What Is the Best Way to Clean Windows?

Best ways to clean windows interior and exterior

Ask most homeowners if there is anything they dislike about their large windows, and invariably one of the top responses will be: cleaning them. This twice-yearly task is an often-dreaded part of home maintenance. Window washing sounds relatively straightforward, but professional washers use very specific techniques because warm water and paper towels are sometimes not enough.

Very few people know the best way to clean windows.

Too many homeowners have invested time and effort into cleaning their dirty windows only to realize on the next sunny day that streaks, grime, and water spots still mar their view.

Don’t be one of these unhappy homeowners. Learn from others’ mistakes and set yourself up for success when you put into practice these tried-and-true tips for streak-free windows:

Use the Best Window Cleaning Solution

To fully remove built-up dirt and grime from your window glass, you need to use the right cleaning solution. The best window cleaning solutions are heavy-duty enough to provide results yet gentle enough not to damage window frames, trim, or your home’s siding.

Commercial window cleaning products are available, but not always necessary. Homemade window cleaning solutions are inexpensive, environmentally friendly, and easy to prepare.

The most effective DIY window cleaner solution contains just three ingredients:

  • vinegar: vinegar, especially white vinegar, is acidic. The acid helps to loosen stubborn marks, stuck-on dirt, tree pitch, and residue from previous cleaners. It also helps to deliver a streak-free finish.
  • water: obviously.
  • dish detergent: many homemade window cleaner recipes use water and vinegar. However, enriching the vinegar solution with mild detergent is critical to window cleaning success. The dish detergent contains soap which acts as an emulsifier. The soap helps lift the loosened debris and allows oils to mix with the water. The whole mixture can then be rinsed off leaving behind a sparkling clean window pane.

For windows without streaks, follow this window-cleaning method:

  • In a large bucket, mix 1 part white vinegar and eight parts water.
  • Add roughly one teaspoon of dish detergent for every 4 cups of water.

Use the Most Effective Window Cleaning Tools

Before going to war with your streaky windows, ensure you have all the tools and equipment necessary for a successful mission.

The basics include:

  • One bucket of windowcleaning solution (either homemade or commercial)
  • One bottle of general household cleaner (safe for use on your interior and exterior window frame materials)
  • Natural sponge
  • Microfiber strip applicator/window scrubber (able to be placed on extension pole if needed)
  • High-quality rubber-edged squeegee (able to be placed on an extension pole if needed)
  • Chamois cloth(s)
  • Microfiber cleaning cloth(s)
  • Soft-bristle brush
  • Squeegee extension pole (if needed for tall or second-story windows)
  • Ladder (if needed for tall or second-story windows)

Choose the Right Day to Clean Your Windows

The first tip professional window cleaners will give you is to schedule your cleaning for a cloudy day or a time of day when the windows are not in direct sunlight. The faster the window dries, the higher the likelihood that the water solution with vinegar will dry on the window before you can remove it.

Don’t Skip the Prep Work

It is tempting to dive right into cleaning the glass of your window because, after all, that is the part generally most noticeably dirty. However, before tackling the glass, turn your attention to everything surrounding the glass.

Your interior window frames are likely coated in a layer of dust. Exterior frames may have cobwebs, leaves, dirt, and other debris wedged in the corners. Take care of these issues first so you don’t drag extra dirt onto the panes when you are cleaning them.

Use the soft-bristle brush to remove debris from your exterior frame gently. Wipe both the interior and exterior frames using a lint-free cloth and household cleaner.

Now that your frames are clean, you can start washing your windows with your effective homemade cleaning solution.

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Learn Your Technique from Professional Window Washers

Expert window washers make their technique look like a fluid dance that always ends in windows without streaks. Watch them in action, and you will see that window cleaning professionals don’t move their applicators and squeegees at right angles, but instead use an “s” or “snake” pattern that helps prevent streaking.

The basic window-washing process used by the pros is:

  1. Apply cleaning solution and scrub away dirt using the microfiber strip applicator/window scrubber (for picture windows) or natural sponge (for multi-pane windows).
  2. Remove the cleaning solution using a wet squeegee and a s/snake pattern.
    • Using a wet squeegee instead of a dry one will help keep it from skipping on the glass.
  3. Use a chamois cloth to soak up any residual water in the corners of the window.

Clean the Entire Window, Not Just the Panes

The panes are the first place we notice dirt because we look through the glass. However, this doesn’t mean that we are done cleaning once the glass is sparkling.

The mission of window cleaning is more all-encompassing than that. The next time you tackle window cleaning, go the distance and remember these often-forgotten areas:

  • Blinds
  • Window treatments
    • Wash and dry
  • Hardware
    • Dust and lightly oil if needed
  • Tracks
    • Vacuum
    • Clean using household cleaner and a foam paintbrush of the same diameter as your track depth
    • Lightly oil if needed
  • Screens
    • Remove dust with a lint roller

Use This Opportunity to Check for Any Maintenance Needs

Pair your semiannual window cleanings with your spring and fall window inspections. While you are cleaning the windows and frames, be alert for signs that your window seals have failed or that windows need to be replaced or repaired.

Taking the time for proper cleaning and maintenance will pay dividends by improving the look of your home and extending the life of your windows.

Mix up some cleaning solution, order yourself a deluxe squeegee, and start practicing those “s” patterns. Your windows will thank you.


Post Update: The article was updated on April 15th, 2023, originally published on April 4th, 2019. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.