Edinburgh Stair Cleaning Memoirs

Edinburgh Stair Cleaning Memoirs, not the most obvious title for a mystery!

“How was your day today?” My wife asks.

“Oh, up and down” I reply.

This is a pretty accurate description of day brushing and mopping communal stairs in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh has thousands of communal stairs, some modern with shiny vinyl tiles, but most are either stone or a beautiful composite flooring like VeitchiFlor. A city bylaw requires common stairs to be cleaned weekly by tenants of the stair. As this can be dirty work, many residents pay for a stair cleaning service.

Over many years cleaning stairs, the vast majority of my customers were happy with the service I provided.


However, I also had a few customer complaints. For example some typical customer comments were, you didn’t brush under my mat! You didn’t mop the top landing! The detergent smell is too strong! The detergent smell is too weak!

Well, the reason I am writing this blog is to tell you about one particular complaint. When you have read all the facts, will you be able to solve the mystery, just like Sherlock Holmes would do. I mention Sherlock Holmes simply because of the link to Edinburgh, Arthur Conan Doyle, the writer who created the famous fictional detective was born in Edinburgh.

So, from the facts below, can you solve the mystery?

We will call this gripping investigation: “The Case of the Magic Water”

First to set the scene, the stair was brushed and mopped, on a sunny but cold Monday afternoon during February. Nothing made this particular clean noteworthy. Then on Thursday I receive a telephone call from a very concerned resident of the property. Apparently, after I had left everything was fine. The stair floor dried as expected and the stair looked and smelt clean. It remained fine all day Tuesday and Wednesday. However, at some point during Wednesday night the water had returned and now the stair was again wet. My customer was very concerned and wanted to know what kind of water I was using. Was it magic water? she asked. So worrying was this turn of events, that she insisted I return to the scene of the crime and explain myself!


Here are some facts:

  • The property is an old sandstone building, possibly Victorian or even earlier.
  • Located in Leith, a few miles from the River Forth and Leith docks.
  • The stair has three floors, ground, first and second.
  • The flooring is a composite floor common in Edinburgh.
  • The property has a main door at the front and two large sash and case windows.

When I arrive my customer repeats her concerns that I am using ‘magic water’. And I had to agree, the stair was very wet. In fact the stairs were far wetter than I would have left them. So, how had the stairs been washed, dried and then become wet again? Did someone in the stair wash the stairs again with an old string mop, leaving the floor soaking in water? Or did I use magic water?

Actually the reason for the wet stair was very simple. For some reason one of the residents had opened the stair windows during Wednesday, possible to get some fresh air into the stair. That night there had been a thick fog in Leith from the River Forth. During the night this fog had blown into the stair and through condensation had wet the entire stair flooring.

Over the years, I came across this problem a number of times in different stairs. Whenever it happened it was always referred to by us a ‘magic water’.