How does Street Sweeping Work?

Mary McMahon

Street sweeping is an important part of city maintenance, and it is usually the responsibility of the Public Works or Transportation departments. Large trucks travel through the streets to remove garbage and debris, a crucial measure for safe driving, human health, watershed health, and aesthetics. The administering department sets up a schedule to ensure that all of the commercial streets in the city are swept on a regular basis, and frequently also attends to residential districts as well. With the cooperation of citizens, street sweeping works to keep cities around the world healthier and cleaner.

Street sweepers work to remove garbage from roads and curbs.
Street sweepers work to remove garbage from roads and curbs.

In most regions of the world, street sweeping is performed in urban areas with a high population density, rather than rural ones or small towns. Sweeping machines use jets of water and giant bristled brushes to remove garbage from the streets and scrub them clean. In some areas, the water is mixed with antiseptics, to remove urine and other unsavory and unhealthy waste from the street. The effectiveness of sweeping is greatly reduce by cars parked in the way, along with low hanging trees that must be avoided, and cities ask their citizens to cooperate with crews by moving their personal vehicles on designated days and keeping their trees and shrubs pruned.

While the most obvious reason to sweep the streets is to remove unsightly garbage, it is also important for other reasons. Many street drains empty into nearby lakes or the ocean, and street sweeping prevents garbage and some pathogens from entering the watershed. It also removes human health hazards from the streets, making them safe to walk around in. It also picks up debris that may potentially be dangerous to cars and drivers, reducing the number of accidents in the city.

Funding for street sweeping is usually part of a city budget, and street sweepers work for the city. In small incorporated areas, the city may choose to hire a private company, because they cannot afford machines and crews of their own. In general, street sweeping follows a specific schedule, but if a citizen calls to make a complaint, public works employees will investigate and dispatch a crew if necessary. Sweeping machines are also used after major public events to remove garbage from the streets and are sometimes used to enforce curfews by spraying late night revelers with water from their holding tanks.

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Discussion Comments


You know, I’ve always noticed the streets when they’ve been cleaned, and always appreciated it. However, I’ve just got to wonder what time of morning these people come through!

As of yet, I haven’t seen them strolling by and I’m not a particularly late sleeper. Is it on a schedule, or do they just go about their business at the same wee hour every morning wherever they left off the day before?

I can tell you, street sweeping is probably a job without a whole lot of stress, but I sure am glad I don’t deal with their hours.


As I grew up in a very rural community, a street sweeper was about as foreign to me as Southeast Asia was when I left the nest at the age of 18.

I began dating a young fellow who lived in a larger town/smaller city. I didn’t have a clue what all of the fuss about was when his whole family had to have their cars moved one evening.

It was almost like these people were on a mission to make sure their cars were not parked in their usual places along the street.

You know how you always feel that your boyfriend’s family is just a little weird and are always doing slightly odd things? Well, that’s just what I thought about their habitual moving of the cars on occasion.

I was embarrassed to ask why, but I really should have. It was my car that was in the way of the street sweeper on his way by several months into our relationship.

I felt like a total idiot for not joining the car moving extravaganza then.


@LTimmins - Many people feel bad for workers who do these basic city service jobs but they actually get paid quite hefty wages! At the high end, they can get up to 70k for operating a street sweeping machine.


@jonrss - That's such a simple but brilliant idea! A great way to make people remember and be more aware of city services like that. All too often, people tend to be blind to city service workers who have to do the dirty work on the streets. Isn't it strange how they're always out there but still seem to be behind the scenes?


@manykitties2 - I guess it would be fascinating to kids, even though it's not the nicest job in the world! For a while I used to wonder why the streets always seemed wet very early in the morning even though everything else was dry. Finally I woke up early enough one day to see the street sweeper machines doing their rounds and washing the roads.


I live in St. Louis and the city has painted most of our street sweepers with the logos and colors of our major sports teams, the Cardinals, Rams and Blues.

I think this is a great idea because street sweepers are kind of ugly and annoying to begin with so this just makes them a little less hard to be around.

I also like the way this program links municipal services with a certain kind of city pride. People love the Cardinals. They should try to love the street sweepers too. They do a lot for our city.


I grew up in a very densely populated area outside of New York City and I remember the street sweeping was a big deal up there.

There were certain days that you could not park your car on a specific side of the street and had to try your best to find another parking space. This was really hard because most of the homes in my area did not have garages so it was harder to find a place to park during that time.

Most of the parking was off street parking, but luckily the street sweepers usually came in the morning when most people were at work. After a while you do get used to the schedule but it is a little inconvenient at times because if you work a little later in the day, you would have to get up and move your car and find a place to park it or get a ticket and get towed.

Now that I live in Florida, I don’t have this problem.


For those that own their own homes it is a good idea to make sure that the gutter near your home isn't too filled with debris so that the street sweepers can properly do their work. Often your city will have a website that lists the schedules of garbage pickup times and street cleaning.

For my property I always make sure to make sure that nothing too big has fallen into the gutter alongside my yard. Sometimes you'll find things like large branches and car parts that have mysteriously appeared. Removing these can really help the city, as their street cleaners don't have to stop and start again to get by.


When I was younger I always thought it was interesting to watch the street sweeping machines go through our neighborhood. I never knew when they would be coming by but I liked to see the difference on the street after they had left. I remember my friends and I used to move leaves into the street gutters so we could watch the street sweepers clean them up.

While I suppose that adding more to the street sweepers work wasn't the best thing to do, but we were curious kids. It was pretty fun to watch the little lines of leaves we had laid out get taken away.

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