DEAR TIM: I have had it with cleaning the splattered and dirty windows in my new home. I have tried everything: off the shelf spray cleaners, vinegar and water, and ammonia and water solutions. The results are usually the same. The windows look fine until direct sunlight highlights all of the streaks. Switching from rags to paper towels does not make a difference. What am I doing wrong? There must be a way to get glass perfectly clean. Molly H., Yorba Linda, CA
DEAR MOLLY: As much as I hate to say it, the primary source of your problem is operator error. In addition, the cleaning solutions you are using are not what professionals use. I am convinced that you can get your windows crystal clear and with minimal effort. It may take some practice, but it is possible.
Standard window glass must be treated with care when it is cleaned, especially glass exposed to the harsh new construction environment. Glass is actually relatively soft and it is porous. Cement, paint, urethanes, and sealers can penetrate the surface and stick tenaciously to the glass. Sand from brick mortar and stucco, asphalt shingle granules, heavy dust from an assortment of construction activities can all scratch new glass if one is not careful. The best way to avoid scratches on new glass is to protect it with a plastic covering during construction.
Windows that have construction splatter on them need to be cleaned with care. A new 3 or 4 inch wide sharp flexible putty knife that has no burrs on the edge when used with flowing water will help you get material off the exterior surfaces of the glass. A mist of soapy water used on interior glass surfaces will help lubricate the surface to help prevent scratches as you gently scrape off any built up deposits.
When you wash your car, I doubt that you spray it with a solution and then rub this solution with paper towels in a circular motion over the car's painted finish. It's no wonder, as a significant amount of dirt would still be left on the car. Your methods of cleaning your windows simply removed some of the dirt and spread the rest of it around on the surface. To get windows perfectly clean you must remove all of the dirt from the glass.
Professional window cleaners get glass clean by doing just that. They use a sponge or wand to apply a cleaning solution. As they wipe the glass, an enormous amount of the dirt is actually transferred to the sponge. The solution is usually just a mixture of water and a mild soap de- greasing agent. Professionals use squeegees to remove the solution that is left on the glass. The soap in the solution lubricates the glass surface allowing the squeegee to glide across the glass.
To achieve professional results, you need to use the right squeegee. A professional squeegee is often constructed with brass channel that holds a rubber blade. The rubber often projects past the brass just 1/8 inch or so making it very rigid. Brass is used to hold the rubber blade because it is a soft metal that will not scratch glass. Some hardware stores may carry professional squeegees. You can also try businesses that sell janitorial supplies and equipment. These distributors may also sell concentrated glass cleaning solutions. You can make your own window cleaning solution using a liquid dish soap and water.
Click here to watch my video on window cleaning tools.
You may want to consider hiring a professional window cleaner instead of fussing with your windows. They have all of the right tools and equipment that allow them to easily clean windows with minimal effort. The shocking thing to me is the relatively low cost. Professional window cleaners in my city charge about $2.75 per side to clean an average sized window. Often an average home that has 15 windows can be cleaned for less than $90. When you consider the hassle, danger involved in working on ladders, and the amount of money you spend on paper towels, you may find that calling a professional is a much better way to go.