How To Clean Windows

Three vinyl windows, seen close up, reflecting a picturesque neighborhood
(©Noel, Adobe Stock Photos)

When it’s time to clean grime from windows, most homeowners reach for an off-the-shelf chemical cleaner, but experts say this can do more harm than good.

Harsh chemicals can have ill effects on exterior finishes, and pre-mixed cleansers don’t really make this chore any easier. To protect window finishes and achieve the same sparkling results, consider mixing up a gentle cleaning solution with simple ingredients like baby shampoo or vinegar. These solutions have added benefits too – they cost mere pennies and are environmentally friendly.

The most important thing to remember when cleaning windows and patio doors is to use gentle, soft materials that won’t harm surfaces. Avoid the “power washer” method because it’s more likely to cause water damage than to effectively clean exterior surfaces.

Cleaning Glass

For busy homeowners, follow these simple steps for quickly and effectively cleaning up glass on windows and patio doors.

  • Use a combination of common, gentle ingredients to clean glass. Mix one teaspoon of baby shampoo to one gallon of water, or 1-1/2 cups of vinegar to one gallon of water.
  • Wash windows with the solution using a clean, soft cloth or sponge.
  • Rinse with clean water.
  • Promptly dry the glass thoroughly with a cloth.
  • Dry the frame with a separate cloth.

Clean glass on a dry, overcast day. Intense sunlight can cause streaks as the solution may dry too quickly. Avoid using a power washer or garden hose to clean windows or doors, which can cause seal failure and allow water to enter the home.

Avoid using metal tools, razor blades or other objects that can damage surfaces, scratch glass and remove exterior glass coating. Don’t allow aggressive cleaners to come in contact with vinyl, wood or metal-clad surfaces. Be sure to clean up puddles that collect at glass edges, as they can damage window glazing.

Removing Stubborn Labels on Glass

Soak the label with soapy water and remove with putty knife.

Removing Dried Paint on Glass

Soak paint with a warm water and baby shampoo solution. Wipe with a soft cloth or plastic putty knife, if needed.

Cleaning Insect Screens

Start this task by removing the screen. Most have spring-loaded pins or tabs. Patio door screens can be lifted up off their tracks. Place the screen into a tub or shower stall if indoors, or on a hard surface outdoors. Gently spray the screen with water. Brush lightly with a soft bristle tool until clean. For stubborn dirt, a mild soap and water solution can be used. Rinse clean and replace the screen when dry.

Cleaning Exterior Finishes

Mild soap and water and a soft sponge or cloth is the simplest and safest way to clean exterior finishes like wood, metal-clad surfaces, vinyl, plastic and brass. Always rinse and wipe dry immediately after cleaning.

Metal-clad and brass surfaces benefit from a protective coating of high-quality car wax after cleaning. As a general rule, avoid vinegar and citrus-based solutions, paint removers, and harsh or abrasive cleaners on exterior surfaces.

Inspecting Weatherstrip

This is also a good time to check windows to see if the paint needs touching up and if the weatherstrip is functional. Properly maintaining paint and weatherstrip can help windows and doors last much longer. Evaluate replacing your windows and doors with ENERGY STAR-qualified, Low-E glass versions that will save money on heating and cooling costs.