Window work can enhance the view and your profits
Most anyone in the working world will tell you that having an office with a view is a rare perk. So when customers and their tenants get that coveted office, they want an unobstructed view. And when that view becomes clouded due to dirty windows, you’ll be the first to hear about it. Whether your company offers its own window-cleaning services, or subcontracts with a specialist, you should know enough to answer customer questions when they call.

Today’s complex environmental and industrial conditions ensure that windows become dirtier faster. In addition, contaminants and pollutants, advances in glass technology and environmental safety concerns all pose specific challenges for window cleaners.

“Windows are not like they were 100 years ago,” says Patrick Parker, president of St. Louis-based Commercial Window Cleaning. “Glass is porous, and contaminants can eat right into it, just like they can corrode the finish of your car. That’s why it’s important to have your windows cleaned regularly.”

And the word “cleaned” is operative here. A nonprofessional can wash a window with soap and water, which should be done a few times a year.

It takes a professional to actually clean the window. Cleaning removes all acid, dirt, chemicals and contaminants off the glass surface using specialized cleaning products. Cleaning also is more involved than washing because it requires attention to all window frames, ledges and surrounding areas, not just the glass. This makes window cleaning twice as expensive as window washing, but well worth the effort.

The dirt on dirt
Various types of stains can dirty windows. After it rains, minerals in building materials such as limestone, brick, or cement can leach onto the glass surface and stain it, says Jim Willingham, CEO of New Day Window Cleaning Service in Lubbock, Texas.

Condensation also can cause staining when water, such as morning dew, collects along the top of the window a few inches from the frame. Because the sun does not evaporate this moisture fast enough, it leaves a stain. Sprinkler systems placed too close to windows are another frequent stain-causing culprit, because calcium, salt or magnesium from the local water supply leave residue on the glass.

Office-building windows located on major intersections near heavy traffic flow also get very dirty very quickly, says Willingham.

“Emissions from vehicles, such as fluorocarbons, can build up very quickly on windows like these,” he explains. “Sometimes the water that we use to clean them comes off black. For these windows, we have to use a brush made of hogs hair or boars hair to get the glass clean.”

Other times, detective work is required to figure out what kind of chemicals are dirtying the glass.

“When we clean windows that are located near chemical or manufacturing plants, we have to determine what kind of product they’re manufacturing so we can figure out what kind of byproduct is being released and getting onto the glass,” Willingham says.

The location of the windows also determines how fast the glass becomes dirty. Windows located closer to the ground typically attract more dirt from auto pollutants, landscaping chemicals or sprinkling systems, says Parker. The higher the window is located, the less quickly it becomes dirty.

“Slanted windows, such as those located above atriums or entryways, also collect dirt in a short amount of time because the dirt is given a place to collect,” he adds.

Glass types vary
“Glass is becoming more specialized,” says Willingham. “Because there are so many different types of surfaces on them, you have to spend some effort finding the best ways to clean them.”

Today’s specialized glass types — mirrored glass, glass with an after-market tint or low-e glass, which has been treated to reduce UV rays — contain coatings or finishes that are easily scratched. Therefore, certain cleaning techniques, such as using razor blades or scrub pads to remove sticky residue at a construction site, cannot be used because they will permanently scratch the glass. But if that residue is not removed, it can help to attract dirt and other pollutants even faster. So proper cleaning processes are key.

The cleaning process
Once the type of glass and type of dirt have been determined, the window-cleaning professional picks an appropriate cleaning solution for the job. The typical cleaning process involves scrubbing the surface of the glass with a brush scrubber in order to agitate the build-up of dirt. The cleaning solution acts to suspend the dirt in the water, which is then removed with a squeegee or rinsed off with clean water.

Some recent innovations may help revolutionize this process. For example, several so-called “bucketless” cleaning systems are now on the market. These models eliminate a heavy solution bucket in several fashions. Some systems use chemicals that are sprayed directly on a scrubber pad, applied to the window and squeegeed off. Others use a small bottle of solution, clipped to the window cleaning professional’s belt, that dispenses itself through a tube to the squeegee.

Also, water systems, which use a filter to make ordinary tap water 99.9 percent pure, have been introduced. These systems can clean windows without the use of a squeegee or cleaning solution. After the filter removes calcium, fluoride and other residue-causing minerals from the tap water, the pure water is pumped to the top of a 60-foot pole with a brush on the end. The water is so pure it absorbs the dirt when applied to the window, and then the brush is used to agitate the dirt. After rinsing with pure water, the glass is perfectly clean, since there is nothing in the water to spot the glass.

These new water systems have some advantages over more traditional cleaning methods. They are safer and easier for professionals to use, because they do not require ladders or lifts and they are faster to use for smaller buildings that may only be a few stories high. They also allow the cleaning process to be more efficient, resulting in a substantial time savings. Finally, because no cleaning solutions are used, these systems also are environmentally friendly.

Cleaning schedules vary
How often should windows be cleaned? Parker estimates that windows located in a typical office building should be cleaned about once per year. But contractors should take into account the types of pollutants that might warrant an increased cleaning schedule.

Once they are thoroughly cleaned, the windows can be washed on a maintenance schedule (typically three or four times per year) to maintain their cleanliness and make it easier to clean them each year. For windows that get dirty quickly, professionals can apply a repellent that places a barrier between the glass and dirt. They also can apply a finish that will seal the pores of the glass, making the window more smooth and allowing contaminants to roll off.

Contractors should be very careful about how they estimate time and cost for windows that haven’t been regularly cleaned. Depending on the various factors that affect build-up, some areas may take more time than a standard window cleaning. And a standard window washing definitely will not be sufficient for such soiled surfaces.

Lynne Knobloch is a business writer based in Mishawaka, Ind.