Just as in selecting car shampoo and wax, no two car enthusiasts can agree on the ultimate glass cleaner. Some people like ammonia cleaners, others swear by TSP, while the purists will use nothing but clear water.
Whatever you use, the principles are the same: clean, dry and polish. I highly discourage the use of ammonia-based glass cleaners on your car. While ammonia is a great glass cleaner for the home, ammonia is harmful to many car surfaces including vinyl, rubber, and leather. More importantly, the use of ammonia inside your car is harmful to your health. As a substitute to ammonia, I prefer citric acid, alcohol, or mechanical cleaners.
Glass cleaners in a spray bottle work fine. The only problem is over spray on the dash and upholstery. As it is difficult to direct the spray of glass cleaners, you will have the best luck spraying one side of a clean towel, wiping the glass, and they drying with the other side of the towel. Many professional detailers use plain water for wiping and cleaning the windows and dry the glass with newspaper. Unlike paper towels and most cotton towels, newspaper does not leave behind lint and the ink acts as a glass polish. The only draw back to this method is the newsprint ink on your hands when you’re done. Be sure to wash your hands before touching your upholstery.
Steps For Cleaning Windows
Start your window cleaning with the driver’s door and front passenger door. If your door has a window frame, lower the window approximately one inch to allow access to the top part of the glass. This part should be cleaned and dried first. Spray with glass cleaner and buff dry. Now roll the window back up and clean the remainder of the window. Pay attention to the corner of the windows, as this is where you will get most smears and streaks. Don’t forget your driver’s side and passenger side mirrors.
While you’re sitting down in the passenger’s seat, clean the inside of the windshield. The inside of the windshield is easier to clean from the passenger’s side as your access is not obstructed by the steering wheel. Take your time around the rearview mirror as it is only glued to your windshield. If you bump into the rearview mirror hard enough or at the right angle, you can break it loose from the glass.
The inside of the rear window is the most difficult to reach and should be done last. The best technique for cleaning your rear window is to use the backside of your hand to guide your towel down into the corners. Trying to use the palm of your hand will force you to be a contortionist and draw strange looks from your neighbors.
Cleaning Spotted Glass
Some parts of the country are burdened with extremely hard water. Hard water is water that contains excessive trace elements including calcium, iron, lime, and other minerals found in streams and rivers. These trace elements remain on your glass when water from sprinklers or washing air dries. These hard water spots attach themselves to glass like white on rice. If left on your glass for very long, hard water spots will not wash off with shampooing or regular glass cleaners. In my experience, there are only two ways to remove hard water spots. The first is to use distilled white vinegar. If your water spots are mild, you can dilute the vinegar 2:1 with water. Heavy spots may require pure vinegar. Either way, the vinegar will not harm you or your car. Vinegar is a very mild acid, which dissolves the alkaline-based mineral water deposits with ease. If hard water spots are allowed to remain for more than a week or two, they may etch the glass. So, even though you have removed the minerals causing the water spots, the spots remain as damage to your glass. In these cases, it is necessary to polish the glass. Until recently, there were a number of glass polishes on the market. The two best products were Eagle One Glass Polish & RainX Glass Polish. However, both of these products have been discontinued due to little demand. In my experience, any light (low abrasive) car polish that does not contain paint feeding oils will work as a good glass polish. Eagle One Scratch Remover is a good example of a polish that does not contain oils and works well on glass, as does P21S Multi-Surface Finish Restorer. There are two ways to use these polishes. The most gentle is to use an old t-shirt to polish the spotted area and buff to full luster. The second is to use the polish with #00 or finer synthetic steel wool to remove the spots then buff with an old t-shirt. If your glass is heavily pitted, or mildly scratched, you can also use polish to restore the finish. In this case, it may be necessary to use a buffer in order to achieve the desired results. In some cases, the glass may be so deeply pitted, etched, or scratched that the inevitable must occur, you must replace the glass.
Cleaning Window Tint Film
Window tint film is often applied to the inside windows to shade passengers or provide privacy. Window tint film is a thin sheet of Mylar plastic. Mylar easily scratches and will be destroyed by ammonia. To clean tinted windows, use mild cleaners and water only. Tint film that has been scratched can be polished with cleaners designed for the vinyl windows often found on convertible tops. The product I recommend for polishing and regular maintenance of window tint film is Plexus. Plexus comes in spray and is safe for use on plastic, Plexiglas, and window tint film. In addition to polishing your window tint film, Plexus works great on your tail light and headlight covers.
Windshield wipers are necessary to clean your windshield and rear window when it rains, snows, becomes bug ridden, or dirty from long road trips. Wipers perform best when the rubber is in good shape and the glass is fairly clean. You should make it a habit to clean your front and rear wiper blades at the same time you clean your glass. After cleaning your glass, use a damp cloth to wipe the rubber blades, removing bug residue, wax, and other dirt build-up. Although rubber dressing helps preserve, protect, and beautify the rubber and vinyl parts on your car, you should not use dressings on your wiper blades. Rubber dressing on your blades will cause streaking and smearing, impairing your vision. The best overall maintenance of your blades is keeping them clean. No amount of cleaning will keep your blades in perfect condition. Wiper blades wear with each use. Most wiper blades will last about one year. When your blades become worn, dried, or faulty replace them with a new set. Most manufacturers recommend replacing wiper blades at the beginning of fall.
If your car is a year or more old, a close inspection may reveal dirt build-up in the corners of your windshield and rear window around the trim. To remove this caked on gunk, use an old toothbrush or detailing brush with your spray cleaner. Before cleaning, lay a towel at the base of the window to catch drips. Spray your brush with window cleaner and shake off the excess cleaner. Use your brush to scrub along the trim, breaking loose the dirt. Use the tip of a cotton swab to reach underneath trim and remove trapped dirt. If your brush won’t remove the build-up of dirt use a sharp single edged razor blade to gently remove the dirt from your glass. Take care not to push your razor blade too far under rubber seals as this may cause leaks. Stay clear of defroster strips on rear windows that are not embedded in the glass. Cutting the defroster strips will render them useless. Follow up after the razor blade with your brush and glass cleaner.
Recently, the car detailing industry was introduced to a new cleaning cloth originally designed to clean semi-conductor manufacturing plants (often called “clean rooms”). The revolutionary new cloth is a polyester/polyamide woven fabric that is non-abrasive and hypoallergenic. Soft like silk, yet tough as a bulldog, the cloth attracts dust, grime, oily films and salt residues just like a magnet. The cloth’s patented surface structure contains 90,000 micro fibers per square inch. These “micro-hooks” grab, lift, and hold dust and grime without the need for cleaning solutions. When used damp on glass, the cleaning cloth, which we call the Miracle Towel, cleans windows by pulling dirt and oils into the cloth. The ultra fine structure of the Miracle Towel leaves exceptionally small water beads, which dry without spotting. For perfect glass, follow the damp Miracle Towel with a dry Miracle Towel. Your Miracle Towel can be used damp or dry. When used dry, it works like a chamois. The super absorbent weave holds up to seven times its weight in water. To date, I have not found a cleaning product that can match the ease of use or result of the Miracle Towel. If you regularly maintain your windows, the Miracle Towel is the best overall substitution to chemicals and terry cloth drying towels. Unlike terry cloth or other cotton towels, the Miracle Towel will not leave lint or cause streaking. The Miracle Towel will not, however, remove sap, tar or hard water spots from your windows. These problems will still require the use of chemicals.
Other Tips & Hints
For long road trips and unexpected problems, keep a cleaning cloth in your glove box. I have found the simplest solution to window cleaning away from home, comes from P21S. P21S makes a product called Windshield Wipes, which are a sealed pouch containing a cleaning cloth and a drying cloth. The cleaning cloth has a strong cleaning solution that cuts through most glass problems. Also, from P21S, I have found that P21S Windshield Wash Booster improves my wiper’s ability to clean my windshield without streaking. The power of P21S Booster easily cuts through bugs and road grime.