Information - Reach & Wash

Reach and Wash
The System that revolutionised Window Cleaning

The window cleaning industry being a hot-bed of innovation and invention, who'd have thought it was possible? Well, it's true. Traditional window cleaning techniques haven't changed that much over time, but the reach & wash system was a revelation and a revolution.

It wasn't only a new concept (whoever heard of windows being cleaned by nothing but water!) but it also meant that windows above ground level could be cleaned without leaving the ground so it was safer for the window cleaner. It was also faster, cleaner, better for the environment, better for the windows and buildings it was being used on, and it helped to lower the costs of much high-level window cleaning. That's a lot of changes for an industry where a plastic bucket of soapy water, a sponge, and one of those new-fangled squeegees was as complicated as the tools got for most jobs.

What is a water-fed pole?

The Reach & Wash system is a water-fed pole system and the concept is quite simple. Here's how it works...

How to build a water-fed pole window cleaning system

The extendable pole means that it can be extended to reach windows above ground level. The longer the pole extends, the heavier it becomes, so the maximum height the average window cleaner can clean with a pole is around 65 feet from the ground before it becomes too unwieldy and heavy. New light-weight materials are extending that height limit by a few feet, but it's unlikely to exceed 70 feet by too much for practical reasons. Extendable poles of different lengths are available, with shorter-extending poles being lighter and more comfortable to use for most jobs. There are also different qualities of poles with the more expensive ones being quite rigid and controllable, while cheap fibreglass ones bend and twist when extended and can end up putting quite high pressures on the glass surface.

Soft filament brushes are important because it needs the soft filaments to help remove stubborn stains while ensuring that the glass and frames aren't damaged or scratched. These brushes are so kind to the surfaces that they are ideal for use on heritage properties and sensitive glass structures such as stained glass windows. Water is pumped through the middle of the brush to help control where the water flows and to make sure the window gets thoroughly soaked.

Water is delivered through a tube running up the centre of the pole and connected to the brush head. The other end of the tube is connected to a water tank via an electric pump. Water is delivered at very high pressures to ensure good flow and the ability to reach the maximum pole heights.

It's all about the water
Your windows are cleaned with de-ionised, pure, water

So far it all seems pretty simple, maybe even a bit Heath Robinson, and certainly not that revolutionary, but here comes the science and the clever bit. The water used in the water-fed pole system is pure water. We don't mean that it's water with no chemicals added, we mean that it's pure, de-ionised and de-mineralised water.

Ordinary tap water is full of dissolved chemicals and minerals, and bottled water (or "mineral" water) often has even more. Rather than being bad for us the minerals in water are essential for our health, but they're not very good for windows because when the water dries they end up leaving streaks and white deposits behind. The water used in water-fed poles is passed through a de-ionisation process. This can involve several stages of filtration depending upon the water source, with the resulting liquid being de-ionised water. Not a particularly healthy drink because it contains no minerals but very very good for cleaning windows.

Can de-ionised water really clean windows?

De-ionised water is brilliant at cleaning windows, but you don't need to take our word for it. You might remember your chemistry teacher calling water the "universal solvent". It's called that because water can dissolve just about any substance, and pure water (i.e. de-ionised water) is a very reactive substance. That doesn't mean it is dangerous to touch, but de-ionised water will dissolve small particles, chemicals, and minerals very quickly and easily and hold them in suspension. Since that's what the dirt on windows is made of, de-ionised water is just about the best thing we could use, and it results in very clean windows.

The soft-filament brush helps to dislodge any stubborn particles, and the constant stream of water washes away all the suspended dirt to leave a streak-free finish. Even if the windows look wet when they've just been cleaned, the water left on the surface is de-ionised and it simply evaporates away to nothing to leave no residue or white deposits. Just sparkling clean windows.

What makes the water-fed pole system so revolutionary is not any single element but the way it has all been put together into a single system.

Does it have any failings?

When it's used regularly it's probably the best way to clean windows, but if your windows have been cleaned in the traditional manner with water and detergent, then the first couple of times this system is used you might be wondering about the hype.

That's because no matter how good your window cleaner was, your windows will be coated with a microscopically thin, but very stubborn, film of detergent residue, and that film was built up each time your windows were cleaned. You won't see this film, and your windows might appear "squeaky clean", but that film is still there. What you probably didn't know is that the film that is left behind is pretty sticky. It actually attracts dirt and helps it to stay on the window more easily. The result is that your windows get dirtier more quickly. Imagine that, having your windows cleaned and the person cleaning them leaving a sticky chemical soup on the surface so they get dirty more quickly. Talk about a racket!

It can take a 1-2 washes with the water-fed pole system and de-ionised water to completely dissolve and remove that coating of chemicals, but by then your windows really will be clean. You just have to appreciate that the first time it's used the results might not be perfect - but they soon will be. The good news is that by using this method your windows are likely to stay cleaner for longer as there's nothing left for the dirt to stick to so easily.

It's also the case that some people just don't like it. There may be no rational reason for this, but some people prefer to see their windows being cleaned and dried by a squeegee. Windows cleaned with water-fed poles leave the window wet on completion. With traditional cleaning, if the liquid that was used was left, it would leave the window covered in streaks (which is why they have to be squeegeed in the first place!), but since water-fed poles use de-ionised water any that's left on window just evaporates away leaving no streaks or white marks - but you've sometimes got to see it to believe it.

Oh, and you can't use it inside because there's just too much water.

It's better for the environment and better for the buildings

What could be more environmentally friendly than pure clean water? That's all that's used to clean your windows - no detergents or secret ingredients - just pure clean water. It's better for the buildings, less likely to speed up the decay of paintwork (detergents are bad for painted windows), doesn't matter if some of the liquid spills on awnings, or flowerbeds, or other sensitive areas, because it's just water, and since it's de-ionised water it will just evaporate away without leaving any marks or stains.

Why don't all window cleaners use it?

We were one of the first companies in the UK to adopt the new reach & wash system because we saw the benefits straight away, and it's now fitted to all of our vans. Like all new technologies, there are some people who don't like to change, and since the first couple of cleans may not be perfect if there's years of sticky detergent residue to remove, some window cleaners dismissed it as being ineffective.

Now that it is being used more widely, more and more people are starting to see the benefits and appreciate that it is a superior system, but one fact that can't be escaped is that it can be a very expensive system to implement. With poles costing anything from £400 and up to £1400 for the longer carbon-fibre poles, and the costs to kit a van with water tanks, electric pumps, de-ionisation filters and reverse-osmosis filters easily running into 5-figures in some cases, it can simply be too expensive for some companies. However, after the initial costs, it does prove to be a faster system (no more running up and down ladders), more effective, less disruptive, easier to use, makes a much better job of cleaning windows, and ultimately it does save money with cost savings being passed onto customers in the form of lower bills - particularly when it comes to windows that can't be cleaned from ground level.

My Window Cleaner says it's rubbish

What can we say? We've heard it all. We've heard of window cleaners who say they tried it and it was rubbish, we've even heard of those who say they bought the system but don't use it anymore and it's sitting their "yard", "garage", it was "sold", or "put in the bin". We've even come across stories about window cleaners that have "won lots of new contracts" because customers were complaining and they wanted their windows done "properly". The problem is, we've still to find any evidence of it, and with more and more companies using this method there has to be a good reason for it. We still use traditional window cleaning methods so we're not knocking them. Sometimes traditional methods are the best solution because it's faster, quicker, or cheaper in certain circumstances, and sometimes it's the only solution such as when cleaning the inside face, but we still think (actually, we know) that the water-fed pole method is an excellent cleaning system, it's very effective, and it does a great job of the windows.

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