Over time, pollution and grime accumulate slowly but surely on your windows, both inside and out, obstructing your views and blocking precious sunlight. The only thing worse? Thick streaks left behind by improper cleaning.
To keep your vista streak-free (and your light-loving houseplants happy), follow this expert cleaning advice from Carolyn Forte, Director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab. With the right window-cleaning products and techniques, your windows will have never looked better.
Mistake #1: Choosing a sunny day to clean your windows.
“Do this job in the blazing sun and the cleaner will dry onto the hot windows before you get to wipe it off, leaving hard-to-remove streaks,” Forte says. If the weather won’t cooperate, start on the shady side of the house.
Before you get started, sweep dirt from the window frame with a brush, or suck it up with a handheld vacuum or your machine’s dust attachment. This will prevent dirt from turning into a muddy mess when mixed with a cleaner. If your window screen looks especially grimy, pop it out and wash with hot, sudsy water and a soft brush, then rinse and let dry before putting it back.
For quickly dusting shades and blinds, Forte recommends going over both sides with a microfiber duster, or opening the slats and going over each one with a damp cloth followed with a dry one.
Mistake #3: Skimping on window cleaner.
Don’t hold back on the spray, especially if your windows look extra dirty. “You need plenty of cleaner to dissolve and suspend the dirt so it can be completely wiped away — skimp and you’ll be seeing streaks,” Forte says.
She recommends Invisible Glass Cleaner With EZ Grip. The fine mist from the bottle stays where you spray until you wipe it, meaning less drips and mess. Check out more of our top-tested cleaners, depending on the job:
If you would rather go the DIY route, try whipping up this homemade vinegar cleaner:
Homemade Glass Cleaner
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup white or cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol 70% concentration
Combine the ingredients and pour them in a spray bottle. If you have kids or pets, write the ingredients on the outside of the bottle for safety.
If you live in an area with hard water, consider using distilled water to make your glass cleaner. BTW, the vinegar in this DIY cleaner will also help with those stubborn stains. The U.S. Geological Survey says it’s the acidity of vinegar that allows the minerals left behind from hard water to be washed away.
Mistake #4: Using an old cotton rag to dry your windows.
Some folks like drying panes with newspaper, but you’re better off reusable microfiber cloths. “They are super absorbent, washable and leave the glass shiny and streak-free,” Forte says.
Try Casabella Microfiber Glass Cloths, which have a special honeycomb texture to nab water spots, smudges and dirt from mirrors and glass without scratching.
If you would rather use paper towels, choose a brand that’s up to the task. Weak paper towels can shred and leave lint behind. In our most recent test of the best paper towels you can buy, Bounty Regular held up the best when wet.
Mistake #5: Wiping with a squeegee.
“Professional window cleaners swear by them, but you have to know how to use them correctly,” Forte says. “You squeegee down and where does the water go? On the floor.”
Because of the potential mess and drip factor, she avoids using squeegees, especially for small panes, but they can be more helpful on bigger, picture windows.
Mistake #6: Cleaning all your windows in one day.
You only need to clean your windows once or twice a year, Forte says, but it’s even easier if you divide the job up and do it room by room. When you’re cleaning, wipe one side of the window horizontally and the other vertically. If any streaks do form, you’ll easily know whether they’re on the outside or the inside.
How to Clean Windows, Step by Step
Now that you know common mistakes to avoid, read on for our step-by-step guide on the best way to clean your windows, both inside and out, without streaks.
- Start by removing dust from the window frame, tracks and sill with a vacuum, duster or cloth. Do the same with your blinds or shades. If you have curtains, this is a good time to remove and wash them, following the care instructions.
- To clean your screens, remove them and vacuum or brush them to get rid of dust. If you think they need a deeper clean, wash with a warm, sudsy mix, then rinse and allow them to dry completely.
- Spray your windows with a generous amount of glass cleaner.
- Using a lint-free paper towel or microfiber cloth, wipe your windows from top to bottom. If you see any streaks, give them another wipe until the glass is clear.
- While your screens are drying, wipe the outside of your windows and frames with a soft brush or disposable cloth to remove loose dirt and dust.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 on the outside window glass. You’ll probably have to use a little more elbow grease (or just a few extra rounds of spraying and wiping) to get rid of all the grime from outside. Depending on the design of your windows, you may be able to clean both sides from inside the house, or if you have removable storm windows, take them off completely for cleaning.
- Pop your screen back in, hang your curtains and step back to marvel at the shine!