How To Clean Car Windows: So Clear You'll Forget They're There

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If you’ve owned a car for some time, you’ve probably realized that keeping your car windows as clear, streak-free, and smudge-free as they were when the car was newly purchased isn’t as easy as it seems.

Washing them with soap and water daily helps to remove larger contaminants like dirt and rock bits, but it may not be enough to get that super-clean, super-clear look that you see in car window cleaning ads. That’s because it’s not just dirt you have to deal with; there’s also industrial fallout, bird droppings, dead bugs, debris, and other contaminants that get kicked up by the tires of other vehicles.

To effectively clean your car windows, you need the right cleaning technique and the right cleaning products.

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Table of Contents

Be Careful With Window Cleaning Products That Contain Ammonia!

Be Careful With Window Cleaning Products That Contain Ammonia!

Many window cleaning liquids or sprays on the market contain ammonia, e.g. Windex. This is because ammonia is an affordable and readily available cleaning agent, and also because it easily breaks through oil smudges and grease buildups.

Picture of Ammonia molecule

However, ammonia-based cleaning products are not recommended for auto-glass cleaning. Ammonia can dry out or harden the plastic or rubber seals around your car’s windshield, so it can cause your windshield to become loose or even detach completely. Ammonia is bad for car window tint as well. Not only does it cause tint to peel off, but it also ruins it. Ammonia is also known to cause streaks on car windows, which are sure to negatively affect your visibility while driving.

In addition, ammonia can cause skin irritation or burns. Its fumes may even cause respiratory tract irritation, so you should never use ammonia-based cleaning products in enclosed spaces that have poor ventilation. These fumes get especially toxic when ammonia is combined with bleach, so you also shouldn’t mix ammonia-based cleaning products with other cleaning agents.

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Use Scratch-Resistant Microfiber Towels Over Other Kinds Of Rags Like Paper Towels

Back in the day, many car detailers recommended the use of newspapers for car window cleaning, and paper towels were also widely used for the same purpose. However, today’s car detailing market offers far better alternatives.

Newspapers are easily accessible and won’t cost you much, but because newspaper material doesn’t hold together well when wet, it leaves fibers in the corners and along the edges of car windows. For the same reason, paper towels are no different. Also, newspapers and paper towels are not effective in removing oil from glass surfaces.

What you should get instead are scratch-resistant microfiber towels. These aren’t like ordinary cloth towels; they’re more absorbent and also dry faster. Microfiber towels are also highly effective in trapping and picking up dirt thanks to the way their fibers are laid out. Very importantly, these towels are soft, which is why they’re referred to as scratch-resistant towels, and finally, they don’t leave any residue.

Cleaning Supplies You’ll Need

You’ll need several microfiber towels when cleaning both the outside and the inside of your car windows. You’ll also need your ammonia-free car auto-glass cleaning product. If your car windows have a lot of grease and grime, however, you may need an additional cleaning product that handles such heavy-duty window cleaning needs.

In addition, you’ll need a bucket and distilled water if the cleaning product needs to be diluted. You can use a sponge to apply the diluted cleaning agent onto your car windows and windshield. A window mop with an articulating head can also come in handy.

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How To Clean Car Windows (Outside Windows)

When cleaning the outside of your car windows, you first spray the cleaning product onto the car window evenly. Then, fold one of your microfiber towels twice and use one side of the folded towel to spread the cleaning product to every corner of the car window as you wipe. Wipe in circular motions to dislodge the dirt and grime.

Once you’re done with that, flip the towel and use another side to wipe the entire surface of the car window, only this time using the ‘box’ wiping method: first, wipe along the four sides of the window, then up to down from one end to the other, and finally, side to side from top to bottom.

How To Clean Car Windows (Outside Windows)

The next step is to clean off embedded or hard-to-clean contaminants like tar, iron particles, or various forms of industrial fallout with the help of a clay bar and a clay lubricant. You first spray the clay lubricant onto the car window and then gently scrub the entire surface of the car window using the clay bar. Use top-to-bottom and then left-to-right motions. After that, use a fresh microfiber towel to wipe off the displaced dirt and contaminants using the box wiping method.

Repeat the entire process for each window. When you notice your microfiber towel becoming saturated with dirt and grime, get a fresh towel and continue.

How To Clean The Inside Of Car Windows

The insides of your car windows also get oily and dirty with time. When sunlight beats down on the plastic, vinyl, and/or leather materials in your car, it causes these materials to release gases and oils that collect on the inner surfaces of your car windows, forming hazy, oily chemical films that impede visibility.

When cleaning the insides of your car windows, open the doors of your car wide to get better access to the corners. Spray or apply your cleaning product of choice evenly onto the car window and use one side of one of your microfiber towels to spread the cleaning product, first wiping it across the window using circular motions. Then, flip to an unused side of the towel and wipe the entire surface using the box wiping method, just like you do when cleaning the outside.

Repeat the process on every window. When cleaning the inside of your windshield, use a window mop with an articulating head to get to the hard-to-reach corners and edges. Wrap a microfiber towel around the head of the mop and wipe the windshield using the methods described above.

Tips For Cleaning The Windshield

Be sure to clean the outside of the windshield before you clean the inside. When you do so, you’ll be able to see the dirt and grime on the inside more clearly.

Remember, the windshield is an integral part of your car’s body structure, so when cleaning it, you shouldn’t do anything that might affect its structural rigidity. Windshield glass expands and contracts according to the temperature. When exposed to sudden changes in temperature, the rapid expansion or contraction may cause the glass to form cracks and weaken, so never pour boiling water or hot cleaning solutions onto your windshield when cleaning it.

In the winter, you shouldn’t clean the windshield on the outside when the temperatures are at freezing or below; not only will this weaken the windshield, but it will also prove almost futile because it will be much harder to dislodge the dirt and grime. Instead, do the cleaning in an enclosed place with controllable heating. Also, if your windshield has ice and snow on it, use winter windshield washer (de-icer) fluid to dissolve ice and caked-on dirt and an ice scraper to scrape off ice before you start the cleaning process.

Cleaning Bird Poop, Dead Bugs, And Grime From Windows

Be careful how you remove dead bugs or bird poop from your car’s windows. Some people resort to scraping this material off using sharp objects, while others try to wipe it off using towels.

Both examples are unwise! Bird droppings and dead bug carcasses contain acid; the last thing you want to do is spread that acid all over your car window. Also, bird droppings may contain small bits of rock because most birds keep small rocks in their gizzards to help them grind food. The exoskeletons of many bugs also harden considerably when they dry up on windshields.

Therefore, when you wipe bird poop or dead bugs over your car window, you can end up scratching the surface of the glass. What you need to do first is spray a suitable cleaning product onto the bird poop or dead bugs and let it sit for a few minutes. You then take a microfiber towel and carefully wipe the stuff off your window.

Cleaning Tinted Car Windows Safely

Car window tint is sensitive. Alcohol or ammonia can harm it, so you would do well to steer clear of any cleaning products that contain these two agents when cleaning tinted car windows.

Also, avoid the edges of the window when wiping the tint surface to keep drops of the cleaning solution from getting underneath the tint and forming bubbles. If you get bubbles, you can use a heat gun to get the air out. The old credit-card trick also works if you do it right. Wrap a credit card with a thin cloth and press the edge of the card onto the tint, forcing the trapped air and moisture to the edges of the car window.

The process of cleaning a tinted window is much like that of cleaning regular windows. Spray or apply the cleaning product onto the car window and use one side of a folded microfiber towel to spread the cleaner evenly over the surface. Then, flip the towel and wipe the window again, this time using the box wiping method.

How To Avoid Streaks

Streaks are more annoying than dirty car windows, probably because they tell of your inadequate cleaning efforts.

One thing that causes streaks is cleaning product/solution that’s been allowed to dry too quickly. When the cleaning solution dries quickly on your car window, it leaves residue that ends up appearing as streaks. This can be remedied by choosing a cleaning product that takes longer to dry.

Cleaning your car windows in a shady area or an enclosed place can also help to reduce the evaporation rate of your cleaning product.

Your towels can also cause streaking. If you use just one towel to clean several car windows, it will probably get saturated with dirt after cleaning the first window, so after that, you’ll be transferring the dirt you already collected onto the next window. That will cause a lot of streaking.

Towels that can’t collect the dirt/grime and absorb the cleaner solution well, e.g. polyester or paper towels, can also cause streaks. You have to wipe much harder to get all the dirt and moisture off with such towels. Cotton towels are sufficiently absorbent and collect dirt and grime well, but they also tend to shed. When they do that, they can leave streaks of lint, so it’s wise to stick to scratch-resistant microfiber towels.

How To Clean Windshield Wipers

When the blades of your windshield wipers get caked with dirt, grime, and debris, they’ll keep mucking up your windshield. To clean them, you need a suitable cleaning product, microfiber towels, and rubbing alcohol.

Start by lifting the wipers from the windshield. Then, spray or pour the cleaner solution onto a microfiber towel and use the towel to wipe the wiper blades. This involves pinching one end of a wiper blade (using the towel) and going from that end all the way to the other. You’re likely to see some dirt coming off the blade. Repeat the end-to-end wiping process until you can see hardly any dirt on the towel.

Do the same with the other wiper blade. After that, spray or apply rubbing alcohol onto another towel and wipe the blades again from end to end to remove any residue that may have been left. Finish the process by spraying/applying the cleaner solution onto the other parts of the wipers, e.g. the hinged areas, and wiping thoroughly.

How To Remove Water Spots

Water spots form on car windows mostly when hard water dries up and leaves spots of mineral residue. A slightly acidic cleaning solution can help to remove such spots because such hard water is largely alkali in nature. There are also cleaning products specifically designed to get rid of water spots.

The cleaning process is straightforward. Simply spray/apply the cleaning solution onto the car window surface using a towel and let it sit for a few minutes. Then, wipe it off using the box wiping method.

Homemade Glass Cleaner: Can You Use Vinegar?

It’s also possible to make homemade car window cleaners. Vinegar is especially popular among homemade glass cleaner makers because of its acidic composition that quickly breaks down grime and oil. Vinegar is also non-toxic and anti-bacterial.

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Summary: So Now You’ve Learned The Art Of Cleaning Car Windows

The benefits of improved car window durability, better aesthetics, enhanced visibility, and higher safety far outweigh those of saving a few bucks when using the cleaning products and supplies you already have at home. Therefore, if you want to see the car-window-cleaning results you desire, change your car window cleaning philosophy. Your cleaning efforts will be greatly rewarded if you apply the right techniques and methods and use high-quality cleaning products.