From dirty screens to streaky glass – here’s some smart, simple steps you can take to keep your windows clean and looking their best.
Start with the big stuff.
The first step of cleaning your windows may not be the most exciting, but it could be the most important: Pull back the blinds and curtains of your windows, and look corner to corner. Inspect the window before you clean; if you see dirt, it can be a good indicator of air or water leaks that need to be addressed. Significant accumulation of debris that’s in, on, or around your windows could mean that it’s time to consider replacing your windows. And you want any of that debris of your way from the beginning, so it doesn’t leave behind spots that could smear and follow you (and your cleaning cloth) around.
Use the right cleaners.
Different window cleaning products are appropriate for different types of windows, and window frame materials. The cleaning solution you choose to use should be selected with this in mind.
More and more people are choosing the convenience, durability, energy efficiency, and beauty of vinyl windows. The cleaners that you use with vinyl should be chosen with both color retention and resistance to cracking in mind; you should never use any cleaners or thinners which contain organic solvents or petroleum ethers. Dark splotches, streaking, heavy yellowing, surface hazing, brittleness, cracking or distortion, are typical symptoms of harmful chemical exposure.
There’s a wide selection of cleaners that are ideal for vinyl windows, including Champion® Glass Cleaner, Dawn®, Fantastik®, Murphy® Oil Soap, Windex®, Lysol®, and Simple Green®. These products are excellent for cleaning and wiping dirt and hand prints from vinyl surfaces, and soap-based cleaners that use surfactants that are water soluble are usually safe. These types of cleaners allow the vinyl to retain both color and crack resistance because they do not react with or dissolve the surface of the vinyl.
Using a quality glass cleaning product is also extremely important because the rate of evaporation and level of concentration of ingredients in your cleaner is a critical factor in preventing streaks. The residue from ingredients that dry and/or evaporate before you can remove them is a primary culprit in window streaking. Higher quality window cleaning products, applied and removed correctly, will help further prevent streaks.
Properly apply and remove of cleaning solutions.
What causes window streaking? How can you help prevent it? There are several best practices to keep in mind when you apply and remove your cleaning solution - helping you avoid window streaking, and the need to re-wash your windows:
Apply your cleaning product to the glass until it’s well-misted. Too much or too little cleaning product can effect evaporation rates, which has a direct effect on window streaking.
Use a clean cloth with a flat weave when wiping. Avoid terry cloth, and other fabrics that can leave behind lint particles.
Be sure to use towels that are fully absorbent; inferior towels can spread dirt and moisture instead of picking it up, also contributing to increased streaking.
Only use window-cleaning towels that have not been used for other household cleaning chores. Even a small amount of lingering residue from other cleaners can contaminate your towel and contribute to streaking.
Consider using a squeegee with a smooth, soft rubber edge. It’s the preferred tool of many professional window cleaning services, and can help ensure even, rapid and effective removal of moisture and debris. Techniques and tips on using a squeegee from the pros at This Old House.
Remember that cloudy days or evenings are best when cleaning glass; direct sunlight can also make the cleaning product dry too quickly, a major culprit in creating streaks
“Be quick, but don’t hurry.” Moving through the window cleaning process too fast usually leaves behind dirt and residue, dramatically increasing the chance you’ll also leave behind streaked windows.
What about the outside of my windows?
The outside of your windows are exposed to the elements, collecting a lot of dirt and residue. But it’s often the most difficult part of cleaning your windows, and therefore, most often avoided.
Many newer styles of windows tilt in, making the washing of both the inside and outside of your window a much simpler task. For example, both the upper and lower sashes on Champion® double hung windows tilt in for easy cleaning.
Start by cleaning the inside of the window first, spraying and then wiping horizontally. Then tilt the window towards you, spray and wipe vertically. The combination of horizontal and vertical wiping makes it easier to spot and then eliminate any wayward streaks.
For the cleaning of window exteriors that are only reachable by ladder, consider instead using a telescoping pole/extension bar with a cleaning attachment, or better still, engage a reputable professional window cleaning service to avoid safety hazards associated with working at heights.
Clean the screens.
If your screens stay in place throughout the year, they likely need some attention. Dirt, dust, and grime that has accumulated on the screens can easily blow inside your home when the windows are opened. Here you have two options:
Option 1 (preferred): Remove and wash the screens. If you’ve got the time and inclination, this is usually the most effective option. Carefully remove the screens from the window and wash them outside, using a soft-bristled brush and mild dishwashing detergent (warm to hot water is best). Finish by rinsing with a hose, and allow to air-dry completely before reinstalling.
Option 2: Keep the screens in place, and use the dusting brush attachment of your vacuum. Run it over the side that’s facing the inside of your home, going side-to-side, top-to-bottom.