Spit and polish for a Seattle icon

SEATTLE -- The Space Needle is getting its first ever deep cleaning. Crews are pressure washing the 605-foot high Space Needle from top to bottom.

The Needle hasn't had a professional cleaning since opening for the 1962 World's Fair.

It got a new paint job in 1998 and 1999, but grime and dirt have settled in since then.

"It's like washing your car periodically," said Space Needle CEO Peter Beck. "You've got a paint job and you've got dirt particlulates in the paint. In order to prolong the life of the paint, a good cleaning, like on your car, is very valuable."

Crews with the cleaning company Karcher GmbH & Co. are only working at night after the restaurant and observation deck close, but they put in a few extra hours on Thursday to allow people to witness the process.

Three daring high angle cleaners hit the Needle with water that measured precisely 194 degrees.

Even though the sprayers use half the flow of a garden hose, the water shoots out at 3,000 pounds per square inch -- more than enough power to send the guy behind the hose flying.

"One thing we say is, it doesn't necessarily have to be fun to be fun. There are definitely times when I'm spinning in free space and I'm like, holy cow this is terrifying and I can't believe this is my job," said Matt Henry, rope technician.

And it's a big job with a huge challenge -- the crews aren't using any soap. That's because what they spray up ends up going down to the Seattle Center and the EMP. Splotches of grime run from the beams under the restaurant all the way down to the base.

"We don't intend to spray waste water with detergent on them. So we just use pure water. And this is quite challenging because the dirt on the surface is really stubborn," said Frank Schad with Karcher.

And as frightening as the cleaning job looks, crews say it's extremely safe.

"It's actually statistically safer than any industrial setting because of amount of preparation that's put into place," said Jan Atwell Holan of Skala. "Most industry does not have the safety culture that a rope access team does. It's exceptionally safe and statistically safer than just about anything else you can do in industry."

Part of that safety comes from the planning. Planning for the cleaning job alone took two years, and the job itself will take another six to eight weeks.

Karcher provides the high pressure cleaners and its expertise for free. The company has also donated its services to other monuments around the world, including Mount Rushmore.

The Space Needle's only expense is paying the subcontractor Skala for the rope technicians.

While the Space Needle didn't release the exact cost, CEO Beck says it's substantially less than the cost of repainting.

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