The Best Way to Really Clean Your Car Windows
See more clearly and drive more safely using this simple guide.
Cleaning your car windows is something you constantly mean to do and never get around to it. Every time you hop in and buckle up, your streaky, bug splattered windshield glares back at you (literally), begging for attention.
Sure, maybe you’ll give the windows a lazy wipe with the gas station squeegee once in a while, but you can do better. And it’ll only take you, like, ten minutes maximum. Seriously, this chore is so simple, you’ll be asking yourself why you waited so long to do it. Washing your car windows is like buying new sunglasses: You’ll be blown away at how much better you can see through them, after you’d become so used to peering around scuffs and scratches—or in this case, the greasy fingerprints, bird poop splotches and layers of caked-on pollen dust.
And we’ve got a few sneaky little tricks of the trade up our sleeves to share with you. For example, be sure to use an up-and-down motion to wipe the outsides of the windows and a side-to-side motion to wipe the insides. Why? Because if you see any streaks, you’ll know exactly which side to address. Read on to learn more hacks to make your car windows sparkle. So, windows: You’ve got the inside and the outside of each of them. Then you’ve got the windshields (ah, your portals to the road!), both the front and the back. Then there are the (presumably) four side windows: the drivers’ side and passengers’ side, both front and back.
Where to begin? Well first thing’s first (or rather, last thing’s last): Clean the windows last, after you’re finished cleaning the rest of your car. This way, you’ll be sure to get all that residual dirt and debris off of the windows that may have been relocated there from the roof or hood of your car. Before cleaning the windows, definitely use a vacuum hose attachment (or at least your hands!) to remove all leaves, twigs and debris from the area where your wiper blades reside. We’ll revisit the actual wipers later on.
We would begin with the outside of the windows, starting with the front windshield and back windshield. It’s best to wash your car’s windows while it’s parked someplace shady (but out of the line of fire from potential bird-filled telephone lines, ya know?). Not only will this prevent you from breaking a sweat, but if the temperature of the glass windows is too hot from roasting in the sunshine, it’ll cause your glass cleaners to evaporate too quickly to effectively do their job. If the windows are too hot, move the car and let the windows cool down before cleaning.
Start by dusting the windshields off with a dry rag to remove loose pollen and grime, so you’re not just rubbing it around once you apply the cleaner. If you skip this step, you’ll end up with all sorts of cute, smeary dirt crop circles on your windows and will have to apply the cleaner multiple times and use multiple rags, thus creating more laundry to do later. Translation: Skipping this step creates way more work down the road. And if your car windows are ultra dirty (like, embarrassingly dirty), you can use a water soaked rag to pre-clean them, but let air dry or wipe dry with a clean rag before applying a commercial cleaning product.
To most productively clean your car windows, you’ll want to use a commercial glass cleaner that is specifically intended for auto glass cleaning. Most regular glass cleaners contain ammonia which can damage your sweet tint job or erode the rubber seals around your car windows. We don’t want that. Now you can either spray the glass cleaner directly onto the windshield and wipe it with a microfiber towel or paper towels OR pour the glass cleaner into a bucket and apply it with a sponge. Best to follow the directions on the cleaner’s label, especially if it’s a concentrated formula and needs to be diluted. If your windows are especially grimy, the bucket and sponge method may prove more effective. Finish each window as you go by wiping it down with a clean, dry microfiber cloth once your glass cleaner has air dried, which will eliminate streaks.
For especially obstinate stains that somehow withstood your initial cleaning, like ooey gooey bug protein that’s been baking for weeks in the sun, you can spot clean with a variety of products. While there are specific commercial cleaning products geared towards this chore, you can also use basic household products like baking soda or isopropyl alcohol on hard-to-remove window stains. You can also try laying a rag soaked in your cleaning solution on top of the stains for several minutes before trying to wipe off the window again. Another tried-and-true tip is washing those windows with soapy water (we like to use Dawn because of its grease-fighting properties). This will banish those smudges, but you will need to rinse and dry the windows afterward.
Moving onto your side windows. Roll all windows down far enough that you can get your hand through them to clean off the top portion that nests inside the rubber seal, both the inside and outside. Allow the cleaning solution to air dry or wipe tops of windows dry with a microfiber rag before rolling the windows back up. Continue to spray and wipe down the rest of the exterior of each window in either a side-to-side or up-and-down motion. It doesn’t matter which direction you wipe, so long as you remember to wipe the opposite direction when you do the inside of the windows.
Remember our Pro Tip from the beginning of this article? If you wipe the inside and outside of the windows in opposite directions, it’ll be easier to diagnose any annoying smudges later on in order to spot clean them. Whichever way you wipe, start from the top and work your way down to prevent drippy marks.
And hey, while you’re wiping down your side windows, why not hit those side mirrors while you’re at it? Mirrors are glass too, ya know.
Okay, now hop into the car and wipe the insides of all your windows following the same guidelines as the exterior. Start with the front windshield, which is admittedly the most annoying one. Its sloped shape combined with the angled dashboard makes cleaning the bottom of the interior windshield somewhat of a challenge. Hey, they make tools for that! There are numerous microfiber windshield cleaners that come attached to angled wand handles, but we’ve got confidence that you will get creative. Use your shower squeegee and wrap your solution-soaked rag around it to get down into those narrow spots. Next, wipe down the insides of all of your side windows, now that they’re rolled up. Remember: Top to bottom, in the opposite direction that you wiped the exterior.
You’ll be surprised what you find in your own backseat, from friend’s tags scrawled on your windows to loose pocket items from past passengers. (You might want to use this rare opportunity of being in your own backseat to discard rogue gum wrappers, abandoned hair ties, broken sunglasses and miscellaneous mystery lip balms.)
Now hit the interior of your back windshield, which might require some advanced yoga moves, depending on your car model.
Back to those windshield wipers, as promised. As long as you’re using glass cleaning meant for automotive glass, you can use this to wipe down your windshield wiper blades, too. If you’ve cleaned the windshield but not the wiper blades, how long ‘til the wiper blade dirt wipes off back onto the windshield? Exactly.
If your car windows still have blatant grime on them (ugh!), it could be due to hard water. If there are crusty white spots clinging desperately to your windows, it could be from the magnesium, calcium or limestone in your water or perhaps water from a carwash that you’ve recently used. To clean hard water spots, which will actually leave long term stains on your car windows if not removed, you can make a DIY cleaning solution with distilled water, vinegar and rubbing alcohol. Add one tablespoon of white vinegar to a 1:1 mixture of distilled water and rubbing alcohol (typically a cup of each liquid should suffice). Put the mixture into a spray bottle and use it to spot clean hard water spots. Wipe clean and then polish the windows with a dry microfiber rag.
Pro Tip: If you’re really in a pinch or on the go and your car windows are ultra filthy and need an immediate cleaning, baby wipes are a good temporary solution and ought to do the trick.
So there you have it: a whole new view of the world from your drivers’ seat (and hopefully the passenger seat, too!). Now you can clearly see all upcoming traffic signals, accurately read the competitive pricing of the gasoline from that station across the street and keep an eye out for lurking cops strategically hiding on the highway median. Clean car windows certainly have their benefits.