The Best Way to Get Your Windows Spotlessly Clean

Learn the pros’ tips and tricks for cleaning windows and getting them streak-free

By Bonnie McCarthy  / Courtesy of Houzz.com

When I was a kid, my mother would often quip at the sight of large, multistory homes: Yeah, but who’s going to clean all those windows?” In her mind, she was probably imagining one person painstakingly cleaning each window the way she did around our home. She would mix 1 gallon of water with 2 tablespoons of white vinegar, fill a spray bottle, squeegee the liquid off each window and wipe the glass dry with newspaper, a process to which she, and subsequently, we, strictly adhered.

But does Mother really know best? I thought I’d check with the professionals to find out the best way to clean windows.

How Often?

To begin, I asked Stephanie Lewis, customer experience manager at The Maids cleaning service, how often windows should be cleaned. “It’s really up to consumers themselves,” she says. “Some people like to clean their windows every week on their own, and others are OK with having a professional come in and clean their windows inside and out, from top to bottom, twice a year. It’s one of those things that can fall into spring and fall cleaning.”

Will Dorn, president of Prime Time Window Cleaning Inc.in the Chicago area, says most of his customers opt for cleaning two or three times each year. “Definitely in the spring after the long winter, and then in summer or late fall before the holidays,” Dorn says.

Dirty trick: Lewis suggests avoiding cleaning windows on a hot, sunny day. “Everything dries so much faster, and it’s going to streak,” she says. “So we recommend doing it on a cloudy day.”

First Things First

To get started, Dorn says, it’s important to clear the window area of tchotchkes, knickknacks and any furniture that may get in the way of cleaning.

“One of the big things about cleaning windows is really protecting your floors and the inside of your walls,” Lewis says. “You want to make sure you lay down a sheet or drop cloth to protect your carpet or flooring from getting wet and causing damage.”

Easy Solutions

Once the area is prepped, Lewis and her team advise ditching prepackaged bottled cleansers and mixing up a solution of warm water with a small squirt of dish soap. “Usually just a drop or two per gallon will do it,” she says. “Then grab a sponge and scrub down the windows, making sure to get into the corners and the creases and crevices of the window.” Next, clear away the solution with a squeegee and wipe dry with a clean towel.

Lewis says there are strong opinions about how to achieve streak-free windows. Warm water vs. cold? Vinegar vs. dish soap? Newspaper vs. paper towels? 

“The answer, of course, is obvious,” Lewis says. “There is no ‘right way’ unless you don’t clean at all. For exceptionally grimy windows, add some vinegar or ammonia to the solution. If you’ve really got buildup, vinegar will cut through grease and grime.” 

Lewis says to wash the edges of the window glass first, rinse and then give the whole window a go. 

Next, squeegee away the excess, wiping down the squeegee with a soft cloth or clean rag every couple of strokes. For a large window, wipe down the squeegee after a single large stroke; with smaller window panes (using a much smaller squeegee), wipe it dry after every couple of strokes.

For uniquely shaped windows, finding or creating a custom-sized squeegee may come in handy.

To get rid of any streaks after squeegeeing and make your windows shine, Lewis suggests using a dry cloth or (yes, Mom), even newspaper. 

“One thing you should know, however,” she says, “is that not all newspapers are created equal.” Since newspaper ink is not a standard solution, some ink may be darker or contribute to streaking, while others may not. “You’ll need to play around with that and figure it out as you go,” she says.

Dirty trick: Lewis suggests wiping windows dry in a vertical direction on one side of the windows, and wiping horizontally on the other side. “This way, if streaks appear, you know what side they’re on,” she says.

Keeping Track

To clean dirty window tracks, both Lewis and Dorn say that using a vacuum attachment is one way, but they recommend getting out an old toothbrush for most jobs. “That really allows you to get down into those crevices a bit better,” Lewis says.

When to Say ‘Uncle’

The task of window cleaning may call for professional help, depending on the number and style of windows you have, whether there are also storm windows and screens to deal with, how much free time you have and if you need ladders or special equipment to reach up two or three stories. 

“Honestly, if there are windows you can’t reach, that require tall ladders from the outside, we would recommend not doing them and hiring a professional who is insured,” Dorn says. “That’s one of the reasons people call us. By the time they look at the cost of buying the ladders and squeegees, the towels and cleansers, they decide to just hire professionals.”

Going Pro

If you’re hiring a window-cleaning crew, make sure they are insured and bonded and have good reviews. Dorn recommends checking to see how long the service has been in business. “I would go with a legitimate outfit and not just somebody working out of the back of their truck,” he says. 

“These people are going to be in your home,” Lewis says. “You want someone you can feel comfortable with, and someone you can ask questions of, like, ‘What should I expect?’ Your cleaning service should be able to walk you through that process.”

Lewis says it’s also important to find out how many people they will be sending over for the job. “If It’s just a team of one or two, it’s going to take a lot longer than a team of four. So consider those kinds of things. How long do you want those folks to be in your home?”