I clean the windows on a 740-foot skyscraper. The first time, I felt like I was going to die, but now it's freeing.

During my first ascent of the Leadenhall Building, standing at 224.5 meters tall (738 feet), I was overwhelmed by the height and felt a surge of panic. Witnessing tiny figures bustling below, I experienced an intense sensation that made me question my career choice. As a Brazilian living in the UK since 2013, initially working as a toilet cleaner, I was inspired by the window-cleaning professionals I observed outside and aspired to pursue that line of work.  

A skyscraper window washer in the cradle.
Da Silva in the cradle washing the Leadenhall Building. 
Lucas Da Silva

The 738-foot Leadenhall is the tallest building I've cleaned

I'd never been up that high, but I wanted to explore my limits. I was told that I needed to speak better English first. I put myself to English classes, and in 2017, I joined the window cleaning team at 5 Broadgate.

There is no formal training — you learn on the job and gain experience. It takes about a year to become a window cleaner. I've continued my studies, and I'm about to finish my level 5 BTEC — a specialist work-related qualification — and start a degree in public service.

I joined Advance Cleaning in December 2022. Since May, I've been in charge of window cleaning at the Leadenhall Building and have a team of five people working with me.

The building is unique: Each floor was designed to be narrower than the one below to avoid obscuring views of St Paul's Cathedral. We have three different cradles that have been specially designed to clean the windows.

The cradles are baskets suspended from the top of the building by wires. They are held to the building with sockets, so we're protected if the wind changes. We wear harnesses inside the cradle but never leave the basket — we care about our lives.

Cleaning skyscrapers is a slow and logistically complex operation

Our window-cleaning shifts start at 10:30 p.m. and finish at 2 p.m. the next day. Two of my team work overnight, from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., and three work during the day, from about 6 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Each cradle can hold four cleaners who can access two vertical windows at a time. We start from the top of the building with the cradle and clean that column of windows in a vertical strip all the way down. We call this a "drop." In good weather conditions, it takes about a day and a half to do one drop. If it's windy, it'll take two.

Before starting a new drop, we check the wind direction and position the cradle at the best part of the building to clean, not necessarily the next section. We take before-and-after pictures and use an online system to track our drops so I can see exactly what parts of the building need to be cleaned.

It takes 6 months to clean the whole building — and then you immediately start again

It takes about six months to clean the whole building.

By the time you finish one side, you start again. You never stop. Last year, we were about to finish the building when we got hit by the Sahara dust storm, which made all the windows dirty again. We started again the next day. It's endless.

The hardest part of window cleaning is working with the weather. We don't go out if the wind is over 15 miles an hour. If we're out on the cradle and we feel the wind changing, we'll check the conditions with an anemometer. If we can't continue, we take the cradle back up.

You never get used to the risks of working that high up

Lucas Da Silva, a window washer stood inside the Leadenhall Building.
Da Silva admires the view from the top floors of Leadenhall Building. 
Lucas Da Silva

Health and safety applies to every aspect of this job. It takes an hour at the beginning and end of each day to inspect our equipment, take pictures, and input everything into our system.

Before we get the cradle out, we mark out an exclusion zone below in case something falls: a squeegee, clothes, gloves — even dirty water, which can stain clothing.

When you're out there on the facade, the wind can pick up at any moment, and the gusts are unpredictable. The tall buildings on Bishopsgate, the street next door, create a wind tunnel, and the wind gains speed when it hits the building.

One time, we came out with the cradle and a gust hit us from below. We felt the cradle flying. It's scary because it's not in your control. You never get used to it.

My son thinks I'm brave and it makes me proud

My 13-year-old son thinks I'm the bravest person in the world. My friends say they'd never do this job themselves. Being told that I'm brave makes me believe it, and when I wake up early in the morning, it encourages me to go the extra mile.

My loved ones know where I've come from and where I am now. They see my resilience.

Everyone waves when they see us, even in the building next door. We wave back or we draw a smiley face on the window with soap. It's nice — we know everyone.

To most people, they're just windows, but we look closely at every pane of glass. I enjoy the complexity of the job and the details. When I see the glass shine, I feel proud.

The view from the top is like nothing I've seen before. You can see everything: the river, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London. Being up there and looking at the city gives me a sense of freedom.

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