Buildup: Windows Not Cleaned for Many Years


“Buildup” is a situation where soils have accumulated in layers over many years

“Buildup” is a term coined in the cleaning industry to describe a situation where soils have accumulated in layers over many years. Buildup does not occur over a few seasons. Windows get filthy in a matter of months but that is not buildup. What is important from an operational/productivity standpoint is that buildup cannot be anticipated, and it cannot be distinguished from normal year to year accumulations of soil. A visual inspection alone of a window cannot determine when the last cleaning was, or if there is preexisting buildup. That is because dirty looks dirty even when there isn’t buildup of layers. Like the remodeler who discovers three layers of flooring beneath the carpeting during a demolition, the cleaner only discovers buildup when attempting to clean.


Let’s say that we have provided a proposal to clean a home for $275.00. There are forty double hung windows of a certain size, on two levels with a certain degree of accessibility and all other factors that go into such a proposal being the same. The proposal is made in good faith, and the fact that there might be additional charges for buildup is explained for the prospect’s due consideration. We are known to go the extra mile. What’s more, we have honored every one of our proposals last season. A few times we found ourselves in situations where the buildup caused us to go ten extra miles and this leaves everyone feeling worn down and defeated. In such situations the technician finds himself under pressure to hurry because the project goes over budget with insufficient profitability.


In reality, what we had proposed to perform was a standard cleaning which because of undisclosed buildup turns into something else. Here is what is involved. For an experienced technician cleaning one side of the double hung window (two panes) ranges from sixty seconds for the best of us to a minute and thirty seconds per side of the window) Professional window cleaners usually fall someplace in between that proficiency range The most extreme job with buildup in my career was a ranch home whose widowed owner admitted they had not had the windows cleaned even once over sixty years in the home! (For simplicity sake the above calculations exclude other steps in our standard process such as cleaning the tracks, sills and screens. [As a side note, to understand the big picture (which is the value created and delivered by the service) direct labor is just one-third of the true cost to bring a service to market, hence every company’s “income or loss statement” contains three distinct sections labor being a big part of one those sections.]


Before we can understand how a technician can quantify build up I must first explain our process for a standard cleaning. Imagine that I (or someone better looking if you wish) am in my uniform and wearing my tool belt standing in front of a double hung window. Using my cotton pre-moistened well wrung scrubber I apply the one percent concentrated cleaning agent to the glass. Paying attention not to get any drips to wall or the floor, I gently use circular motion to agitate the surface while providing a bit of dwell time to penetrate the soils. Next, I make my critical edge with dry towel and squeegee. Upon inspection (doing what we call the chicken dance) to see all angles I notice that some things remain, including some light paint overspray, insect excrement and a bit of tree sap. So, I apply the cotton scrubber to wet the pane a second time. This time I use a different agitation device, a bit more abrasive than the cotton scrubber but not so coarse that it might damage the glass. I wipe and squeegee then step back and examine for a few expected tough spots and touch them up. That is what a typical routine cleaning of glass entails.


Build up is what (if anything) is left over once the second squeegeeing is completed. The cleaning process necessarily stays the same. This means that we cannot use a stronger concentration of detergent. Stronger does not work better. If you would like to understand the why, you are welcome to call me or just ask any of our cleaning technicians, they can explain the cleaning chemistry.


Similarly, there is a limit to the coarseness and intensity of agitation that is safe to use on a given surface. Just as there is a limit to the force that can be safely applied to a pane of glass. When build-up exists, the only prudent recourse the professional cleaner has is to repeat a cleaning. The first two repetitions are our responsibility. That is what we have contracted to do. The third pass is going the extra mile to please our customers on what is turning out to be an exceptionally difficult job.


There is no way really to sugar coat the following. We know that our prospects already understand that window cleaning is hard work. It is what we are paid to do, it is what we have chosen to do with our lives and we are serving our customers with the best of intentions. We are also prone to injuries from sharps on tracks and frames risking infections. Patrick Quin, my former employee who took over Scott’s Janitorial in Ludington actually died from such an infection. Pat was working long hours in the service of others, did not properly tend to his wound, and succumbed to blood poisoning.


A window cleaner certified by OSHA in occupational safety as myself regularly encounter pesticides, volatile organic carbons from paint which are vaporized in the waste solution, biological pathogens, stinging insects and all manner of nastiness. Window cleaners do what most people don’t like to do even once all day every day. There is more to the job of window cleaning than the risk of falling off a ladder. That is the unsung reality of being a professional cleaning technician. We don’t complain. We do what we do because we love being in the fresh air under the sun and we love to serve. We also happen to know best how to do the job as safely as possible. Don’t get me wrong, those of us who clean windows long term genuinely enjoys the job. The point is simply that there are two sides to everything. We want our prospects to fully understand the value that window cleaners deliver.


When you hire a professional, you transfer the risk to the latter, and in our case, we assume and accept that the risk that is transferred to us. Further, we do everything possible to train and to provide our people with a safe working environment including ladder safety training, best practices, carrying first aid supplies etc.

There is also such a thing as a reasonable expectation in the intensity of the work itself. The body of a cleaning technician is not infallible. Being such, we expect our technicians to be physically willing and able to clean two to three regular sized homes in a single day. That is a lot of work. But the human body is resilient and we provide the highest quality tools of the trade to support our teams in their work. Consistent with the Parable of the Talents, with our open book profit sharing model, we pass a share of the harvest to our employees and reward productivity. We feel a responsibility to provide a path for growth of our people who work so hard for all of us.


Lets assume that a home has not been cleaned in ten years. The build-up in such case might take two cleanings to get it into top shape. Now if we had been the cleaners from the time the home was new, the buildup would not have happened. Of course, we also understand however that our clients sometimes inherit the problems from previous owners etc. Let’s face it, we all live busy hectic lives. Things can get away from the best of us. We do not judge.


We really are here to serve, and we do so enthusiastically. We care about our employees and we care deeply about our customers. We simply want the best for everyone. We really cannot possibly tell whether there is build up until we have started to clean. Now to put this issue into proper perspective we see build up maybe once in twenty homes. Most of what we encounter is the normal soils of a season, or a few, maybe three seasons at worst. There is some variation in “the volume and variety of solid deposits depending on if a house sits close to a road or on a lake. Those are factors we take into consideration when we provide a proposal. The good news is that for the most part a standard cleaning does exactly what it should. Therefore, our policy is to clean a window that has build up until it is the “as good as it will get”. We are only prepared to deliver just the one cleaning the same way that our customers expect the window cleaners to be in their private space for a certain time. This is how we will be training our staff to handle buildup going forward.


Buildup is a problem that we encounter with new customers primarily. That is because our old customers have us back frequently. Some new customers may wish to pay for a second cleaning. Just keep in mind that there is a limit however to what we can expect from our employees who are moving from one job to the next on the schedule for a single day. For this reason when we encounter buildup we are obligated to provide the one standard cleaning that we were hired to do. If the client wants to, we will make it our priority to schedule another window cleaning session on a mutually convenient schedule. Beware that we are usually booked solid a few months ahead during peak season. Also, we do not presume to know what is right for our customer’s budgets.

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5355 Northland Dr. NE Suite 210

Grand Rapids MI 49525

Tel. No. 616.914.0720

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