The Squeegee Dividend

By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, July 19, 2008

As you're preparing to sell your house, don't overlook the windows.

"When you're marketing a house, clean windows are like clean teeth," said Phyllis Jane Young, an associate broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in the District. "They're the first thing people see on the outside and the first thing they see through on the inside."

Home stagers -- interior designers who gussy up homes for sale -- agree. Alice Wilson, design director of Antique and Contemporary Leasing in Alexandria, said, "I can bring in antique armoires, oriental rugs and armfuls of orchids, but if the windows are dingy and streaked, the room won't shine."

But few housekeeping tasks can be as frustrating as cleaning glass -- countless products and techniques have been developed and yet the mirrors are often still fogged and rimmed with lint and the windows streaked.

Despite the claims for miracles in spray bottles, the pros we spoke with wash windows as they've done for centuries, with sudsy water. How simple.

Terry "Turbo" Burrows is a Guinness record holder and seven-time world champion window washer. (Yes, there is such a contest.) In England, he said, "we use Fairy Liquid [with water.] It's highly concentrated; it does not lose its suds; it attacks grease."

Fairy Liquid is not available in the United States, but Dawn, also manufactured by Procter & Gamble, has a similar formulation. "Window cleaners use all sorts of soaps," Burrows said. "But for us, it's the best."

But soap? Doesn't that leave . . . scum?

Nope, said Theo Czarniewy of Fragers Hardware on Capitol Hill, who polished his window-cleaning technique as a volunteer in the reptile house at the National Zoo.

Particularly challenging was the anaconda cage, with its expanse of glass. "It was a horrible job," said Czarniewy, leaning over the counter. "I'd clean it in the morning, and within two hours, the kids would put their hand prints on it. I saw a full face print once." (Of course, these cleaners generally don't leave scum because they are actually detergents, not traditional soaps. There are chemical differences between the two, though consumers -- and professional window washers -- tend to use the terms interchangeably.)

Czarniewy tried Simple Green and dishwashing liquid, but A-33 Dry Disinfectant Cleaner, a turbo-charged detergent available through dealers, was best for this particularly slimy task. "It's applied with a sponge, and then you squeegee across first and then straight down to eliminate the lines."

"I've got to start volunteering there again," he said. "It was the worst job but the most fun."

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