The Best Way to Clean Car Windows With Or Without Glass Cleaner

Author: Rob Mobberley

The best way to clean car windows with or without glass cleaner

Winding down the road, the wispy fog hangs in the heavy fall air. The sun is low on the horizon and the glare blinds you. You slow to a crawl, unable to clearly tell what lies around the next bend.

You flick on the wash wipe, but to no avail. You reach forward and rub on the inside of your windshield with your palm, but again it does little to increase your visibility.

You will appreciate driving with poor visibility is dangerous. The one thing more important than starting, stopping, and steering is seeing. If you can’t see the road ahead, you are on a collision course.

Automotive glass requires the same care and detailing as the rest of your vehicle, but clean windows is also safety related. It’s often neglected when you wash your car, only getting the bare minimum attention to remove the bugs.

There is more to cleaning glass than just removing bug guts though; there are oils, dust, tree sap, and tar that stick to the window with a death grip.

In this article you will not only discover the best way to clean car windows, but also what products and methods are best for outside and interior glass cleaning.

Don’t Waste Your Time Cleaning Glass With Newspaper

Best way to clean car windows isn't with newspaperA common modern misconception for leaving your car windows without streaks is to use newspaper. That may have worked well in the past due to the solvents and abrasive grit used in the ink, but new water-based inks just leave your hands blackened and smudgy.

Some products on the market are great for removing sticky things on the outside of your windows, but leave a residue that is hard to remove. Some products leave your windscreen streak free but can’t get the hardened bits off the glass. Some don’t seem to do much at all.

Cleaning your car windows can be frustrating and time consuming. Just when you think you’ve got the windows clean, you jump behind the wheel and can’t see through the streaks. You don’t often think about it but it gets expensive too. You may need one car glass cleaner for the sap and tar, another for the water spots, and yet another for the inside of the windows.

How Should You Clean Your Car Windows?Cleaning Outside Of Car Windows

It’s a straightforward procedure, but one that is often done incorrectly. Cleaning your car windshield and glass is a task where you may find yourself cutting corners to save time. For the best way to clean car windows streak free, here’s what you should do:

Ideally only clean when it is cool and cloudy. If that’s not possible then ensure that your vehicle is in the shade. This helps avoid your car glass cleaner from evaporating too quickly from the surface of the glass, leaving streaks and making it twice as hard to get clean.

Cleaning Outside windows

  1. Spray your chosen cleaner onto the window – we will look at which cleaners later in this article
  2. Using a microfibre cloth wipe clean using an up and down motion, then a side to side motion
  3. Wipe dry with a clean microfibre. Remove as much wetness as possible to leave your glass without streaks
  4. Don’t forget to roll down the side windows halfway to clean the upper edges.

Tip: Always use clean cloths to clean your windows. An even slightly dirty cloth will leave streaks, meaning even more time spent cleaning your windows.

Cleaning Inside glass

The best way to clean car windows from the inside is a simple twist on a common practice. Most people spray their cleaner directly onto the glass surface then wipe it off. What you don’t see, is the issue here. Up to half of the spray is lost into the atmosphere or lands on your car interior or dash.

Not only are you wasting product, but you are creating more work for yourself. Now you need to wipe the cleaner off your interior, and you don’t want to use the same cloth as you use for the windows.

Simply spray the cleaner on your cloth and wipe the inside of the window. You can control the amount of spray in a certain area much better, and it’s much easier to achieve a streak free finish on the inside of your cars windows.

What Product(s) Should You Use To Clean Car Windows?

Wiping, Drying & Buffing

You’ve heard about a few products already. You could use newspaper, paper towel, cotton rags, or microfiber cloths. There is no magic bullet here as no matter what you choose to use, there is still work involved.

Since newspaper and paper towels are messy and leave paper bits all over, and cotton rags and microfiber cloths require laundering, you need to choose what you would prefer.

My personal preference is microfiber cloths. You will pay a little extra up front for them, but their gentle abrasiveness does an excellent cleaning job and they are extremely absorbent.

They do a great job leaving your windscreen and windows without streaks. They are great to use for wiping down a dusty exterior and other parts of the car as well, as long as you aren’t using the same cloth for both. Use dedicated cloths for each process.

The question that may be on your mind is “do you suggest a certain microfibre cloth?” And the answer is yes. In my experience the smooth and Diamond Weave type microfibres are best for glass.

Unless your glass is silky smooth (see below out removing roughness) you tend to find the fibres of standard microfibre cloths feel like they are sticking to the glass and dragging across the window. With some you will even notice tiny bits of fibres coming off the cloth onto the glass, making even more work for you. For the best way to clean car windows streak free, it is certainly worth investing in these specialist glass cloths.

Car Glass Cleaning solutions

What you want is a glass cleaner that will do as good a job on the outside as it will on the inside. The three common styles of product are aerosol, wipes and pump/trigger sprays.

An aerosol works great on the outside of your windows especially and the foaming action helps to soften and break up stuck-on bits. Aerosol gets messy when you’re cleaning inside the car as foam tends to get everywhere, even when spraying directly on the cloth.

You also want to be looking at products that do not contain any forms of soaps or ammonia, especially if you have aftermarket tints (see below).

Window Wipes

A wipe is ideal for interior windows but generally not “strong” enough to clean the outside grim and bugs etc. There are a few product on the market that infuse effective glass cleaning agents into the wipes and these will tend to do a better job.

Pump/Trigger Spray Glass Cleaners

The best way to clean car windows both inside and outside is a pump or trigger spray. It takes the best of both aerosol and wipes and is easy to use. It can be sprayed directly on the outside glass and is easy to use inside as you can spray it onto a cloth without making a mess all over.

Car Glass Polish

Similar in consistency to bodywork polishes the car glass polish is designed to remove the dirt and grime from your cars glass through an abrasive polishing action rather than a pure chemical action. Personally all the ones I have tried for cleaning (as against scratch removal) have been fairly hard work vs spray cleaners, but there are those in the trade who swear by them.

Which Is The Best Glass Cleaner?

This is of course down to personal preference and whether your prefer chemical, more natural or polish. Having tried many over the years my own personal favourite has for a long time been Invisible Glass spray. I will never forget one road trip we did in the blazing summer heat in the VW T4 van we had at the time. These things have fairly flat windshields and seem to attract every single bug and insect within a 100m.

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Our trip was about 100 miles with a weekend camp with temperatures getting pretty close the 30 degrees. Always keeping a bottle in the van I really should have tackled the screen as soon as we arrived but foolishly left the splattered screen to bake in the sun all weekend.

It was only when we came to do the trip home that I realised how covered the screen was and how little I could clearly see out. Now I will admit that it took two applications of Invisible Glass on that occasion to get the screen gleaming again but I know there aren’t many cleaners out there that would have tackled such a job as easily and quickly.

Somewhere I have some pictures and if I can find them I will post them up here for you to see.

Some time back Auto Express did a comparison test of some of the best car glass cleaners, details of which you can see here.

A firm favourite of a number of previous high profile clients including an F1 team and well known automotive auction house is the Wurth Active Foam Glass Cleaner.

The Inside Hack – Cleaning Into the Corners Your Windscreen

Unless you are a contortionist you will know just how hard it can be clean the inside of your windscreen without twisting and turning and sometimes tying yourself in knots or at the very least getting extremely frustrated by the whole experience.

Help is however now at hand in the form of a Reach & Clean Tool or Windshield Wonder. These are with triangular or square shaped pads with microfibre covers on the end of a pivoting handle that can reach and clean deep into the hard to reach corners of your windshield.

What About Chemical-Free Options?

It is possible to clean windows without chemicals and get a finished product without streaks. Be prepared to put in some extra time and effort.

Consider when you are driving through a heavy rain. You may have never thought about it before, but now every time it rains, you will! The rain water removes much of the bugs and contaminants on your windshield better than anything you’ve ever used.

Use water to clean the outside of your windshield. Does that sound too simple? There is a little work involved when it isn’t raining. You will need a bucket of warm water and a microfiber cloth. Dip the cloth in your water, and use it to scrub the outside of your windows. A tightly woven microfiber cloth will be abrasive enough to remove the bugs, yet gentle enough to prevent scratching the glass.

Wipe dry with another microfiber cloth.

How To Remove Roughness, Tree Sap And Dried On Bugs From Your Windscreen

Hard-to-remove and sticky substances on your windows can be removed with the use of a clay bar. If you are not familiar with what a clay bar is and how to use one, simply pop over to this article for full details. Claying is also ideal for removing the roughness you often get on car glass from bonded yet invisible contaminants.

Just mist the window with water to lubricate it, and rub the clay bar over it to remove grime and sap.

You will need to clean the window thoroughly afterwards. Spray the window with water or your chosen car glass cleaner and wipe clean with a microfiber cloth.

Another method is to use a bug sponge. Simply a piece of car wash sponge, wrapped in a nylon mesh. These are very effective at removing baked on bugs and other residues, being abrasive enough to remove them but soft enough not to scratch your windscreen or glass. If using one of these you must not be tempted to use it on your paintwork, as it will scratch that.

Using Vinegar To Clean Car Windows

Inside windows can also be cleaned with a water and vinegar solution. However you may need to clean the windows more than once to leave them without streaks.

I have never personally used a vinegar solution on my car windows but from what I have read the suggested dilution varies from one part vinegar to 2 parts water all the way to 2 tablespoons vinegar to one gallon of water.

Caution When Cleaning Tinted Car Windows

When it comes to cleaning tinted windows caution is the order of the day. This really only applies to aftermarket tints rather than factory tints.

Aftermarket tints are usually a thin film applied to the outside of the glass which can be susceptible to attack from chemicals in some cleaners, namely ammonia in the form of amonium hydroxide which has a pH in the range of 10-11, and also the acid in vinegar. Factory tints tend to use glass that is coloured during manufacture and are not affected in the same way.

Removing Scratches

There are of course those occasions when cleaning alone will not get your windshield, rear screen or side glass gleaming. Often this occurs when your glass is scratched and is a whole new ball game.

Over To You

You have your own favourite product or method. What have you found is the best way to clean your car windows? Have you tried vinegar or any other natural products? Have you got any questions of your own about how best to clean your car windscreen and glass, inside or out? Please do let us know or ask away in the comments section below.

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