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How to clean windows: Tips for a sparking finish

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While windows help fill our homes with an abundance of natural light and a pleasant view of the outdoors, they can get dirty pretty easily and require significant cleaning inside and out from time to time. And, while it might seem you’re doing a good job of cleaning your windows, you may need to review your methods. It doesn’t matter how effective or thorough you are with cleaning your house, you’ll find smears and streaks on glass windows, if you aren’t careful.

It may be that you’ve never cleaned your windows properly because you just don’t have the time. However, the longer you neglect properly cleaning your windows, the more likely they are to accumulate dirt and grime.

In this article, you’ll find the best way to clean windows, with a slew of tips and tricks that can help you keep them gleaming. 

Window-cleaning kits: Required equipment

Before you get into window-cleaning mode, it’s important to understand that you can use the same sort of equipment and tools that professional cleaners use. Just go to your nearby local hardware store and purchase the following items if you don’t already own them:

  • An extendable pole (so you can clean windows from the outside as well)
  • A microfibre, multipurpose window-cleaning cloth
  • A lint-free wiping cloth
  • A squeegee
  • A scrubber or sponge with scouring pad
  • A step ladder (this will come in handy when cleaning windows from the outside)
  • A chemical-free window-cleaning detergent (you can also opt for a professional formula or white vinegar)
  • A bucket
  • A spray bottle
  • A pair of dishwasher gloves

These are all relatively basic items. Let’s now look at a step-by-step process of the best way to clean windows.

The best way to clean windows

Here’s a simple and effective step-by-step strategy to professionally clean your windows.

Step 1: Wash your windows on a cloudy day

You may be surprised to learn that cleaning and washing windows on a sunny day can be counterproductive. This is because many people lather the entire window, but on bright summer days, the sun will quickly dry out the lather, leaving you with streaks. 

One option is to portion the window, cleaning section-by-section until finish to avoid streaks and water marks.  

Otherwise, cleaning on a cloudy day is advantageous because more temperate weather will give you more time to lather the entire window without it drying out. 

Step 2: Prepare your windows

You need to access your windows without having curtains or blinds in the way, so remove these at the start. If you clean your windows with curtains or blinds still attached, any dust or dirt on them may leave marks on the windows due to brushing against them. You also risk getting your curtains or blinds wet.

It’s best to remove curtains or blinds before cleaning your windows (Adobe)

Step 3: Prepare your cleaning products

Fill your bucket with a mixture of warm water and cleaning solutions. While chemical solutions are available and are effective, some choose a more natural alternative to avoid irritants and products that might be detrimental to the environment. 

For ready-made solution, follow the instructions on the label, and to create the natural cleaning solution by adding equal parts white vinegar to warm water, giving it a stir. The amount you need will depend on how many windows you have in your house, but generally two or three tablespoons in a small bucket of water should be enough. If you require a stronger solution (if your windows are particularly dirty) mix a 1:1 solution. Be sure to use your rubber gloves if you choose this option. 

Liquid soap and warm water is also a tried-and-tested method, but too many soap suds can leave streaks, so avoid mixing the water too much.

Note: Refrain from using a vinegar-based cleaning solution if your windows have a matte-paint coating or if the window frames are undercoated. Doing so may make your windows susceptible to staining. 

Step 4: Clean your windows

Use a soft sponge to avoid scratching your windows (Adobe)

Start by dipping the sponge into the window-cleaning solution and wiping the window from the top to the bottom. Be sparing on how much cleaning solution you use on the window because it will take more time to dry.

If you see dirt hanging around the corners of a windowpane, refrain from splashing it with more water, as you’ll only have to re-lather everything again. Instead, fill a spray bottle with the same solution and just spray the area a couple of times. Leave it to dry and use a sponge to wipe off any dust and grime.

For tall windows, an extendable pole will help you thoroughly clean every nook and cranny of the window without using a step ladder or similar. It also comes in handy when cleaning windows from the outside.

After lathering your windows, it’s time to wipe everything clean with a squeegee.

Step 5: Complete the process with a squeegee

A squeegee can help you remove all soap and water from the glass for a streak-free finish (Adobe)

The best way to clean windows with a squeegee is to wipe them with an “S” pattern from side to side, starting from the top of the window and working down. However, keep in mind that when you’re using the squeegee this way, it’s important not to lift or break the pattern until you’ve cleaned one section of the window. Otherwise, you’ll be left with lathered patches across one section of the window. 

It’s also important not to exert too much pressure on the squeegee while doing this. Instead, let the weight of the squeegee do the work for you. In addition, only focus on the protruding side of the squeegee; you need to repeat the process twice or thrice for optimal results. 

How to remove stubborn window marks

Ineffectively cleaning your windows can lead to a buildup of hard water stains, especially when you neglect to wash your windows after rainfall. These stains are unsightly and may block your view of the outdoors and prevent sunlight from flooding a room. While cleaning window stains can be a bit daunting, there are some effective methods you can use to remove hard water stains from both sides of a window. Here are some tricks and tips you can consider.

Use a vinegar solution

A warm-water-and-vinegar mixture can help quickly dissipate stains if they’re fairly new. Grab a spray bottle, fill it with warm water and add a teaspoon of white vinegar. Give the bottle a gentle shake and spray the mixture all over the stains. Allow a couple of minutes for the solution to dry off, and then take a microfibre cloth to wipe away the loosened stains.

Use a lemon-and-water mixture

Lemon juice and water can work just as well as a vinegar solution and is a good option if you don’t have any white vinegar available. Squeeze out the juice from one or two lemons and mix it with water in a spray bottle. Spray all the dirty parts of the windows and leave them for a couple of minutes to dry. Then, use a lint-free cloth to wipe them.

Make a bicarbonate of soda paste

Using bicarb is the best way to clean windows with more stubborn or hardened stains, thanks to its abrasive properties. Take a bowl and mix two teaspoons of bicarb and add 100ml of water to make a thick paste. Apply the paste on the stains and use a microfibre cloth to scrub off.

How to clean outside windows

Now that you know how to clean windows from the inside, let’s take a look at how you can wash your windows from the outside. The good news is that cleaning outside windows is similar to how you clean windows inside and is just as easy. 

Step 1: Prepare your equipment

You’ll be able to use the same equipment, with an additional one or two items. The cleaning technique will also be similar. Use a vinegar-and-water mixture or a standard window-cleaning solution in both your bucket and spray bottle. An extra step to take when cleaning exterior windows is to use a garden hose to first give the window a rinse. Hosing off stubborn dust and grime or cobwebs will make it easier and quicker for you to lather the windows with a sponge.

You can use your garden hose to rinse your windows before cleaning them (Adobe)

Step 2: Clean the frames 

You’re likely to need an extendable pole to clean your outside windows. These poles often come with a microfibre mop or squeegee attachment that makes it easy to reach the very top of a tall window. Begin by lathering the frames with the cleaning solution and wiping down with the microfibre cloth. 

Step 3: Complete the process as before

After the frames are clean, the cleaning process remains the same as on the inside. After lathering the windows and letting it sit for a couple of minutes, use the squeegee in the same S-shape pattern from the left-hand corner of the window to the right side.

Frequently asked questions about how to clean windows

How often you may need to clean your windows depends on a variety of factors. For example, if you have pets or smoke indoors, we recommend cleaning your windows two to three times a year. If you live in an area with a lot of trees, you may need to clean them more often, as your windows may accumulate a build-up of pollen and sap.

Some of the most common mistakes people make when cleaning windows include:

  • Using the wrong cleaning solution; it’s usually best to use a soft and non-abrasive window-cleaning solution, unless the stains are particularly stubborn. Using a hard or abrasive chemical excessively can lead to staining
  • Spraying too much cleaning solution (this can cause more streaks when the windows dry out)
  • Not using a squeegee. Using a cloth to dry the window pane after lathering can cause more streaks, so always use a squeegee to wipe and dry your windows. Only use a microfiber to clean off cobwebs and dirt and apply the cleaning solution

Yes. One of the best reasons to steam clean your windows is that the water from a steamer is essentially demineralised. This means that you won’t have to worry about leaving any streaks and stains when you make gradual passes over your entire window. You can also use the steam to loosen stubborn stains and marks on a window.

When it comes to cleaning windows, using a white vinegar-and-water solution is a good home remedy as vinegar also functions as distilled water, which means it is less likely to cause streaks. In addition, white vinegar is also a sustainable and chemical-free way to clean windows. However, some don’t like to use vinegar as it doesn’t remove bacteria, unlike most chemical solutions and a soap-and-water mixture.

Sam Jeans

Writer

Sam is an experienced writer whose expertise lies in home improvements and renewables, as well as technology, where he is especially interested in the world of machine learning and AI. He has written for Vested, Age Times, and the Royal Mint.

For the Independent Advisor, Sam writes about windows and solar panels.

Amy Reeves

Editor

Amy is a seasoned writer and editor with a special interest in home design, sustainable technology and green building methods.

She has interviewed hundreds of self-builders, extenders and renovators about their journeys towards individual, well-considered homes, as well as architects and industry experts during her five years working as Assistant Editor at Homebuilding & Renovating, part of Future plc.

Amy’s work covers topics ranging from home, interior and garden design to DIY step-by-steps, planning permission and build costs, and has been published in Period Living, Real Homes, and 25 Beautiful Homes, Homes and Gardens.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Amy manages homes-related content for the site, including solar panels, combi boilers, and windows.

Her passion for saving tired and inefficient homes also extends to her own life; Amy completed a renovation of a mid-century house in 2022 and is about to embark on an energy-efficient overhaul of a 1800s cottage in Somerset.