The earliest written references to squeegees date from the mid-19th century and concern deck-cleaning tools, some with leather rather than rubber blades. The name "squeegee" may come from the word "squeege", meaning press or squeeze, which was first recorded in 1783. The closely related "squeedging" was reportedly first used in 1782, in the Covent Garden Theatre, during the performing of the comedy Which is the Man? by Hannah Cowley.
The best-known of these tools is probably the hand-held window squeegee, used to remove the cleaning fluid or water from a glass surface. A soapy solution acts as a lubricant and breaks up the dirt, then the squeegee is used to draw the now water-borne dirt off the glass leaving a clean surface. Some squeegees are backed with a sponge which can soak up soapy water from a bucket for application to a dirty window.
Squeegees were in use for cleaning windows by 1918 when an American book on navy jargon explained that a deck-cleaning tool called a squeegee was "used in civil life to clean windows". This is the earliest written reference to a window cleaning squeegee given by the Oxford English Dictionary. (For earlier uses see "floor cleaning" section below.)
With the development of the skyscraper in the 20th century, a more efficient tool for the cleaning of window exteriors was needed. Professional window washers began using the Chicago squeegee, a bulky tool with two heavy pink rubber blades. Changing the blades required the loosening of twelve separate screws. The modern single-blade window cleaning squeegee was patented by Ettore Steccone in 1936; who dubbed it the "New Deal". It was made of lightweight brass with a very flexible and sharp rubber blade. Steccone began a manufacturing process and sold the product in his garage. The Ettore Products Co. is still the leader in the squeegee market today. Squeegee kits can include a telescoping pole to extend the washer's reach.
Simple squeegees are made in various shapes for household use, including the cleaning of shower doors, bathroom tile, and garage floors.
The "swivel method," or "fan method" as it is referred to by professionals, uses a series of strokes combined with turns that hold the water away from the leading edge of the squeegee; when the turn is completed in the opposing direction, there is no water and no dirt left isolated. Straight strokes, either horizontally or vertically, are normally much more efficient than “fanning” when using fixed handle squeegees; however, this method leads to more streaks and missed spots. If a few spots are missed, a chamois leather cloth works better for touch up than a towel of cloth or paper. 
In 1992 Willie Erken invented the pivoting handle squeegee. Known today as “Wagtail," this disruptive innovation changed the way professionals cleaned windows due to enhancing the ergonomics, speed and accuracy when performing the "swivel method” to wash and squeegee when cleaning windows.
Using a squeegee for window cleaning may sometimes produce run lines. These are caused by cleaning fluid being pushed up into the top edge of the window, or by fluid flowing from under the rubber blade into the dry area of the glass. The latter of these cases may be prevented by holding the squeegee at a slight angle relative to the direction in which it is being moved, directing fluid flow towards the wet area of the glass.
Another method used by window cleaners is to tap the blade on an already wet area of the glass to remove any excess water on the rubber blade. Alternatively the rubber blade can be dried with a towel, although this method is slower and not practical when using extension poles.
According to Guinness World Records, the world's fastest window cleaner is Terry Burrows of South Ockendon, Essex, England, who cleaned three standard 114.3-by-114.3-centimetre (45 in × 45 in) office windows set in a frame in 9.24 seconds at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham in March 2005. He used a 300-millimetre (11.75 in) squeegee and 9 litres (2 imperial gallons; 2.37 US gallons) of water.
This is often used in places that need the floors cleaned regularly, such as army barracks or the meat departments in supermarkets. Hospitals sometimes use the floor squeegee to clean up any spills that occur in operating rooms or regular patient rooms as the design of the squeegee lends itself towards a more sanitary clean up.
Decks of ships
The earliest quotations mentioning squeegees in the Oxford English Dictionary refer to their use in cleaning decks on board ship: in 1844 a "squee gee" in an American book, in 1851 a "leathern squilgee" in Moby-Dick, and in 1867 in a British book by Admiral William Henry Smyth. Additionally, Richard Henry Dana’s 1840 memoir Two Years Before the Mast mentions “squilgeeing” in Chapter XIV.
The following are considered correct English terminologies, according to the [Canadian] Naval Terminology Standardization Committee:
- deck squeegee;
- squilgee; and
Squeegees on broom handles were used for street cleaning in the later nineteenth century. This was the case in London by 1873. In the early twentieth century some cities in Europe and North America used horse-drawn machinery with rotating rubber squeegee blades on rollers behind a water tank connected to sprinklers. In 1911 this was described as "a German invention which has been for some years in successful operation in leading German cities". A US version of the rotating squeegee machine, known as the Kindling Squeegee or Kindling Street Washing Machine, was in use by the time of that description. It was manufactured in Milwaukee by Louis Kindling who had migrated from Germany to Wisconsin in 1873. By 1915 some streets in Paris, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia were being cleaned by this kind of machine, while London still depended on men with hand brooms and squeegees. In 1919 Kindling got a US patent for a design with "new and useful Improvements in Squeegee-Rollers", following another "improvements" patent for squeegee street cleaning machines filed in 1915 by the inventor and civil engineer Samuel Whinery (1845-1925) (resident of East Orange, New Jersey) and published in 1916.
In 1914, William H. Connell (Chief, Bureau of Highways and Street Cleaning in Philadelphia) explained that the street cleaning was done in batteries of "two and three squeegee machines preceded by sprinklers" reportedly about 200 yards (180 m) ahead. The American Highway Engineers' Handbook of 1919 reveals that this method was used in order for the water:
[...] to loosen up the dirt on the pavement without giving it time to evaporate. [...] The idea of sprinkling is to soften the surface and enable the squeegee to cleanse the streets of all slime as well as the coarser materials. The squeegees are followed by two men, whom immediately sweep up the windrows of dirt into piles, and a sufficient number of carts follow to remove the dirt from the streets.
The need for supporting labour and foot was seen as a disadvantage. Further more, the squeegee machines were pulled by horses, which would defecate on the streets which were attempted to be cleansed. Therefore, they were gradually replaced by mechanical street cleaning devices, which were introduced as early as 1911.
Printing and photography
In screen printing, a squeegee is used to spread ink evenly across the back of a stencil or silkscreen, making a clean image on the printed surface. Screen-printing squeegees usually have much thicker and less flexible blades than the window cleaning variety.
The earliest reference to a squeegee used for drying in photography is an 1878 description by chemist and photographer William Abney of squeezing excess water away. His squeegee had no handle, and was "a flat bar of wood, into which is let a piece of india-rubber about 1/2 centimetre thick and 2 centimetres broad." The user should note that "the india-rubber of the squeegee must be brought to bear with considerable pressure on to the surface of the paper, and the strokes made with it should commence from the centre and finish towards the ends."
Tennis courts sometimes have squeegees to help keep them dry and control the flow of water.
Small, hand-held plastic and rubber wedges with an edge formed as a blade are used in signwriting for the application of vinyl sheeting to decrease the possibility of air pockets. Signwriters' squeegees come in different models, some of which do not have handles, but are approximately the size and shape of a credit card.
A trick to remove pet hair is to use à squeegee.
Automobile squeegees are used in some universities to clean chalkboards.
During the September 11 attacks in 2001, window washer Jan Demczur used a squeegee to free himself and five others from an elevator shaft in the World Trade Center in New York City. The squeegee is now currently on display at the Smithsonian.
In popular media
- The idea of a squeegee has been used by Associate Professor Burkard Polster of Monash University, to illustrate the mathematical Kakeya needle problem.
- It is claimed that comedian Bill Hicks used the phrase "Squeegee Your Third Eye" frequently in his acts.
- The "Squeegee Weegee Gazette" is the official periodical of the Sausalito Yacht Club.
- "Weegee" is the pseudonym of the photographer Arthur (Usher) Fellig. One possible origin of his pseudonym is that it refers to his skills as a darkroom assistant (such an assistant is sometimes called "squeegee boy").
- "squeege". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
- Cowley, Hannah (1813). "The Works of Mrs. Cowley: Dramas and Poems (In three volumes)". London. p. 318. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
This Comedy was brought out at Covent Garden Theatre in the year 1782.
- Greenwald, Ken (December 13, 2014). "Squeegee". Wordwizard. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
[...] the OED [Oxford English Dictionary], which defines ‘squeege’ as a strengthened form of ‘squeeze,’ tells us that ‘squeege’ had been used as a verb some half century earlier than ‘squilgee’ came on the scene and gives the following 1782 nautical example. Also, to go from ‘squeege’ to ‘squeegee’ seems to me like a pretty logical progression: <1782 “Such clattering, and SQUEEDGING [‘squeeging’] down the gangway staircase.”—‘Which is the Man?’ by H. Cowley>
- Cowley, Hannah (1813). "The Works of Mrs. Cowley: Dramas and Poems (In three volumes)". London. p. 382. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
[...] At length, when the Assembly broke up, such Clattering and squeedging down the gangway staircase! whilst the little Footboy bawled up from the Passage [...]
- Logan Elsworth Ruggles, The navy explained, Appleton NY c1918
- "Meet Ettore Steccone". Ettore. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
After much trial and error, he patented his innovative new squeegee in 1936 and dubbed it the NEW DEAL.
- Howser, Huell (January 8, 2003). "Squeegee – California's Gold (5002)". California's Gold. Chapman University Huell Howser Archive.
- "The Ettore story". Italystl.com. Archived from the original on February 15, 2012. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
- "Pacific Window Washing". p. 3. Retrieved August 26, 2017.
- "Plenty of ideas, short of money". Australian Financial Review. July 21, 1997. Retrieved November 17, 2020.
- Adams, Dr. Austin (1995). "An Ergonomic Analysis of the " Wagtail " Window Cleaning Device". Wagtail.
- "Window Cleaning Guide". Retrieved February 6, 2014.
- dontwc. "Window Cleaning Video". Youtube.com. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
- "Fastest window cleaner". Guinness World Records. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
- "The World's Fastest Window Cleaner". Fastestwindowcleaner.co.uk. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
- Matilda Charlotte Fraser Houstoun, Texas and the Gulf of Mexico: or yachting in the New World, J. Murray 1844
- William Henry Smyth, The sailor’s word-book: an alphabetical digest of nautical terms, London 1st edition, 1867
- "squilgee [1 record]". TERMIUM Plus®. The Government of Canada’s terminology and linguistic data bank. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
- Once a Week magazine, London, 11 Oct 1873 pp323-326
- Marion William Grigsby, Modern Methods of Street Cleaning, Civil Engineering thesis, University of Illinois, 1911, pp29-31
- Wisconsin Historical Society
- Arthur H. Blanchard, Elements of Highway Engineering, Wiley NY 1915, pp379-384
- US patent 1297694
- "Street cleaning or washing machine - Patent US 1191489 A". Google Patents. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
- Finkel, Ken (November 11, 2014). "South Street Squeegee". The PhillyHistory Blog. Discoveries from the City Archives. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
- Finkel, Ken (December 13, 2014). "When Mechanization Took Command". The PhillyHistory Blog. Discoveries from the City Archives. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
- "squeegeee". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
- W. de W. Abney, A treatise on photography, Longmans 1885, 3rd edition
- Tarr, Martin (2013). "Screen and stencil printing". Online postgraduate courses for the electronics industry. UK: University of Bolton. Archived from the original on May 28, 2014. 
- Window washer’s squeegee handle in collection of National Museum of American History
- "September 11: Victims and Heroes – Jan Demczur". Archived from the original on November 14, 2008.
- Burkard Polster (October 25, 2015). The Kakeya needle problem (the squeegee approach) (Video). Mathologer. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
- Wilkey, John (September 22, 2009). "Squeegee Your Third Eye". Wilkey Way. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
One of my heroes, the late stand-up comedian Bill Hicks, used the phrase "Squeegee Your Third Eye" a lot in his act.
- Blasengame, Bart. "Matthew McConaughey". Men.Style.Com. Archived from the original on December 26, 2008. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
One of my heroes, the late stand-up comedian Bill Hicks, used the phrase "Squeegee Your Third Eye" a lot in his act.
- Brooks, Katherine (December 6, 2014). "Mesmerizing Nudes Show A Softer Side Of America's Darkest Street Photographer (NSFW)". Huffington Post. Arts & Culture. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
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- Lee, N. C. (2002). Reflow Soldering Processes. Elsevier Science. pp. 94–97. ISBN 978-0-08-049224-7. Retrieved July 25, 2016.
- Ross, J. (2009). Complete Printmaker. Free Press. p. 154. ISBN 978-1-4391-3509-9. Retrieved July 25, 2016.
- Chopra, K. L.; Das, S. R. (2013). Thin Film Solar Cells. Springer US. p. 238. ISBN 978-1-4899-0418-8. Retrieved July 25, 2016.