in The News

Window Washing History

The history books may claim that the 1933 invention of Windex™ is a milestone in the history of window cleaning, but commercial window cleaning veterans like Sunshine’s North Area Manager Bob Popenhagen tell a different story.  Bob, who has traveled the globe teaching the art of window cleaning, says that the use of pure water to clean windows started in the 1950’s. However, the commercialization of a full-scale system using chemical-free water to clean windows began in the early 2000’s.  

At the time, Bob worked for Iowa-based Tucker Manufacturing, a company that made aluminum poles.  The company also provided pure deionized water used to clean such delicate items as computer and medical equipment. Nearby at the University of Iowa, researchers were creating 20 to 80-foot expandable poles to clean buildings. Companies were using water and soap to clean commercial windows, using squeegees, but hard water often leaves hard-to-remove spots. Plus, the use of scaffolding was often dangerous and impractical in certain locations.  

Bob, who once worked with a company that provided large scale deionized water tanks to the military, noticed window cleaners, who purchased Tucker poles, were using deionized water with excellent results.  He and his colleagues then took the ingenuity of those cleaners and helped to create the Tucker Pole System for water cleaning. They worked with water companies to design portable systems for producing reverse osmosis water to effectively and safely clean windows, especially in hard to reach and high places.

Traveling throughout the United States and the world, Bob sold these new systems to companies in as far-flung places as Saudi Arabia, Australia and the United Kingdom. He remembers getting a lot of push back in Singapore, where more diminutive workers are more comfortable scaling elaborate scaffolding made of bamboo. In some European countries, the unions blocked the use of the poles. However, he was so successful in England that he spent two years there and watched the traditional squeegees become almost obsolete. 

He also used his engineering background to help develop a golfcart-like transporter to carry the reverse osmosis tanks.  Then, more than 20 years ago, he learned that Sunshine had purchased a water cleaning system that was not being used.  He convinced Sunshine Founder Larry Calufetti to hire him to implement the system with all window cleaning customers.  Bob started in Tampa, where Sunshine has – for more than 25 years — the window cleaning contract for the airport, one of the busiest in the world. Five fulltime workers spend 40 hours a week keeping every window at the 3,300-acre facility clean. He also supervises cleaning jobs throughout North Florida, including the football and baseball stadiums at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Today, the chemical-free, safe pole system that sprays pure water on windows remains the gold standard at Sunshine. Workers can safely reach up to five stories with the poles that are now made of fiberglass or carbon fiber. The result is streak-free windows. 

Humble about his involvement in the evolution of water cleaning, Bob simply points to the inventiveness of window cleaners.  “I just took the ingenuity of window cleaners and started marketing it around the world,” he explained. “The systems we use today have stronger motors for the reverse osmosis system and are more versatile.  We have self-contained tanks that allow us to access hard-to-reach areas where there is no access to a water source. 

“The water pole system remains the most effective, safe and environmentally friendly way to clean windows for both commercial and residential facilities.”