It’s not just you: Getting windows streak-free and crystal-clear is harder than it looks. Although it seems like a few spritzes of an all-purpose cleaner and a quick swipe of a paper towel should get the job done, in most cases, it takes more effort and different supplies. Of course, a lot depends on the size and location of the window (e.g., indoors vs. outdoors, bedroom vs. bathroom, etc.), when it was last washed, and how dirty it is when you get started. But, generally speaking, here are a few common mistakes to avoid when cleaning windows.
Sure, the sun might make it easier to see fingerprints and other smudges on the windows, but it also makes the liquid component of a window cleaner evaporate quickly—leaving behind residue that could turn into streaks when wiped.
That said, not everyone is able to wait for the perfect weather for various household chores. But if you do have some flexibility, window washing is easier on cooler, cloudy days.
Before picking up a spray bottle, start by using a clean, dry low-lint or lint-free cloth (such as one made from microfiber) to dust the entire window. Get rid of as much of the dust and debris sitting on the surface as possible, so it doesn’t turn into solid pieces of linty dirt when combined with the cleaner.
Not all cleaning products will achieve the same streak-free results. According to experts at Mill City Cleaning, you should pick a glass cleaner with “low water-based content,” to avoid residue that could cause streaking. Your best bet is using a DIY solution (more on that below), or, according to Consumer Reports, diluting an ammonia-based glass cleaner.
There are plenty of recipes for homemade window cleaners out there, many of which feature some combination of dish soap, white vinegar, and water. This solution does work, so if you’re not getting the results you want, it may be because of the water.
If you’re using tap water to make the cleaner, and you have hard water, that means that you’re applying the dissolved minerals—the same ones that leave chalky residue on your faucets—to your windows as you “clean” them. Spring for distilled water instead.
Paper towels are convenient, but they tend to leave lint—in the form of small paper fibers—behind, adding to the dirt and dust on a window instead of getting rid of it. A clean, dry cloth made of microfiber or another lint-free material is a much better option. Alternatively, you can apply your cleaning solution with a wet (but not soaking wet) sponge, then remove it with a clean, damp squeegee.
Many of us were taught to use newspaper to wash windows instead of paper towels or other cloths or rags, because it’s highly absorbent and doesn’t leave streaks behind. Opinions on this longstanding hack are mixed: While some people still tout the benefits described above and swear by the technique, others, like Brad Roberson, president of Glass Doctor, say it’s time to move on.
“While this was a common technique used in the past, newspapers were once much thicker than they are now,” Roberson told Real Simple in 2019. “Today’s newspapers can quickly deteriorate when wet and leave newsprint spots on your mirror frames and window sills, not to mention your fingers.” Speaking of which, unless the newspaper uses a soy-based ink, some will likely end up smeared on your otherwise-clean windows.