Window cleaning - it's not just about windows

3rd of August 2022
Window cleaning - it's not just about windows
Window cleaning - it's not just about windows

Ann Laffeaty looks at the widening scope of the window cleaning industry and finds out how companies are tackling today’s more specialist tasks.

THE REMIT OF THE window cleaner should be fairly straightforward. The clue is in the name: his or her task is basically to clean windows, usually just the external ones, traditionally with the aid of a ladder, bucket and squeegee.

But architectural designs are becoming more complex and energy sources are changing. As a result, window cleaners are increasingly being expected to tackle other surfaces as well including solar panels, atria glasswork and indoor windows. And this is significantly adding to the challenge of the task.

Unger’s digital communication manager Stefan Kossmann confirms his company’s customers are increasingly seeking solutions for a variety of new cleaning issues. “For example, people are looking for systems that will help them to clean in narrow spaces or tackle hard-to-reach areas such as overhanging façades, conservatories and domes,” he said.

“We are also seeing an increased demand for cleaning systems for interior windows. Here the current architectural trend towards open, light-flooded rooms plays a major role.”

He says demand for abseiling and gondola work has also increased significantly. “Many building service contractors now specialise in high-rise work, so there is a requirement for employees who are physically fit and who have a head for heights,” he said.

According to Kossmann, today’s operatives are frequently being asked to clean fixed windows, coated windows and openings of various shapes as well as glass arches on roofs. “What is new, however, is that architects are increasingly taking cleaning needs into account during the planning stages and are starting to seek the opinion of cleaning specialists,” he said.

He adds demand is growing for cleaning tools that are ergonomic and environmentally-friendly and that make the work easier to carry out. Unger’s own systems include Nlite water-fed telescopic poles that can be used with the company’s HydroPower RO S filter. For window cleaning with pure water from a gondola the company offers short nLITE water-fed telescopic poles. And the Stingray system for interior windows is claimed to cut the use of cleaning solution by up to 39 per cent.

Classical cleaning using a squeegee and washer remains the major part of the window cleaner’s job, according to Kärcher’s product manager for professional high pressure cleaners Dominik Rauer. But he adds that operatives are increasingly being asked to tackle building façades and solar panels as well.

“The cleaning and maintenance of photovoltaic systems was initially believed to be unnecessary due to the lotus effect,” he said. “But it has now become clear that weather conditions and air pollution are leaving their mark.”

Optimise efficiency

According to Rauer, solar panels need regular cleaning with the right equipment to improve their efficiency and maintain a high level of electricity yield. “Cleaning can increase the efficiency of photovoltaic panels by up to 30 per cent,” he claims.

Climate change is adding to the window cleaner’s challenge because of the effect it can have on solar panels, he says. “Sand from the Sahara was recently blown in by the wind and it settled all over Europe,” said Rauer. “This had a major impact on the efficiency of solar systems, and similar weather phenomena have become more and more frequent over recent years.”

Kärcher offers a complete system for cleaning façades and solar power installations incorporating rotating roller heads and brushes plus multipurpose telescopic lances. The accessories can be used with high-pressure cleaners, connected to a hose for clean water applications or linked to a vacuum for removing loose dirt.

According to Rauer, window cleaning is becoming increasingly complex depending on the task in hand. “It is also subject to strong competitive and cost pressures,” he says. “This is why many larger cleaning companies outsource the task to external service providers. The risk of damage is high and there are safety risks for the cleaner as well, so there’s a need for cleaning methods that simplify and speed up the process.”

He says modern cleaning systems using water-fed poles are becoming a major part of the business. “This is a cost-effective method with a quick set-up time that also saves costs on lift trucks or scaffolding,” he said. “You can also easily clean from the ground which makes it popular with building cleaners.

“But unfortunately this is not a general solution and modern architecture makes cleaning an individual challenge, which means tailored solutions are sometimes necessary.”

IPC’s product specialist Attilio Momi agrees that today’s architectural designs are making the task of window cleaning increasingly difficult. But unlike Unger’s Stefan Kossmann he believes these issues tend to be skimmed over by architects during the planning stage.

“Designers and architects don’t seem to consider the challenges of professional cleaning when coming up with plans for modern buildings,” he said. “In some cases it appears there is no way that cleaning operations can possibly be carried out safely and efficiently.

“But thankfully, manufacturers have been able to devise cutting-edge solutions to these problems through technology innovation, in-depth market research and partnerships with customers.”

He claims there is an exponential growth in demand for solutions to cleaning outdoor vertical surfaces such as solar panels and high-rise windows in inaccessible areas. But even without these demands he says the window cleaning task is challenging in and of itself.

“It is for sure one of the toughest cleaning jobs around,” claims Momi. “It can be hard to achieve satisfactory results when attempting to remove dirt, water droplets, fingerprints and other marks and residues from a window. But the market today offers a huge variety of manual equipment and cleaning solutions that allow window cleaning to be carried out more easily, more safely and more efficiently.”

IPC’s Unihandle for indoor window cleaning combines a pad, squeegee and abrasive surface for removing stubborn stains while its Highpure system uses purified water to clean solar panels. For cleaning the windows and frames of skyscrapers, the company’s Highrise self-climbing system can be managed wirelessly via a remote control.

Ionic Systems has been receiving increasing demands for roof-cleaning solutions according to managing director Reuben Reynolds. “It appears the amount of moss and lichen growth on roofs has increased,” he said. “There is data to suggest this could be down to global warming, but it could also be due to today’s construction materials.

“Buildings tend to be erected all year round these days and moisture can sometimes be locked into the render. And today’s roof tiles are often more porous which promotes lichen growth.”

This increase in organic growth has also prompted requests for systems for removing algae from conservatories, façades and guttering, he says. And the increase in energy prices has led to a high demand for solar panel cleaning. “People are realising that clean panels are more efficient at producing energy,” says Reynolds.

Still labour-intensive

Ionic’s Constant Flow unit sprays foam on to the affected areas via a spray nozzle in the Hydra pole. For roof cleaning, the company has launched the Roof Wand which consists of 10 poles with a total possible length of 20 metres. It comes with a Mast Trolley which houses the 70-litre water tank and delivers water at pressures of at 3,000 psi at 21 litres per minute.

Principle Cleaning Services’ window cleaning division managing director David Saville agrees the remit of today’s window cleaners is moving beyond the simple task of tackling windows and frames. “It is no longer uncommon for us to be asked to inspect building fabrics and report back using photographic evidence,” he said. “We are sometimes even required to restore surfaces such as aluminium or Portland stone using specialised chemicals and processes.”

However, he says that much of the company’s work remains labour-intensive and requires the use of traditional equipment such as applicators, squeegees and scrims. “Though reach and wash and Stingray-type equipment is becoming more commonplace because it is highly efficient and also negates the risk of working at height – and this is useful for meeting the Working at Height Regulation requirements,” he said.

“Reach and wash has been around for over 20 years but the systems are improving all the time and the marketplace is vibrant. There is plenty of competition and innovation, and solutions such as automated solar panel cleaning systems are now readily available.”

He agrees with other commentators that water-fed poles are making life easier for window cleaners. “These are fast and efficient but they do require investment, maintenance and preparation before they can be used every day,” he adds. “And care needs to be taken with manual handling methods since there are risks involved with working on pavements and near traffic.”

According to Saville there is a growing trend for architects to come up with complex designs and building shapes that present challenges for the window cleaner. “This can make access for cleaning more problematic,” he said.  “However, the Working at Height Regulations provide tight guidance on which access methods should be considered and in which order. Abseil, for example, can be employed as a last resort but is extremely useful in helping to solve problems presented by modern buildings.”

He says new technologies have helped operatives to tackle the increasingly complex challenges of the job. “There has always been a demand for equipment that optimises efficiency and is safer to use, but in recent years the technology has begun moving quite fast,” he said. “The competitive nature of our industry means these ideas and innovations are usually quickly snapped up, trialled and then put to work in the marketplace where they will prove useful.”

Unger’s Stefan Kossmann agrees technology is moving at a pace – and believes the industry is ready for anything. “Challenges are exciting because they make the daily work more varied and interesting - and today’s new technologies ensure the professionals’ task is easier, faster and safer,” he said.

And Kärcher’s Dominik Rauer claims demand for autonomous cleaning solutions is increasing. “Many companies are searching for innovative new methods such as robots or drones,” he said. “However for safety reasons, an employee will still required to remain on hand which is why we will not see a fully autonomous window cleaning robot any time soon.”


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