How a Karate Master Became the World’s Fastest Window Cleaner

So fresh and so clean. Photo: James Porto/Getty Images

It takes Terry Burrows less than ten seconds to clean more than 6,000 square inches of glass. The martial-arts specialist from Essex, England, holds the world record for clearing three 45-inch by 45-inch window panes with an 11.75-inch squeegee, a feat that earned him the nickname Turbo. Burrows has broken his own Guinness record ten times. He took a moment to explain his technique (and why he and Usain Bolt should rob a bank together).

How does one get into the speed-window-cleaning record-breaking business?
It all started because, rest his soul, my uncle had his own window-cleaning company. I started there when I was about 20. He was a perfectionist, my uncle. The windows had to be spotless. In 1995, I took my first world record. It was a BBC show called Record Breakers. It went from there. I’m down to 9.14 seconds now.

Did you practice?
Many moons ago, we had a big garden. On the back of a garden shed, I got a square window and fixed it up there. I knew I had the speed because I was a boxer from age 11 to 15, and then I was into karate, which is all about speed. I practiced the technique over and over again. It was very boring but it’s all about muscle memory. It was lots and lots and lots of preparation. But you have to go from cleaning one window to cleaning three. I stated thinking that I needed to start moving earlier. If you watch me now, I start moving to the next window before I’m halfway down the first one. It’s not just about cleaning the windows. It’s the actual coordination of moving from one window to the next. It’s a sequence. If you’re out of sequence, you’re never going to break the record. Each window takes me about 2.3 or 2.5 seconds to clean. As I’m cleaning, my body is already moving to the next one.

Each watermark you leave results in a half-second penalty. Is there a technique to sliding the squeegee to avoid leaving streaks?
At the beginning, you can start with the squeegee at the top. But when you move to the second and third windows, you can’t do that because your squeegee is wet. If you do, you’ll leave a mark. What you have to do is slide the squeegee up from about midway so you don’t leave a mark. This is where the martial arts come in. It makes a massive difference. You need the coordination of karate. That’s what the guys from around the world have trouble doing. I’m totally in sync and coordinated. Other people don’t do it right. The sequence is so precise. They have great trouble pulling it all together. They have no flow. That’s the hard part. I’m like a cheetah; I’m gone.

You’ve been all around the world cleaning windows on various shows. Any favorite encounters?
I had the great pleasure of meeting Usain Bolt a couple years ago on a television show. How great is that? The fastest man with legs meets the fastest man with hands. We could rob a bank.

Did you ever think you’d gain this level of recognition?
Yeah, I did. Especially in the beginning. BBC Record Breakers is quite well-known over here and it went out to Europe as well. Things go on from there wherever they go. And I’ve taken the Guinness world record ten times now, basically beating myself. It’s getting really hard. If I did beat the record again, it wouldn’t be by much. I might have a second to play with. It’s like asking Bolt to break his 100-meter record. I never say never. I have a show in March. I’ll spend a day warming up, and then I’ll go for it. You never know.

This Karate Master Became the World’s Fastest Window Cleaner