the work in sales. Work with pure water is booming.

This is also reflected in the large variety of applications. Pure water systems here in Germany are not only used for window cleaning, but also for façade cleaning. Use on photovoltaic systems is also established, as professionally cleaned systems produced considerably more electricity.

Rules and regulations - In Germany a glass and building cleaning specialist is a state-recognised profession. The apprenticeship lasts three years and alternates between school and practical work phases. After successful completion of the journeyman’s examination, there are plenty of further professional paths and career options to choose from. “Journeymen can, for instance, go on to acquire their master craftsman diploma or can continue their educational training and acquire a further qualification as industrial climber,” explains Mihatsch.

Germany fundamentally also differs from other European countries in terms of building architecture. Developers and architects are obligated by corresponding regulations and laws to design their buildings so that cleaning work can be performed without posing any risks or hazards. If windows cannot be cleaned from the floor, from the inside of the building or from ground floor extensions, corresponding facilities must be put into place.

United Kingdom

National challenges - the UK is famous for its changing weather. This is a great challenge for British window cleaners, in particular in terms of the cleaning windows in residential buildings.

“Professionals always have to be able to quickly adapt to changing weather conditions in terms of sun, clouds, rain and fog,” explains Matt Hodgkins of Unger UK. “This requires exact planning, lots of experience and a high degree of flexibility.”

Window cleaning on commercial buildings also brings challenges. Many things have to be taken into consideration when organising schedules. This involves, for example, co-ordinating the viewing of a property, ensuring free access to the windows and safely securing the entire surroundings. “This is important. Because the health and safety of professional window cleaners as well as customers have the uppermost priority,” explains Hodgkins.

A further increasing challenge is also a result of the architecture of modern buildings, such as shopping centres. “The glass surfaces are often high are difficult to access”, explains Hodgkins. And older buildings, such as universities and schools have their own special characteristics when it comes to cleaning.

Cleaning methods - Among British window cleaning professionals the classic squeegee and scraper method as well as cleaning with pure water is very popular. The selection of the method depends on the corresponding location. In larger cities where there may be difficulties in terms of access, windows are cleaned with traditional tools. In more rural areas on the other hand, pure water using waterfed poles is the method of choice.

Rules and regulations - No special education is required in the UK to work as a window cleaner but training is essential and there are some great training courses. Scotland is an exception. A licence issued by the local council is required.

Unlike Germany and many other European countries, the UK does not have a height restriction for working with waterfed poles. On the other hand there are restrictions pertaining to the use of ladders. To reach heights of more than four metres ladders may only be used for the purpose of securing access to windows. Use as a work platform is prohibited. “This is why UK window cleaners often use waterfed poles. They are perfect for reaching areas that are difficult to access, up to a height of 20 metres – safely from the ground”, says Hodgkins.


National challenges - “The greatest challenge by far is that there is no window cleaning culture in Italy. Education as a window cleaner is not a state-recognised profession, nor is there an understanding of why windows need to be cleaned on a regular basis”, says Francesco Favole of Unger Italy.

This makes the work of professionals even more difficult when residential, commercial and industrial buildings need to be cleaned following long periods of soil accumulation. The windows are often subjected to lime deposits and oxidation stains. Cleaning such seriously soiled windows requires special tools and special technical knowledge. “Windows can often only be accessed with costly aids”, explains Favole. Many customers therefore prefer to leave their windows dirty.

A further key issue, particularly in the industrial sector, is the low quality of window frames and construction material. Colours quickly fade and soil the window with traces of lime.

Cleaning methods - Italy is still a developing country in terms of pure water cleaning. Only a fraction of its window cleaning operations make use of pure water systems. 95 per cent of all professionals still work with washers, squeegees, spray and rags.

Rules and regulations - Up until a few years ago, anyone could theoretically rent a lifting platform and clean windows at height. “This is no longer possible today. Now permits are required in order to use a lifting platform and to work at height”, explains Favole. There is a trend towards waterfed pole systems.


National challenges - The greatest challenge among France’s window cleaning professionals is attaining free access to windows. Here windows are often at height. “And windows in France are often installed with window glazing. The outer surface of these windows can only be cleaned from the outside,” says Guillaume Ferradou of Unger France.

Cleaning methods - The classic window cleaning methods with washer, squeegee and cloth continue to be the most widespread in France. Yet pure water cleaning is gaining ground.

Rules and regulations - For safety reasons there are laws in place in France that govern working at height when it comes to window cleaning. And professionals require a special license to operate and work on lifting platforms.


National challenges - One of the greatest challenges for Scandinavian window cleaners is the architecture of modern buildings. “Buildings are becoming higher and higher. This of course makes access to windows even more difficult. Architects are no window cleaners,” says Henrik Thögersen of Unger Scandinavia.

The climatic situation in northern countries provides for further difficulties. “We have long and cold winters in Sweden and Norway. During these periods, window cleaning often comes to a complete standstill,” explains Thögersen.

Cleaning method - Pure water in Scandinavian countries has not played a role up to now. The main method is the traditional one of washer and scraper.

Rules and regulations - As in many European countries, Scandinavia also has laws on working at height.

Asia-Pacific region

National challenges - The Asia-Pacific region is very diverse. Each country has its own climate-based challenges. Window cleaning operations in Australia and New Zealand for instance, have to deal with problems pertaining to water hardness and fierce competition. Windows in Japan and Korea are often in the direct vicinity of electrical connections.  This makes the use of waterfed poles difficult. These countries are also faced with extreme weather conditions - hot summers and long cold winters. This makes window cleaning additionally difficult.

In the south-east Asian regions, windows are generally cleaned very rarely. Pure water systems often reach their limits in the face of such greatly soiled windows. Here, a conventional basic cleaning has to be performed first.

Cleaning methods - Pure water systems have not yet greatly prevailed in the Asia-Pacific region. Whereas the demand for such systems is rising in Australia and New Zealand, pure water technology has hardly been established in the other countries, such as China and south-east Asia, if at all. Here windows are exclusively cleaned using conventional methods. Targeted training concepts are therefore needed in order to educate window cleaning companies about modern pure water systems.

Rules and regulations - As different as the countries are, the governing national laws pertaining to window cleaning are just as diverse. For instance, some are concerned with the use of suspension systems. For instance, these are entirely forbidden in Singapore. And there are great regional differences in terms of legislation in Australia and New Zealand.


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