Window Cleaner

The Job and What's Involved

Window cleaners wash windows and other glass surfaces. They are responsible for removing built-up dirt and grime from the glass, and making sure the finished result is clean and free of smears.

Window cleaners work on all types of buildings that have windows and other glass surfaces. These might include private houses, as well as commercial businesses such as shops, factories, hospitals and offices.

The windows are cleaned using water and normally a detergent. These are applied to the glass using a non-scratch applicator and removed using a rubber 'squeegee blade'. Scrim or microfibre cloth is used for 'detailing' (drying off around the edge of the glass) and towelling cloths are used to remove excess moisture from window sills.

Modern cleaning methods are being developed that produce clean results without the use of chemical detergents, in order to protect the environment.

Ladders are commonly used to reach ground floor and first floor windows. Health and safety directives govern work at any height above ground level with the aim of reducing the number of falls from ladders. The guidelines advise avoiding the use of ladders wherever possible, so many window cleaners now use a water-fed pole. This pressurised water pump system enables windows to be cleaned at heights of up to 20 metres, without the use of ladders or other heavy access equipment.

Work on tall buildings can involve using access platforms or rope access. Rope access requires training.

Self-employed window cleaners are responsible for agreeing with their customers a price up front, collecting payments and writing receipts, as well as all the other aspects of running a business, such as keeping accounts, completing tax returns and marketing the business. In the case of larger companies or contracts, invoices are often sent direct to the customer, although the window cleaner may have to complete paperwork such as job sheets or time sheets.

Window cleaners sometimes develop and widen their skills by building up expertise in cleaning other building surfaces. Some of these, such as marble, terrazzo and granite, require specialist treatments. Some window cleaners may also do other work on buildings, such as clearing guttering, cleaning paintwork, painting exteriors and applying protective coatings.

A full-time window cleaner working for a contract cleaning company usually works 40 hours a week. Overtime is often available, and there may be opportunities to work part time. Window cleaners may work longer hours during the summer.

If self-employed, window cleaners can choose their own hours and the weather conditions they are prepared to work in.

Window cleaners do most of their work outside, exposing themselves to varied weather conditions and temperatures. The work is strenuous and involves working at heights, climbing, lifting and bending. It also involves travelling to customers and transporting equipment. A driving licence is helpful when covering a large area.

Allergies to cleaning fluids, overexposure to the sun and working at heights are all potential hazards of the job. Employers usually provide protective equipment.

Window cleaners employed by a contract cleaning firm may start on around £10,500 a year.

Salaries for self-employed cleaners depend on the number of regular customers, the fees negotiated with individual customers, and the size of the properties they are cleaning.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are over 31,000 window cleaners in the UK. Some are self-employed, while others work for specialist window and contract cleaning firms. For some people window cleaning is a second job.

There is a constant demand for window cleaners, with opportunities throughout the UK. Employment is mainly found in towns and cities, although homeowners and businesses in rural communities also need their windows cleaned.

The introduction of health and safety regulations to reduce the accidents caused by working at heights is increasing demand for window cleaners with proper stabilising equipment. The Federation of Window Cleaners is keen to raise standards, and conforming to the standards it sets may have an influence on a window cleaner's ability to win larger contracts.

Vacancies are usually advertised in the local press and on local recruitment websites. Self-employed window cleaners can advertise their services through trade magazines and websites. They may also approach potential customers directly, either in person or over the telephone.

Education and Training

No formal qualifications are needed to become a window cleaner. However, some numerical skills are needed for calculating prices and collecting payment.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most training for employees is on the job, working alongside experienced window cleaners.

All window cleaners need to understand health and safety regulations. Those using power-operated access equipment or abseiling techniques usually need a certificate for insurance purposes. The Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) certifies rope access courses at three levels (trainee, operative and supervisor).

Window cleaners may work towards an NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Cleaning and Support Services.

The British Window Cleaning Academy offers courses for both new and experienced window cleaners. Although the courses lead to a certificate in their own right, they also provide evidence for the NVQ/SVQ. These courses are run regionally and cover:

- Basic cleaning skills
- Water-fed pole instruction
- Health and safety for window cleaners
- Marketing a window cleaning business

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Window cleaners need to be:

  • Fit and healthy.
  • Able to work at heights.
  • Honest and reliable.
  • Careful and hardworking.
  • Consistent in their working standards.
  • Prepared to work in all weather conditions.
  • Self-motivated.
  • Trustworthy and respectful of customer privacy.
  • Good at promoting their services and maintaining relationships with clients already on their books.
  • Aware of safety requirements.

Your Long Term Prospects

Window cleaners working for a large contract cleaning firm may be promoted to supervisory positions. It may help to study for the Cleaning Supervisory Skills Certificate offered by the British Institute of Cleaning Science, or NVQ's/SVQ's at Levels 3 and 4 in Team Leading or First Line Management.

Many people, once trained, set up their own business. They may employ other window cleaners for large contracts.

Learning rope access techniques or operating power-assisted lifting equipment can open up other careers requiring similar skills. An experienced window cleaner may be able to move into construction, general maintenance, health and safety inspection or even work in cladding, glazing or curtain walling.

Get Further Information

Association of Building Cleaning Direct
Service Providers (ABCD), PO Box 137,
Northampton NN3 6AD
Tel: 01604 678710

British Cleaning Council,
PO Box 1328, Kidderminster DY11 5ZJ
Tel: 01562 851129

British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc),
9 Premier Court, Boarden Close,
Moulton Park, Northampton NN3 6LF
Tel: 01604 678710

British Window Cleaning Academy (BWCA),
Alpha Building, Star West,
Westmead Industrial Estate,
Swindon SN5 7SW
Tel: 0845 226 6034

Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA),
Tournai Hall, Evelyn Woods Road,
Aldershot, Hampshire GU11 2LL
Tel: 01252 357839

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