The window washing industry offers an opportunity to build your own business from a single-operator business to a multi-van, multi-team operation. You can start up a small business for a minimal investment, then potentially grow that business into a thriving larger operation. If you’re confident in climbing ladders and don’t mind dealing with heights, then the window washing industry could be the start of your financial independence.
Window washing businesses generally provide services to homeowners, commercial building owners, or both. Property owners typically contract with these businesses for a variety of cleaning services. Often, window washing is a convenience, and hiring a professional means that cleaning the windows is one less thing that a property owner needs to worry about. In the case of multi-level homes, apartment complexes, tall commercial buildings, and city buildings like high rises, hiring a window washer is necessary, since property owners don’t have the equipment or the knowledge to safely do the job themselves.
Because windows need to be washed frequently, window washing businesses develop a body of returning customers and repeat business. Some develop contracts with businesses, returning at set intervals. Retailers also frequently use the services of window cleaning businesses.
According to IBIS World, the building exterior cleaners industry experienced a 2.0% growth from 2015 to 2020. This industry includes window washing, pool maintenance, gutter cleaning, and more, and serves both residential and commercial clients. The industry’s growth correlates with an increase in the client base caused by increasing households and businesses. An increase in per capita disposable income also meant that more clients could decide to outsource their exterior cleaning, rather than perform the tasks themselves.
In 2020, the industry was expected to reach $10.3 billion, with 108,107 businesses employing 160,111 people. The building exterior cleaners industry is predicted to continue to grow from 2020 to 2025. An increase in the number of businesses and continued growth in per capita disposable income is thought to continue driving the industry’s expansion. Reduced office vacancies and increased commercial demand also bode well for the window washing industry.
Some window washing businesses also provide exterior power washing. See the industry overview for power washing businesses.
Many trends, including new technology, are shaping the window washing industry. Prestige Property Services reports that commercial window washers are increasingly using abseiling to efficiently clean structures. Abseiling, also called rappelling, allows window washers to wash windows as they rappel down the building from its roof. This method has recently gained popularity for multiple reasons, including the quick setup, the amount of time it can save while on the job, and that a few washers can complete larger jobs. With no scaffolding and other logistics to worry about, abseiling is a trend that we’re likely to see even more of in the future.
Like many industries, the window washing industry is also being shaped by an increased awareness of environmental issues and sustainability. More window washing businesses are adopting pure water systems which use filtered, processed water that contains no impurities. With filtered water systems, window washers don’t have to use soap or chemical cleaners, which can have a negative impact on the environment. Businesses can also take other steps to go green, like using only green cleansers that are less harmful and avoiding the use of paper towels.
According to Interclean, technology will have a tremendous impact on the window washing industry from 2020 on. Some companies are using drones to clean tall buildings, making the job safer for employees and more efficient. While drones are relatively new in the window washing industry, they’re likely to quickly become popular because of the benefits they offer. Robots can also wash windows and are ideal for accessing those tough-to-get-to areas. In most cases, robots can be left to complete the job on their own, while drones require a human operator to guide them. Both options could increase efficiency and safety on the job.
In most cases, a window washing business will target both homeowners and business owners who either don’t have the time or the ability to safely wash their building’s windows themselves. Some businesses may specialize in certain types of window washing, like focusing on high rises in cities.
Skills, experience, and education useful in running a window washing business
While you won’t need a business degree to start a window washing business, certain skills and experiences are particularly helpful in this industry.
Window washing experience. Experience washing windows, especially experience working in a window washing business, will prepare a business owner for some of the challenges that they’ll face.
Attention to detail. The details matter in this industry. A business owner will need to monitor everything from quality control on the job to quotes to invoicing.
Safety training. Because window washing involves the use of equipment like ladders and scaffolding, and the work occurs at height, OSHA enforces safety training requirements for window washing businesses. Business owners should plan to invest in training, like the IWCA Safety Training Program, for themselves and their employees.
Customer service skills. Experience providing great customer service can help a business owner to build a positive relationship with customers, converting them into long-term returning customers.
Management experience. Previous experience hiring, training, and managing staff will help prepare a window washing business owner for the challenges of hiring and managing a team of employees.
It’s possible to start a residential window washing business for as little as $1,000, assuming you already have access to a vehicle that can be used for your business. Starting a commercial operation costs closer to $10,000 and up.
Common startup costs for a window washing business include:
- Cleaning equipment like hoses and tools
- Supplies like ladders and scaffolding
- An inventory of cleaning chemicals
- A business vehicle, or a fleet of vehicles for a larger business
Steps to Starting a Window Washing Business
Step 1. Write your Business Plan
After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your business should be to write a window washing business plan. Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.
Step 2. Form a Business Entity
A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation and LLC. Each type of entity has its own pros and cons such as liability exposure, costs and administrative requirements.
Related: Comparison of Business Entities
Step 3. Select your Location
It’s possible to start a small residential cleaning business right out of your home or garage, saving on initial rental costs. As that business grows, though, it may be time to rent a garage or other storage space for equipment and vehicles. Rental costs will depend on a property’s size, location, and available amenities, like air conditioning or security cameras.
Related: Choosing a business location
Step 4. Apply for Business Licenses and Permits
A window washing business will need to obtain certain business licenses and permits. These permits and licenses can vary based on the state and town where the business is located.
Some states require that the business owner and employees pass a safety certification program, especially for businesses that will be cleaning high rise buildings. Business owners may also be required to hold a window washer’s contractor license.
Additionally, there are some common local, state and federal registrations most businesses need include a sales tax permit or Employer Identification Number, among others.
Step 5. Find Financing
Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a window washing business is another. Funding to start a window washing business business can be difficult. In order to get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs.
Step 6. Get your Marketing Plan in Place
A window washing business will need effective marketing to establish and build its customer base. Common marketing techniques include social media marketing, online advertising, direct mail, and even picking up the phone and calling business owners directly. Referral programs and loyalty programs can also help to build a healthy customer base. Marketing costs will vary depending on the type and volume of each activity performed.
Step 7. Get Insurance
A window washing business needs several types of insurance for full coverage:
- General liability insurance protects the business if customers or their property are ever injured because of the business’ work. For instance, this type of insurance can help to cover medical and legal bills that could result if a customer tripped over equipment while walking into their building.
- High rise window cleaning insurance is a must if you’ll be tackling high rise buildings. This coverage provides additional liability protection because of the increased risk that comes with these larger jobs.
- Commercial property insurance can help to cover the costs of equipment or inventory that’s damaged or destroyed by an event like a fire.
- Commercial vehicle insurance covers any business-owned vehicles in case they’re ever involved in an accident.
- Worker’s compensation insurance helps to protect the business if an employee is ever injured on the job.
The cost of insurance policies will vary depending on factors like the business’ location, the types and heights of building the business works on, the value of its inventory, and the number of employees on staff. To get the most accurate idea of what to budget for insurance, request quotes from multiple providers. When you compare the quotes, don’t just look at how premiums stack up. Instead, consider all of the factors like coverage limits, exclusions, and deductibles.
Step 8. Hiring Employees
A business owner with a small residential operation can start off doing all of the work themselves, but eventually it will be time to hire employees. PayScale reports that window washers make an average of $15,64 an hour, though rates can range from $10.83 to $21.75 per hour. High rise window washers make slightly more; according to PayScale they earn an average of $17.50 per hour. Their income can range from $14 to $22.50 per hour.
In addition to budgeting for employee salaries, a business will also need to cover other expenses like paid time off, health insurance contributions, and workmans comp insurance.
Related: Hiring your first employee
Amazon has several books that go into detail on starting and running a window washing business:
- The Window Cleaning Blueprint: How to Make $500 a Day Cleaning Windows (free on Amazon Kindle Unlimited)
- Start Your Own Window Cleaning Business (free on Amazon Kindle Unlimited)
- Window Cleaning Marketing Guide: Get More Clients and Generate Revenue
How much can you potentially make owning a window washing business?
A business’ profits will vary depending on the business’ location, its specialization, the number of years it’s been in operation, and the number of cleaning crews on staff. Profitable Window Cleaning reports that a window washer working full-time can bring in as much as $8,000 per month. Keep in mind that other factors, like profit margins, will also affect income.
Things to consider before starting a window washing business
Because window washing often requires tall ladders and scaffolding, you can offer complementary services to increase your income. Pressure washing, gutter cleaning, and hanging holiday lights are all great options that can allow you to expand your service offering and potentially upsell services to existing customers. These additional services may also help you to bring in new customers and build your profits. If you live in an area with a cold climate, offering services like gutter cleaning and holiday light hanging can help to keep income coming into the business during the seasons when window washing slows down.