Window History

Development of Windows and Window Cleaning Techniques

It seems an obvious thing to say but the history of window cleaning is inextricably interwoven with the history of glass.

No one knows for sure precisely where or when glass was first made – it seems to have made its appearance as far back as the 2nd millennium BC with the Egyptians, maybe the Phoenicians also. However there seems to be evidence pointing to (as with most things civilised and cultured) Mesopotamia, where some fragments of well made glass have been found, and dating from the third millennium BC.

Glass of course was far less common place in antiquity than today, indeed it was considered very precious – the Bible for example places the word glass in the same sentence as gold (Job 28:17) to emphasise its value.

Whatever the truth as to its origins, the art of glass making did eventually reach the Egyptians, who used a method of making glass known as core-forming; using a shaped core made of clay and dung, molten glass was wrapped around it and shaped by rolling it on a smooth surface. Window cleaning as we know it was however, still a long way off!

It was not until much later, very much later in fact – perhaps around the end of the 1st century BC, that glass blowing would revolutionise the production of glass. The art of glass blowing (you’ll know it’s an art as soon as you try it) seems to have developed on the Eastern Mediterranean coast, probably in Syria. Blowing through a hollow tube, an experienced glassblower can quickly produce all kinds of intricate shapes from the “gather” of molten glass at the end of his tube (rod). As can be imagined, the combination of glassblowing and the ‘can-do’ approach of the Roman Empire meant that glass and glass products became much more accessible and as Rome’s influence spread, so did the art of glass making.

Which brings us to ‘clear’ (not necessarily transparent to begin with) glass windows, made it seems first by the Romans in Alexandria around 100 C.E. However, it wasn’t until the mid 19th Century that ‘clear’ glass was needed on a scale that made it commercially viable to produce for windows. At that time, the way to clean glass was….yes you’ve guessed it, a bucket of water, cleaning solution with cloth and a ladder for taller windows – what a long way we’ve come since the mid 19th Century!

Until larger, taller buildings appeared it was the lot of housewives and servants to clean their own windows but the construction boom from c.1860 onwards created the need for teams of window cleaners to maintain the windows – but how?

Squeegees and Techniques

This brings us to techniques and the development of the well known and loved ‘squeegee’, which began to be used in Chicago in the early part of the 20th Century as sky-scrapers appeared. But these early squeegees were bulky, heavy affairs and based on deck-scraping tools used by sailors – they required the removal of 12 screws to change the rubber blade.

Then in 1936, an Italian immigrant to the US, one Ettore Steccone designed and patented the modern, single blade squeegee, made of lightweight brass with a more flexible, sharp rubber blade – skyscrapers, yes but glass scrapers – no! Amazingly, to this day the Ettore Products Co. is still a leading provider of high quality squeegees today.

Squeegee techniques vary but all involve the use of a soapy solution which acts as a lubricant and breaks up the dirt, the squeegee blade is then used to draw the now water-borne dirt off the glass leaving a squeaky clean pane of glass. Some squeegees have a sponge back for soaking up soapy water to be applied to the next dirty window.

Known by professionals as the “swivel” or “fan” method, this is a squeegee technique which employs a series of strokes and turns that hold the water away from the leading edge of the squeegee. When the turn is completed in the opposite direction, no water or dirt is left isolated. Some would argue however that straight strokes, either horizontally or vertically are usually more efficient than “fanning”.

If the squeegee is angled incorrectly, this will force the water under the rubber blade and into the dry area of the glass or from solution being pushed up into the top edge of the window. To avoid this, the squeegee should be tilted in the direction of blade travel across the glass so forcing the water into the wet area of the glass.

Development of other Window Cleaning Techniques

Clearly, a window cleaner needs a good head for heights – window cleaning was and still is a relatively dangerous job and sadly many cleaners have fallen to their injury or even death – please see our health and safety page for more information on this important topic.

So, as buildings became higher, so did the stakes and new ways to clean windows needed to be found – it was becoming more of a specialized task requiring proper training and adequate equipment. Along came ideas such as temporary scaffolding, suspending cleaners from ropes, mountaineering style or mobile elevated platforms raised up from the ground with the cleaners inside a safety cage. For very high buildings a platform or cradle suspended from the roof by ropes or cables is a common sight in our cities.

Sky-scrapers aside, more recently the innovation of the pure water fed pole system has become very popular and for good reason – please see our pole systems page for more information and links to products etc.

Our discussion of window cleaning techniques must include self-cleaning glass. This works by having a top layer of titanium oxide that somehow (for technical details please look elsewhere) reacts with UV rays from our sun and breaks down dirt. Apparently this also prevents rain droplets forming on the pane of glass, and yes the rain then completes the job by washing away the layer of broken-down dirt. However, even this type of glass still needs occasional window cleaning and some believe that the future of window cleaning is robotic window cleaning, still in its infancy.

For a competitive window cleaning quote call us on 07838 745902 and we’ll provide a free estimate or alternatively you can go to the estimates page.