Welcome to the long awaited 2nd installment of ‘Spare Me the Details’. (For those that don’t have it bookmarked, the first can be found here) Being your local part-time auto-detailing guy, there are only a few things I am better at in life than the average person: having an immaculate stubble beard, Mario Kart 64, and cleaning car windows. And there are two things I know for sure about automobile window cleaning:
1. People love to have clean windows.
2. Most people leave streaks when they attempt to do it.
Even for car detailers this task can be a challenge. Cars just look so much better when the windows are perfectly clean, yet most of us avoid cleaning them. I feel like I’m a pretty easygoing guy but before learning a proper technique I will admit that window cleaning was as frustrating as any math higher than multiplication. To be honest, it’s still my least favorite part of detailing. Customers demand perfection in the area, but man, that can be tough. Spare Me the Details is here to teach you how to become an excellent window cleaner.
Streaking is the enemy (get the image of Will Ferrell from Old School out of your mind). There are three things that can contribute to streaks: improper towels, improper cleaners, and improper technique.
Most people are surprised to learn that what you wipe the windows with is way more important than what you spray on them. There are many things to remember about window towels. First, to insure you have a contaminant free towel, you will need to have window specific towels. You absolutely cannot spray Armor All on a towel, wipe your dash, wash it, and then expect to use it to clean your windows the next time. This will probably mean going to purchasing some nice micro fiber towels. When shopping for window towels, make sure they are absorbent and lint free, a waffle weave is best. In addition to micro fiber, another good option is a 100% cotton surgical towel or diaper. From this point forward, these towels will only be used for cleaning windows.
Do not use paper towels to clean your windows! First off, you will leave tiny little paper fibers all over the glass, and secondly, many paper towels have lotions and moisturizers added to them that will cause streaks. This will become quite evident the first time you have oncoming headlights shine on your windshield. I have seen people spend $12 on Rain-X, and then try to apply it with paper towels and wonder why they are getting streaks. You would be better off spending $10 on nice towels, and using a $2 generic window cleaner. If you need to clean your windows and do not have towels, although not ideal, a newspaper will work. It is very absorbent and link free (plus cheap!)
There are many options to choose from. I use Meguiars Window Cleaner Concentrate that I order from their website. It works well inside and out, is more cost effective than purchasing by the bottle, provides some lasting rain/snow protection on the outside, is ammonia free and safe on window tint. Stoner Invisible Glass is also a nice product, especially the aerosol spray. Be sure to read labels well, as some glass cleaner is only meant for the outside of the glass. I do not recommend using standard household glass cleaner, as I have always found that they leave more streaks. Plus, many household glass cleaners contain ammonia, which can damage interior parts of your vehicle. If you are using a diluted product, be sure to dilute it all the way. When cleaning windows, using a stronger concentration is never better as it just leads to more streaks.
First and foremost, in order to have streak-free windows, you absolutely have to have two towels. A “wet” towel and a “dry” towel. No exceptions. You will not get the results you want using one towel.
1. Before you get started, it is good to inspect the outside windows. If there is tar or sticker residue, then attack that first. Spray a little bit of cleaner and use a razor blade to remove. As long as you keep the blade flat to the surface there is no way to damage your glass. Keep the blade away from defroster strips and rubber seals. This is a good way to remove bumper stickers on glass as well.
2. Open up all the car doors. By the time you get to the back window, it can be an oven in there and you’ll need any air movement you can get.
3. Begin cleaning. I recommend starting on the front windshield. It really doesn’t matter, but since that is the most important area to get clean, it seems logical to attack it when your towels are the cleanest. Spray plenty of glass cleaner on the glass itself, not the towel. This can be a little tricky on the inside of the front windshield. I actually have an extra non-window towel nearby, so after I spray the glass I can wipe up any over spray that fell on the dash. You do not want to leave window cleaner on any plastics as it can dry them out. Immediately wipe up over spray, but not with your window towel (remember, you can’t mix an Armor All treated dashboard with your window specific towels). Don’t be afraid to give the glass a good soaking, as many detailers use too little cleaner which can lead to streaks.
4. After covering the glass with cleaner, use your wet towel to wipe the product all over the window. On the front and back glass I like to do just ½ at a time. As you are learning this window cleaning technique I recommend wiping the inside windows all in the same direction (either vertically or horizontally). Then wipe the outside windows the opposite way, so that when you see a streak you will be able to easily identify which side of the glass it is on. When wiping the product, you’ll want to get all the way around the edges and in the corners. Be sure to wipe all the cleaner rather quickly, because when the product begins to dry on glass it leads to streaking. This can especially be a problem in the direct sunlight of the summer. That’s another reason to spray plenty of cleaner on the glass. If your wet towel starts to get too dirty or too wet, open up the folded towel and use a fresher side. There is no need to wipe the window totally dry with this towel.
5. With a little moisture still left on the glass, quickly switch to your dry towel to absorb and buff the remaining moisture. This process may seem like extra work, but the dry towel is what will remove all the streaks so really take your time on this part and make sure to go over all the glass.
6. While sitting in the drivers seat, don’t forget to clean the rear-view mirror, sunroof and vanity mirrors. Use the same steps throughout each window. For the side windows, put them down a couple inches BEFORE you clean them to wipe the edges, then put them up all the way. If you try to put a window down after cleaning it, it can be very frustrating to see water spots come up with it.
7. When you are cleaning the rear glass (and if you’re crammed in the back of a two door, you’re probably a hot mess trying not to cuss at this point), be sure to not let your arm touch the glass. Nobody likes sweaty arm marks on their windows. Nobody.
8. When you are finished with the glass, it is good to wipe the wiper blades off as well.
9. Lastly, double-check everything. After all the glass is completed, look for streaks. Examine the glass from different angles and seating positions. It’s way easier to wipe a streak now, then trying to reach your windshield with an old McDonalds napkin when the streaks are driving your crazy going 70mph down the road.
-When washing your window towels, never put a fabric softener sheet in the dryer. This will cause the towel to… you guessed it, leave more streaks.
-Do not use your wet towel on more than one vehicle, as it will be full of dirt.
-If the car has been smoked in, most likely the inside windows will need to be cleaned twice.
-Even if you get the inside windows perfectly clean, they will still need to be cleaned again after a few months. The plastics on cars release chemicals into the air that can cause the hazy look to the inside of your windows. Ever wonder where that ‘new car smell’ went from your car? It went all over the inside of your windows.
-Ask your local dealership to never touch your windows. Some of the worst windows I have ever seen are on high-end cars taken in for service. Attention unnamed BMW, Porsche, VW, Audi dealership in Columbus. Using the same nasty wet towel you dried the car with to rub on the inside windows does not equate to cleaning them.
-If your windows have heavy water spots, you may need to take additional action. The easiest way to remove them is to either use vinegar or a clay bar on the glass.
-Be careful with aftermarket window tint. Make sure your window cleaner is safe to use on tint (if there is ammonia in it, it will damage the tint). If you are not sure, then just clean water should be used.
-Once you learn this technique to cleaning car windows, be careful who you tell. If your spouse finds out you may find yourself, much like I did recently, being in charge of cleaning all the windows in the house as well!
How often I do it to my car: Every 2 months
How often I do it to my wife’s car: Every 3 months