How to Clean Windows: The Ultimate Guide

By Liz Sims | Window Cleaning

Clean windows are important. They allow in light and shield us from the cold and weather, but when they get dirty it’s more than unsightly, it can impact the health of your family too. But, cleaning your windows isn’t just about grabbing a roll of paper towels and commercial cleaner and giving them a once-over. It’s more involved, and there’s plenty to consider. Here’s our step-by-step guide on how to clean your windows.

Keep reading to learn more about your window panes and how to achieve a streak-free, damage-free shine!

Step 1: Identify Your Window Type

Find your window manufacturer’s information and contact them to find out about your window pane.

Years ago a window was a window, without special coatings or materials. Today, we have numerous products that either enhance or replace traditional glass panes, and it’s important to know what’s on your home before you even start reading about how to clean your windows. If you didn’t have your windows installed yourself, you may not know who manufactured them. There are some typical places on the window where manufacturers might put their information.

  • Look at the hardware. Areas like the handles or locks sometimes have the window manufacturer. Keep in mind that if those parts have been replaced and that was the only location with a label, you won’t find that information.
  • Look on the track. It can be difficult to spot but closely examine your window track, spacer bar, and seal to find a manufacturer name or string of numbers. Some manufacturers don’t use their name, but rather a code.
  • Look at the glass. Check corners of the glass for an etched label. Sometimes manufacturers do this rather than putting anything on the hardware or frame.

If those options don’t work, you can also try a search. It’s the last resort, but searching for keywords that describe your window—such as “white French doors”—might produce results. Ultimately, you just need to know what your window pane is made out of or if it has any special features you need to be aware of.

Here are some of the most common types of window materials used either in addition, or in lieu of, traditional glass.

Glass

A tried and true choice, glass windows are very popular for home installations. They are scratch-resistant, generally reasonably priced, and easily accessible for most homeowners or new constructions.

Low-E

The best way to achieve an energy-efficient home is to use the right building materials. For many, this includes Low-E glass. This type of glass keeps harmful UV and infrared rays from entering the home without preventing light from entering. It’s also good for preventing heat from escaping during the colder months of the year.

Tinted

Most homeowners think of tinted windows and films on their cars, but many use tints to help keep the inside of their homes cooler during hot summer months. It’s important to know if your window is tinted and how it was done. For example, security window tinting actually has a polyester film, designed to be an added layer of security for your home. Decorative tinted windows, on the other hand, simply block out the light.

Acrylic

Acrylic plastic is a popular choice for new home builds these days because of its durability, weight, and cost. Acrylic tends to be more shatter-resistant, which is ideal for errant rocks in the yard that can get caught up in a mower. It weighs less than glass, making it a good choice for skylights and other weight-restrictive constructions, and depending on thickness, it can cost less as well. Additionally, it tends to be clearer than other window types. Though, it does scratch easily.

Polycarbonate

Like acrylic, polycarbonate is a type of plastic. Both of these plastics are used for security purposes. Unlike acrylic, polycarbonate tends to be more flexible and easier to manipulate for unique or special window installs (like observation areas at aquariums.) Though hard to break or chip, polycarbonate can be scratched easier than typical glass.

Step 2: Inspect The Windows & Frame

Look over your window as a whole for any kind of damage that window cleaning will make worse.

After verifying what type of window you have, you’ll want to check it for damage. Especially applicable with films, it’s important to look for tears or areas where it may be peeling away. Also, note any damaged or cracked glass. Cracked glass can pose a safety hazard when cleaning while trying to clean over any kind of damaged film or coating can result in further damage. Additionally, you’ll want to look for signs of damage on your frames, seals, and overall window surroundings. If there is damage, skip the window and consider calling your favorite handyman or home repair company.

Step 3: Brush Them Down & do a Thorough Rinse

Use a cloth or brush to remove dirt debris and particles and rinse the window with water.

Assuming there isn’t any kind of damage to the window, use a brush to remove loose particles from the window, track, and frame. After cleaning off as much dirt as possible, give your windows a thorough rinse with cool, pure (purified) water and a cursory, light wipe with a sponge or washer.

➡️Pro Tip: Many people use a scraper to get off very stubborn dirt. This is fine with some windows, but not all. Keep reading to see our chart on the equipment you can use, and what you should avoid, by window type.

Your windows won’t be sparkling and clean after this first round; it’s just to remove as much as possible before you start using tools like squeegees and do a more thorough cleaning.

Cleaning Equipment Do’s and Don’ts

Plain Glass Low-E Glass Tinted Films Acrylic Polycarbonate
Metal Scraper
Squeegee (plastic)
Squeegee (metal)
Metal Scourers
Microfiber Cloth
Soft Sponge
Paper Towels Not Recommended
Newspaper Not Recommended
Pressure Washer DO NOT RECOMMEND!

In some cases, such as with a metal squeegee, the risk is more in accidental scrapes than the rubber blade. We advise against using metal with certain window panes, even if it doesn’t come into direct contact with the pane, for that reason.

Not sure what kind of equipment to get? Let us help you with some recommendations.

Step 4: Spray & Wipe the Window Down

Liberally apply a cleaning solution to your window and use a rubber squeegee to clean your window.

Once you’ve gotten as much dirt off as possible, the rest should be relatively easy. You’ll need to use a cleaning solution to liberally spray down the windows (alternatively, you can apply it with a clean microfiber cloth or washer.)

➡️Pro Tip: You can’t use all cleaning solutions on all types of windows. Look at our chart below to see what’s safe to use on your windows and what isn’t.

At this point, you’ll want to make sure that there aren’t large particles left on your windows. If some stubborn dirt hasn’t yielded to your efforts so far, repeat the last step. Next you’ll need a squeegee. There are several techniques you can use with a squeegee and it’s really a matter of what works best for you and gets the job done. Check out this video by Trad-Man The Window Cleaner to see how you can clean your whole window in one swipe. If some fancy squeegee work doesn’t matter as much, simply start from the top and clean your blade after each swipe to reduce the chances of streaks.

The Best (and Worst) Chemicals to Use On Your Windows

Plain Glass Low-E Glass Tinted Films Acrylic Polycarbonate
Acetone
Ammonia
Ethyl Alcohol
Vinegar

Some of these don’t fall firmly into the safe or not safe category. We prefer to play it safe so if it’s something that could go either way, we don’t recommend it.

 

Step 5: Wipe Down Frames, Seals, and Surrounds

Remove excess water from around the window and clean the surrounding area.

Now that your window panel is clean, there’s just one more step. Use a microfiber cloth to wipe down the surrounding area around the window to ensure that excess water isn’t sitting on wooden frames. This can lead to damage and stains later, so you’ll want to get it up quickly. Clean up your tools and you should be done!

➡️Pro Tip: A lot of people use paper towels or newspaper at this stage, but that’s a mistake. Both choices tend to leave residue and in the case of some newsprint, leave streaks. It’s best to go with a clean micro-fiber cloth that won’t leave anything behind.

 

Cleaning Inside vs. Outside Windows

While the actual task of cleaning a window pane is fairly straightforward, there are added considerations that are dependent on what your window is exposed to. Here are some of the things to think about when you set out to clean your windows and added tasks you may want to consider.

Interior Windows

With your inside facing windows, you’ll want to protect the floor and any furniture around the window. It can get messy and wet to clean windows, so place towels beneath the window or cover desks and furniture to make sure that your cleaning solution doesn’t damage any wood finishes. After all, it’s easier to put down a plastic drop cloth than refurbish furniture.

Exterior Windows

For the outside of your windows, keep in mind that cleaning solutions are good for windows, but not landscaping. You’ll want to be mindful of ornamental plants, shrubs, and trees as well as your siding and walkways. For homes with wooden siding, some of the same concerns exist for the exterior of your home as they do for the inside. Plus, some cleaners can lead to discoloration on patios or walkways.

Take It Easy: Hire The Professionals

Stretching, straining, bending, and leaning are all part of window cleaning regardless if you have a one-story home or a multi-story building. But, you don’t have to do it at all. Aside from the fact that you can sit back and relax while professionals do the work, there’s also the added benefit of professionalism. A good window cleaning company will have many attributes—and you should ask about them all—and one of them should include the right equipment to get the job done right.

Every member of our team is trained to clean the exterior of your home (and the inside of your windows) safely and efficiently so that there’s minimal risk of injury and a very good chance that you’ll love your clean windows.

Get a free quote from us today and see how we can help beautify your home!

Frequently asked questions about how to clean windows.

Here are some of the questions we get asked a lot about DIY window cleaning and keeping your windows clean and healthy in general.

Is vinegar effective for cleaning windows?

For most windows, vinegar is a safe and effective way to clean. It breaks down build up easily without exposing you or your family to dangerous and toxic chemicals.

How do you clean double pane windows?

Cleaning the inside of a double pane window requires drilling into the window and inserting a dry-pack (typically what’s found in many products) to capture any moisture that causes haze. For double-paned windows, we recommend enlisting professionals.

How do you clean hard-to-reach windows?

We tend to avoid recommending ladders due to safety concerns, but extension poles work reasonably well for many homeowners and business owners. You can use an extension pole and water feeder to help clean hard-to-reach windows.

Should I clean my windows myself or hire a professional?

We tend to encourage people to use a professional cleaning service, like us! It’s a hassle for you, and potentially dangerous depending on the layout of your property. Our employees have 100+ hours of training and are equipped to get the job done right.

What is “pure water” and how do I get it?

Pure water is water that is free of any chemicals or minerals. Purified water or distilled water are both good examples of this and are ideal for cleaning your windows.

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