How to clean a skyscraper

10 April 2017

Skyscrapers are impressive structures that make up some of the world’s most impressive skylines – from New York City to London and Shanghai. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest on record, measuring 828 metres, 830 to the tip. It’s so big, in fact, that it even has its own Twitter handle.

With offices, hotel rooms, social spaces and function rooms in skyscrapers across the world, the windows – and the building itself – need to be spotless to showcase it in its best light. 

So how do these impressive buildings get cleaned? DCS Multiserve, a cleaning company in Newcastle, has put together some interesting insights on this most daring of tasks…

The conditions

When cleaning a skyscraper, there are a number of conditions and circumstances that are unique to that situation. The operatives are working at a height, meaning there’s an added risk (and fear), and they are exposed to warmer weather and strong winds, so need to be protected. Safety drills are an essential part of the job, and are performed regularly to make sure operatives know what to do if anything happens when they’re working so high up.  

It’s all in the equipment

Historically, cleaners at height have stood on window ledges holding onto the window ledge for support. As this eventually proved to be a dangerous method, leather belts were introduced to anchor workers into place, and later scaffolding platforms were also introduced. Today, there are many more options, depending on the scale of the work.

For cleaning at tall building or skyscraper level, cleaners operate on a rope and harness, tied into a Bosun’s chair, with a descent mechanism. The rope mechanism allows window cleaners to cover large areas very quickly. An anchor is mounted on the roof of the building, allowing cleaners to descend downwards – cleaning one floor and moving down to the next. 

An alternative form of equipment is the carriage; mounted on a rail, it holds multiple cleaning operatives and moves from left to right, cleaning big areas quickly. There’s also the boom, a more traditional piece of equipment, often permanent to the building that holds a platform of cleaners and is used whenever needed.  

For the equipment to clean the Burj Khalifa, 12 13-tonne machines were fixed to the buildings whilst the 36 cleaners did their work. Each covering 40 storeys, the machines were manned by workers inside metal cages. The machines, when not in use, are hidden in the building’s glass panels.

The cleaners themselves on the Burj Khalifa had somewhat traditional equipment – namely hot water and the stereotypical squeegee. They had to be protected from the extreme sun and heat they were exposed to whilst cleaning the skyscraper. They had to wear specialist clothing that looked like moonsuits and were only allowed to work in more protected areas.  

These things take time

The estimated time it takes to clean a skyscraper obviously depends on its size – the more windows, the longer it will take.

For the Burj Khalifa, for example, it was estimated that it would take 36 window cleaners three months to wash its 206 storeys of windows – 24,000 windows in total, equalling 120,000 sq. metres of glass!