Window Washing FAQ

Okay, let’s face it: Washing windows isn’t rocket science.  Everyone pretty much understands the basic concept of applying soap and water to a pane of glass and using a squeegee to leave the surface sparkling and crystal clear.  But this simple concept grows more complex when you factor in the dizzying number of variables that must be accommodated when setting out to clean windows in your home or business—height, configuration, accessibility, shape, environmental factors and the presence of various “specialty” window treatments (security bars, storm windows, screens, tints, etc).  And, on top of these considerations, is the biggest factor of all: Time.  Who doesn't love crystal clear views, but who wants to spend a day multiple times each year to set up and wash a bunch of windows? 

It is for reasons such as these that property owners often decide to seek the help of a professional window cleaning service. 


  1. Why wash windows at all?
  2. How do I get started?
  3. What should I expect to pay to have my windows cleaned?
  4. What should I expect on cleaning day?
  5. How long will it take to clean my windows?
  6. How often should I have my windows cleaned?
  7. Why are my windows spotted, cloudy or stained even after cleaning?
  8. My friend says that her window cleaner scratched her windows.  Is this a problem I should be worried about?
  9. Do window washers provide other services?

Why wash windows at all?

The last 20 years has brought about an amazing revolution in window technology, both in design and the ability to keep changes in outside weather from interfering with carefully controlled interior climates.  This new technology has allowed modern  architects to incorporate larger and larger expanses of glass in their designs as a wonderful way of making our homes and businesses light, airy and open.  In fact, when properly done, windows are an art form that nobody consciously notices--after all, we're supposed to look through them, not at them.  And therein lies the problem: Grungy, dirty windows have precisely the opposite effect structural designers were hoping to achieve--our homes and businesses end up looking dark, unkempt and (pardon the pun) a "poor reflection" on us as owners.  It feels more like a warehouse than a home.

When the dust and grime become too much of a visual impediment most home owners reluctantly scrounge up a roll of paper towels and a bottle of glass cleaner in a half-hearted attempt to remedy the situation (and let's don't even talk about the risks associated with climbing up ladders!).  Unfortunately, glass improperly cleaned results in unsightly streaks and smears that can actually look worse than if the window dirt had just been left undisturbed.

No wonder most people hate washing windows!  Don Aslett, well-known janitor-turned-author of housekeeping books has noted that polishing windows is one of the most disliked home chores, second only behind cleaning bathrooms.

So what's a harried homeowner or business manager to do?  (After, of course, the dominant male member of the household or office swaggers in and says he can do the job only to find out firsthand what the dominant female member of the household or office has known all along: There is more to this than first meets the eye!)

Fortunately there's a simple and effective answer.  For a surprisingly small sum (usually between $100 and $200 for an average-sized home) service professionals like we at Crystal Clean can have your home's "eyes" bright and shining--A thing of beauty, if we do say so ourselves. We think you'll be amazed at the improvement in your property's looks.  

Thinking about selling your house?  Believe it or not, simply washing windows can improve your property value.  According to the June 2003 issue of Money magazine, washing windows is the pre-sale improvement with the best return on investment as measured by higher selling price (click here for details).  

And if you need additional reasons, washing windows can most definitely lift your spirits.  Many of our customers report that they gain a real emotional boost from shiny glass and a much "brighter outlook on life" (Sorry! Yet another pun requiring your pardon!)  Thinking about the experience in that way, how much are you willing to pay for improved mental health :-).  As one of our customers says, "it's a heck-of-lot cheaper than Prozac!"  And, we note, a lot better for you than eating a whole carton of ice cream in a single sitting!

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Suppose I'm interested in having my windows cleaned. How do I get started?

Before contacting a prospective window washer, you should note some facts about your property. How many windows do you have? Are there storm windows involved?  Do you have security grates? Are there multiple panes in each window? How many? Do the windows open in, slide up and down, tip out? Are they old or new? Are they dirty enough that they’ll need to be power-washed or scraped?  Is ladder access required for some or all of the windows?  By taking these factors into consideration, the service provider should be able give you a pretty good quote over the phone, thereby avoiding the need to take time off from your busy schedule to meet for an on-site estimate. The better the information you supply, the better the quality of this initial quote.

For many jobs, a simple phone quote can often establish a working price from which you can make the decision to go ahead and schedule a service visit—the price for any “specialty” window installations can be negotiated on-site before work is begun.  Not surprisingly, should you insist on a firm phone bid, the service supplier will likely inflate his/her price to cover unknown contingencies.  Generally phone quotes work best if both parties treat the discussion as more of an estimate subject to appropriate tweaks (e.g., up or down 15%) rather than a cast-in-concrete contract. 

In cases involving more than a straightforward cleaning circumstance, however, it is customary for window washers to provide a free estimate (be sure and confirm this before the service provider makes the trip).  Unlike phone quotes, written bids that are based on a visual inspection of the property should be considered firm by both client and service provider, absent circumstances or changes that require labor not included in the original bid submission.

At Crystal Clean, we're happy to provide free customized bids good for up to thirty days. 

Do a little homework before you select your window cleaner.  Like most anything else in life, cheapest is not necessarily the best.  Does the firm have a good professional reputation?  Can you trust them, not only to do the work in the time and manner promised, but with access to your home or business?  Are your window cleaners people that you'll feel comfortable being around your family or customers?  Simply put: "Are they worthy of your trust?"

At Crystal Clean we take great pride in our reputation for quality work and impeccable service.  In fact, most of our new clients are from referrals--the ultimate vote of confidence in our work.  We deeply value and appreciate our clients' trust and will never, ever violate the confidence they've lent us.  In addition to our published testimonials, we'll be happy to supply references upon request.

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What should I expect to pay to have my windows cleaned?

There are three general methods of pricing: (1) Per window, (2) Per job or (3) Per hour with an estimate of the time necessary to complete the job. In addition, some companies have minimums and/or charge for estimates. The most common method of pricing (and the one we use at Crystal Clean) is a basic rate per window or window equivalent.  It is a good idea to inquire about a discount if you have a larger job, as many vendors will negotiate a better price if there is a substantial amount of work to be done. For a standard window (a window that has two frames that slide up or down) you can expect a price range from $4 to $10 (which includes washing both inside and out).  Ask about the cost of removing and replacing screens—sometimes this is a separate charge or can be included in the rate for the basic window.  Specialty windows or storm sashes often carry an additional fee, which can, depending on the situation, be as much or more than the rate for the underlying standard window, since such treatments invariably involve extra time and trouble.  These fee additives are sometimes quoted as a flat rate or they can often be an “ad hoc” quote developed specifically for the circumstance and situation.

Click here to learn more about how we at Crystal Clean price our services.

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What should I expect on cleaning day?

You naturally should expect your window cleaners to be on time, neat in appearance and always courteous.  Sadly, many of our clients have learned the hard way that these expectations are often unfulfilled by other window cleaning companies.  It's always a bit scary when you open the door and find that your home or business is about to be invaded by a leering, unkempt fellow with more tattoos than teeth!  You'll want a reputable service provider of high character that will show the utmost respect for your home and family members.  

Before the appointment time you might want to clear a path to the windows to facilitate the process. This is especially true when storm windows are involved, since the storm sashes often must be manipulated from inside and will thus require the area around the window be clear of obstructions.  By all means, move that antique table and the priceless lamp. Clear objects that may obstruct access from sills and window seats. Draw back your curtains and window treatments. 

At Crystal Clean we typically will start inside, removing any storm sashes and preparing the windows for cleaning.  We'll then clean the storm windows (usually in the same room as the windows to which they belong--always taking great care to tarp the floor around the washing station to prevent drips), followed by the interior surfaces of each window.  If required, we'll also unlatch the screens in preparation for window access from the outside.   Outside we sweep out and clean sills, wash the exterior surfaces of all windows, dust  and replace screens.  Then we go back and detail each window to make sure we haven't missed any spots (always removing or covering our shoes to insure that all we leave behind is "simple brilliance").  Finally, we reassemble any storms, relatch screens, replace drapes and furniture and making sure everything is back in it's place (you'll forgive us, but we often find it hard to fully close blinds and drapes, covering up our newly dazzling work!)

At Crystal Clean, our goal is to earn your trust and respect.   If it makes you more comfortable, we encourage you to schedule free time on window-cleaning day so you can monitor the process, but we're equally comfortable working in the house should you need to be away during all or part of the work.

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How long will it take to clean my windows?

The amount of time required is, not surprisingly, a function of the size and complexity of your job. Storm windows add time; security bars even more.  Multiple panes in each window ("cut-ups" in trade lingo) require a great deal of detail work to complete.  Single story buildings take less time than multiple floors requiring ladder work.  With all that in mind, the typical home can usually be done in half a day.  Homes and business with more complexity can easily run one or more complete days.

Your service provider should be able to give you a pretty good estimate of the time required, taking all your specific factors into consideration.  At Crystal Clean, we've developed a sophisticated computer spreadsheet that very reliably predicts the time required for any given job, in addition to generating attractive and easy-to-read detailed bids and invoices.

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How often should I have my windows cleaned?

A professional window cleaning twice a year is usually sufficient, but if your residence or place of business is particularly exposed to the elements of city life you may need cleaning more often. Spring and fall are generally the busiest times of the year for this industry: an early spring cleaning will remove any dirt and grime left by winter rains and frost, and a scrub in the fall will wash away spring and summer’s pollen, bugs and dirt. Be sure to call well in advance if you want your windows cleaned at peak times. At Crystal Clean we'll drop you a note at least once each year as a courtesy reminder.

We also offer discounted recurring cleaning programs. We help you to create a cleaning schedule that is both affordable and effective at keeping your windows clean year round. The idea is simple; the more you use our service, the cheaper each cleaning becomes and the whole process becomes automatic: We show up at the agreed-upon time, do our magic and leave you with sparkling views the whole year round.  Our most popular recurring residential program cleans exterior glass surfaces every quarter coupled with interior cleaning on a six month's basis.  Your individual needs will vary based on your locale and variables such as children, pets and the amount of cooking and entertaining that you do.  Businesses often have more frequent cleaning needs.

Think of it like your lawn or housekeeping services; The job is done right. On time. No hassle.

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Why are my windows spotted, cloudy or stained even after cleaning?

Sometimes windows won't "come clean" in spite of a window cleaner's best efforts.  There are two main reasons for this:  1) Insulated glass seal failure and 2) staining at the glass surface.

Insulated Glass (IG) seal failure

Insulated glass (also known as "double pane" or "thermal pane") windows are constructed from two pieces of glazing sealed together at the factory with the air gap between the two panes acting as a thermal insulator. Virtually all new construction for the past 20 years has employed this window design.  With increasing age and exposure to the elements, the factory seals in even the most expensive windows will break down, allowing condensation to invade the interior space between the panes, creating a wet, foggy, gray or white corrosion (as a general rule, the more expensive the window the longer before this condition appears). This contamination cannot be removed. While this condition doesn't significantly affect the weather-tightness of the window, the only way to restore the original beauty and transparency of the window is to replace the affected glazing.

Mineral, Chemical or Mechanical Stains

Some of our clients are surprised to learn that glass, like many other otherwise durable materials, is susceptible to cosmetic stains that remain on the surface of the glass in spite of conventional glass cleaning techniques.  These stains in no way affect the structural integrity of the glass; they are simply unsightly, especially in direct light.  Sometimes they appear as small bubbles and runs, sometimes as a bluish/whitish haze.  These stains are caused by a wide assortment of external environmental factors including construction acids, welding slag and deposits left behind as a result of chemical or mechanical interactions at the glass surface usually involving runoff from mortar, brick, stucco, roofs, metal screens or sprinkler systems.  At the highest level these stains can be grouped into two broad categories--those involving burns from chemical or welding sources and those caused by mineral action at the molecular level of the affected glass.

As a general rule, stains resulting from chemicals or welding are optically fatal--replacement of the damaged glass is usually the only economically feasible way to correct the severe pitting and corrosion that results. 

Mineral stains, depending on the elements involved, can sometimes be successfully addressed without the need to replace the glass, depending on which mineral family is involved.  Most mineral stains are the result of three mineral culprits: Silicon, Calcium and Magnesium. Calcium and Magnesium stains are the most common (since ions of these two are in virtually all potable water to varying degrees) and tend to be easier to address because although stubborn, they tend to mechanically bond to the glass and can often be removed with a very fine abrasive specially designed for cleaning glass surfaces, sometimes applied via orbital power tools to reduce the amount of elbow grease required. 

Silicate-based minerals present bigger and less certain challenges.  Because glass IS a silicon material, silicon-based minerals tend to chemically bond with glass.  The only way to remove these stains is by actually removing the thinnest possible layer of glass, resurfacing it, if you will.  This involves some nasty acids and/or aggressive polishing, both of which can alter the optical properties of the glass.

Addressing glass stains, regardless of the cause, almost always requires special labor, equipment and chemical agents.  This area of window cleaning is often referred to as "Glass Restoration" and is performed at an additional charge and usually will require a separate appointment.  For all the reasons described above, results will vary and cannot be guaranteed.

Q. What is the cause of most glass stains?

A. Sprinklers. Adjusting sprinklers so they don't spray on windows and doors eliminates the most common cause of "hard water" staining on glass.

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My friend says that her window cleaner scratched her windows. Is this a problem I should be worried about?

All substances can be rated according to their "scratchability," that is, if a specimen can be scratched by a known mineral, it is softer than that mineral.  If it in turn will scratch another known mineral, it is harder than that mineral.  One formalized rating system of scratch hardness is the famous Mohs scale, which establishes a comparative ranking of common minerals with diamonds rated at the top as a 10 and talc rated as the softest at number 1.  Other common household items can be ranked in this system as well:

2.5

Fingernail

2.5–3

Gold, Silver

3

Copper penny

4-4.5

Platinum
4-5 Iron
5.5 Knife blade
6-7 Glass
6.5 Iron pyrite

For purposes of the question at hand, substances with a higher Mohs rating higher than 6.5 will tend to scratch glass; substances with a lower rating won't.  While the brass, plastics and rubbers used by window cleaners are never suspected of scratching glass, many people automatically assume that the razors on every window cleaner's tool belt are suspect.  But a close examination of Mohs scale clearly shows that steel (knife blade) and glass are very close to one another in hardness.  It's a fact that new razor blades simply can't scratch glass. Many window cleaning conventions will feature a booth where participants are given a razor and a sample piece of glass which they are asked to intentionally scratch.  Even when the glass is subjected to punishment that would never be seen in the course of any window cleaning, scratches can't be produced.

So what does?  Using the relationships captured in Mohs scale, anything with a higher number than glass will scratch it.  That includes aluminum oxide (sand paper), ceramics and corundum.  Many common building materials such as mortar and stucco contain substances that will quickly scratch glass as well.  The window cleaner is the last in a long line of tradespeople who have come in contact with glass in new construction environments (carpenters, painters, masons, floorers, and drywallers), they are often assumed to be the culprit when in fact, they only uncover what has been hidden by the dust, mud, dirt and grime that are prevalent on every construction job site.

Fabrication Debris

There is one other source of scratched glass that is relatively new and is becoming alarmingly more pervasive: an increasing problem with defects in poorly tempered glass known in the industry as Fabrication Debris.  "Fab Debris" consists of microscopic particles left on glass as a result of tempering--a re-heating process used to make shatter resistant glass for use in shower doors, entryways, doors and windows.  As building codes have been revised to increasingly require tempered glass, the demand for tempered glass has also increased, putting pressure on tempered glass fabricating processes.  If tempering ovens are not meticulously maintained, they can cause microscopic particles (known as "fines") to be left on the roller side of tempered glass as it moves through the oven.  Undetectable by the unaided human eye, these fines become ticking time bombs. 

When dislodged during normal cleaning processes, this fabrication debris is dragged across the glass, leaving hundreds of tiny scratches, which are many times not noticeable except under specific lighting conditions. 

Because of the increasing pervasiveness of this problem, many window cleaners are now requiring signed waivers before doing any work on tempered glass.

Click here for an in depth discussion on the topic of fabrication debris, it's cause and solutions.

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Do window washers provide other services ?

Window cleaners often offer a variety of other services, from cleaning screens and gutters to installing mini-blinds, curtain rods and shades.  Some offer basic pressuring washing of canopies, awnings, sidewalks, garages and greenhouses—some even will even be happy to clean chandeliers and/or replace light bulbs in those high ceiling fixtures. 

Forget about trying to clean those large, over-sized bathroom mirrors!  Let your glass cleaning professional take care of them while on the job for a beautiful and trouble-free fogless reflection!

Shoot!  We have the ladders and aren't afraid of heights, so we've even been known to hang our share of holiday decorations and lights

If you are pleased with your service provider, ask about other projects you might like them to do.  Who knows?  Now that you can see through your windows again, you might notice all kinds of things that you’d like to have them do while their ladders are out!

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