Sweating the Details: 9 easy steps to streak-free windows
Welcome to Sweating the Details, a new, limited series in which Hagerty educates you on how to clean and maintain the visual appeal and condition of your ride. Matt Fink is a part-time auto-detailer in Columbus, Ohio, as well as Hagerty Media’s branded content writer.
In life, I am better than the average person in precious few areas: For starters, I have an immaculate red beard that even the finest beauty product fail to replicate. I am a Mario Kart 64 ace, lethal with shell and banana peel alike. And I’m an expert at cleaning car windows without leaving streaks.
Fact is, everyone loves to have clean windows, despite the reality that few understand how to get them. Despite their best efforts, most people leave streaks when they attempt to clean automotive glass. In this article, I’ll teach you how to leave no trace and become window-cleaning royalty in 9 easy steps.
Though the exterior gets the most attention, the inside of a windshield or windows is just as worthy of a good wash. Clean inside glass is safer for you as a driver, too; haze makes it harder to see, especially at night and in the rain. Did you ever notice that dirty glass is more susceptible to condensation (fogging) during temperature changes than clean glass?
What to have on hand
Streaking is the enemy, and not Will Ferrell-naked-in-Old-School kind. To avoid streaks, you’ll need proper towels, cleaners, and technique.
What you use to wipe windows is way more important than what you spray on them. A towel that is free of contamination is essential. My recommendation is that you have specific towels you use exclusively for window cleaning. Do not expect success if you simply spray Armor All on a bath towel, wipe your dash, wash it, and then expect to use it to clean your windows next time. Purchase some nice microfiber towels, selecting a type that is absorbent and lint-free. Waffle weave works best. (Another good option is a 100-percent-cotton surgical towel or diaper.) Keep them in a container labeled “For Windows.”
There are many great options as far as cleaning solutions, including Griot’s Window Cleaner. I use Meguiar’s Window Cleaner Concentrate, or the brand’s Perfect Clarity Glass Cleaner. Both work well on exterior and interior glass, but the concentrate is way more cost-effective and may literally last you a lifetime. The most important benefit of these products is some lasting rain/snow protection on the outside. They are also ammonia-free and safe on window tint. Stoner Invisible Glass is also a nice product, especially the aerosol spray (typically $4 at Walmart). The benefit of using an aerosol or foaming cleaner is that it doesn’t run on vertical surfaces and start to drip before you wipe it. Be sure to read labels! Some glass cleaner is only meant for exterior use.
As with any job, the right tools can make it a lot easier. If you have short arms or the dashboard layout is particularly deep, a reach tool for cleaning the interior glass can be helpful, and there are a few versions on store shelves. The wand makes reaching across the front windshield and rear window a breeze. It gets into interior glass corners, as well, and the removable bonnet can be washed.
What NOT to use
❌ Paper towels
Put down the Bounty and step away from the cardboard tube! That is, unless you wan to leave tiny little paper fibers all over the glass. Secondly, many paper towels have lotions and moisturizers added to them, which will cause streaks. Don’t cheap out on towels. You’re always better off buying nicer ones and cheaper window cleaner, rather than the other way around. If you are desperate and can only use what’s on hand, a newspaper will work in a pinch. It’s both absorbent and lint-free, not to mention cheap.
❌ Household glass cleaner
Many household glass cleaners contain ammonia (e.g. Windex.), which can harm plastics, damage infotainment screens, or remove the glossy texture on wood. It can even stain leather and degrade window tint.
❌ Extra concentration
A little goes a long way, so if you are diluting a concentrated product, be sure to dilute it all the way. A stronger concentration seems like it would work harder for you, but in reality i just leads to more streaks.
OK, now that we’ve put away the issue of supplies, let’s talk methodology. You absolutely must have two towels on hand: A “wet” towel and a “dry” towel. You will never get the results you want using a single towel.
Step 1: Inspect outside windows
If there is tar or sticker residue, attack that first. Soak that area with your automotive specific window cleaner and use a razor blade to remove it. As long as you keep the blade flat to the surface, there is no way to damage your glass. Be sure to keep the area very wet while you are using a razor blade. Keep the blade away from running over defroster strips and rubber seals.
Step 2: Open all doors
Generous airflow helps dry the windows. And if it’s summer, by the time you get to the back window, it can be an oven in there. Plus, some cleaners have a strong smell and fresh air never hurt anybody.
Step 3: Windshield first
I always start on the front windshield, for no other reason than that it’s the most important area to get clean so you may as well attack it when your towels are the cleanest. I spray plenty of glass cleaner on the glass itself, but it is a matter of personal preference if you prefer spraying onto the towel. Both methods work.
Don’t be afraid to give the glass a good soaking: a common mistake is using too little cleaner which can —you guessed it—lead to streaks. Applying solution, whether directly or by towel, gets tricky on the inside of the front windshield. I lay an extra towel on the dash to catch any drips. There are a few glass cleaners (like this one from 3M) that claim to be safe for use on interior plastics, but in general it is not a good idea to leave cleaner drips on the dash. They won’t hurt if quickly wiped away.
Step 4: “Wet” towel first
After covering the glass with cleaner, use your wet towel to wipe the product all over the window. (Or simply apply with a wet towel soaked with cleaner.)
The method here is not like applying wax. No circles! On the front and back glass I like to do just half of the surface (left or right) at a time. Start with a “box” wipe: go along the four sides of the window. Make sure to get into the edges and corners. Then wipe up to down from one end to the other, and finally, side to side from top to bottom. Be sure to wipe all the cleaner rather quickly, because when the product begins to dry on glass it leads to streaking—another reason to use plenty of cleaner. Outside, in the summer, drying will happen faster than you think.
If your wet towel starts to get too dirty or too wet, open up the folded towel and use a fresher side. There is no need to wipe the window totally dry with this towel.
Step 5: Absorb and buff
With a little moisture still left on the glass, quickly switch to your dry towel to absorb and buff the remaining moisture. This process may seem like extra work, but the dry towel is what will remove all the streaks. So really take your time on this part and make sure to go over all the glass. For my dry towel I do the same box wipe, then go in reverse order side-to-side and finish with an up-and-down wipe. This is by far the most important step to do with care.
Step 6: Double checks
Did you miss the corners? Try using your reach-y tool thingy.
And while sitting in the driver’s seat, don’t forget to clean the rear-view mirror, sunroof, gauges, infotainment screens, and vanity mirrors.
Step 7: Side windows
Use the same cleaning steps with each window. For the side windows, put them down a couple inches BEFORE you clean them to wipe the edges, then put them up all the way. If you try to put a window down after cleaning it, it can be very frustrating to see water spots come up with it.
Step 8: Rear window
OK Hitchcock fans, watch that arm when attending to the back glass. Especially if you’re crammed in the back of a two-door, you probably feel like a hot mess in the back seat, so don’t let that sweaty arm touch the window surface.
Step 9: Don’t forget the wiper blades
When you are finished with the windows, the last step is to use your wet towel to clean off the wiper blades. Remember: this surface rubs across your windshield exterior over and over. You’ll be surprised how much grime comes off.
Other hot tips
- When washing your window towels, never put a fabric softener sheet in the dryer. This will cause the towel to … all say it together, “leave streaks!”
- To keep my towels organized, for my sanity, I have a different color towel that I only use on windows.
- Do not use your wet towel on more than one vehicle before washing. It will be full of dirt.
- If the car has been smoked in, expect the inside windows to need a double cleaning treatment.
- Even if you get the inside windows perfectly clean, they will still need to be cleaned again after a few months. The plastics on cars release chemicals into the air that can cause the hazy look on the inside of your windows. Ever wonder where that “new car smell” went? Your glass.
- If your local dealership offers to clean your car as part of the service, ask them to never touch your interior windows. Some of the worst windows I have ever seen are on high-end cars taken in for dealer service. I’m guessing these places use the same nasty wet towel to dry the outside body as they use to “clean” the inside windows.
- If your windows have heavy water spots, you may need to take additional action. The easiest way to remove them is to use a clay bar on the glass.
- Whenever possible, clean your car windows in a shady area to help to reduce the evaporation rate of your cleaning product.
- Be careful who you tell. All of this information is applicable to cleaning the windows of a house, so it may be best to keep roommates/partners/spouses in the dark. (Unless you REALLY love clean windows.)
As with most car care practices, cleaning your glass properly is one third using the right tools, one third knowing how to use them, and one third taking the time to do the job right. Do you have any other tips for getting and keeping your car windows clean? Let us know in the comments.
Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it. To get our best stories delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletters.
Good tips, and I especially appreciate the mentions of name-brand products that you’ve had good experience with. I like the recommendation of storing your “glass towels” in a separate, marked container (a large clear sealable baggie should work), because I long ago forgot which color towel goes with which task (getting old is heck)!
Thanks for the feedback. More detailing articles to come!
there is an advantage to cleaning the windows when the sun is setting as is will show any streaking left on the window that you might have missed … detailing porsche cars at the dealership they had us using old newspapers
Maybe not use newspaper…newspaper is made of wood, quite abrasive. its also covered in ink. Towels are best. Not paper towels.
Paper towels—–bounty will streak,
Scott towels have none of whatever bounty has in them, more like pure paper and the do not streak.
Newspapers are an old detailers trick. the ink acts as a polishing compound. I’ve used them for years and they work great.
F11! Fast and easy!👏❤️✌️
OK, what’s the name-brand of the tool with the removable bonnet? Great article.
There are a few brands. I use an “Invisible Glass Quick Change Reach & Clean Tool”. https://stonercarcare.com/collections/glass-cleaner/products/quick-change-tool
Matt, want streak free glass with LOTS less hassle (not to mention NO solvents whatsoever) two words for you…PERFECT CLOTH! Cleans anything without streaks !
Check em out for yourself…call Ron (248-219-2212) and tell him John from Erie PA sent ya.
Thanks for the diaper suggestion, but next time I’m going to make sure it is a clean one. And to keep my windows clean I am taking my dog to the shelter tomorrow. The nose prints, ugh!
All kidding aside, have you noticed the inside glass gets cloudier in hot weather? It is the plastics in the interior trim exuding their ketones (which we are all breathing in as well). So try “organic air conditoning” and roll the windows down or at least turn off the recirculating button on the air conditioning (the one with the car outline with a double-back arrow) so that fresh air comes in.
Your tips can definitely help reduce that haze on the interior some, thanks.
These are good tips and tricks.
I always clean windows in the shade – never direct sun.
I once got a vintage removable hardtop for my TR6 and cleaned off the nasty haze of cigarette smoke from the rear window using a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Easy!
The Mr. Clean sheets are great for that. It’s a shame the writer of this article didn’t know anything about them.
Patrick, always appreciate any feedback. I did not mention Magic Erasers because of the risk they pose. They are made from melamine foam, a type of abrasive material, so if they are used with pressure on tinted windows they can damage them. They also aren’t safe on your car’s leather, some interior plastics, and definitely not the infotainment screen. So although they do work in some situations, I decided to focus on the easiest way to get streak free windows without the risk of anyone doing damage to their cars.
I wear those cheap white gloves when cleaning to keep any stray goofs from oiling up the glass.
Randy that’s brilliant! I should do that.
Drip coffee filter paper are lint free and work well for me.
Mr Clean erasers are abrasive, something you should mention before recommending. They will do a number on plastic radio and Infotainment screens. It appears the writer does know about them.
Great article, any advice on getting water spots etched into the outside glass out?
Thanks for the tip about the Magic Erase, glad it worked for you!
So, your big tip was to clean the window twice, ok.
Good grief man…give it a rest.
Boy, no kidding. If that is all you got out of this, you may want to read it again. Lots of good info here.
Get a spray bottle. Fill it 3/4 full with washer fluid. Add vinegar till full. Spray glass. Wipe with crumpled up newspaper (white with black ink) till newspaper is saturated. Wipe with new pieces of newspaper till streaks are gone. I’ve never found anything better in 30 yrs. Your welcome.
I agree with Paul S 100%. I was a detailer for a dealership in the 80s-90s and we only used newspaper. You don’t need to pre wet the newspaper but don’t use the full color advertisement pages because the ink would streak on the glass. The B&W print pages works awesome and is streak-free every time, plus there’s never any fear of contaminants to scratch the glass like you have with a towel. Back then we used a brand that is now called SprayAway Glass Cleaner (available on Amazon). Its the same formula (just a new name) and is ammonia free and foaming so it doesn’t run down the glass before you have time to wipe it.
I struggled for several decades getting rid of streaks. Best process I found was multiple cleanings with clean paper towels each time. Then my wife told me to pick up a can of SprayAway. One cleaning with fresh paper towel and I couldn’t believe it.
I use Invisible Glass with crinkled up packing paper. It’s like newspaper without any print. (Every time we get a box with packing paper I squirrel it away). One piece damp followed by one piece dry. I wear nitrile gloves so no oils from my skin can touch the glass. After 50 years of cleaning glass I found this to give the best results. The best place to check for haze afterwards is in the garage under fluorescent lights. Those lights show more defects than the sun.
Where do you get newspapers?
What is a Newspaper? Do you get it at the Butcher Shop?
What this guy said. Although I prefer to use an ammonia free glass cleaner. Newsprint isn’t as ubiquitous as it once was, but nothing works better at 1/100th the price.
Agree 100% – I have also been doing the same thing for a long time and it works very well!
Absolutely! As a new and used car prep guy in the 70s our boss always had me use newspaper on the windows. He claimed that the newsprint kept the haze away longer and cut through cigarette smoke better. It seemed to work good.
The absolute best!
In a worse case, hit first with a dilute solution of dish detergent, then the vinegar sol’n hit. Smells like dirty feet but dissipates (soon).
Ian, I will say the Meguiar’s glass cleaner smells like grape juice so there is advantage haha.
*Italian Sports Car* formula, grape juice AND feet.
Great tips thanks.
Have never found anything better than Finishing up with News Paper no matter what product!
Ditto newspapers – parents told me about those in the 70s. I still have piles of newspapers I kept just for window cleaning. Window cleaning ends up being an interesting historical distraction now, checking out events, trends and adverts from 10-20 years ago.
Same here! News paper is the real key.. Doing it for 50 years.
Sounds like a lot of work, but also explains my poor results. I’m bookmarking this for Spring, when the car comes out of winter hibernation.
Honestly if you keep it up, it’s really easy after the first time. So much less haze makes it easier to clean.
Plastic razor blades are effective at removing bird bombs, tree sap, and stickers from glass without risking defroster grids or rubber seals.
For tree sap, better than razor blades, and much safer is ordinary salad oil. take your pick of olive oil, canola oil, or any other salad oils. Just a drop or two to cover the sap. Wait a bit, then wipe off. Then clean the oil off. In fact, salad oil will also work on a lot of glues, and will not scratch.
This is silly. I use Windex and a paper towel. Works perfectly every time.
I guess this is for the rest of us. For me, the paper towels leave lint, both on the glass and on the dash. and Windex will streak unless I use it in the shade.
If it works for you Jim, go for it. Working with costumer’s cars I can’t risk the spots it can leave behind if it drips.
And it does; I found that out the hard way, and had to get special product to get the spots off the dashtop.
You’re joking, right? I used to do it that exact way, until I tried using a better product and clean cloth towels, pretty much as this author recommends; the results were amazingly better.
If you think Windex and paper towels do just as well, you just aren’t really looking at the results, especially in low-angle sunlight; take a closer look, and you will be amazed at how streaked your windows are.
Just don’t use the first and last towel on the roll, glue…
I too have used Windex or store brand glass cleaners with ammonia for years. I’ve found the streaks are usually from the paper towels, not the cleaner. I just go back over with a clean old t-shirt. The window cleaners with ammonia are very good at cleaning minor crap from seats & carpet too. Check in a non important spot 1st, but in 40 plus years on all different types of seats & carpets, I’ve NEVER had a discoloration. Kids spill Coke or whatever, break out the Windex!
Water spots on exterior glass respond well to Bon Ami cleaner used with plenty of flowing water.
I have never tried Bon Ami, will have to do a little research first. It does seem like a nice basic non-toxic cleaner though. Just have to make sure it safe on car materials. Thanks for the tip.
You may have mentioned this in the article, and I missed it, but when cleaning windows on both sides, it’s good to do one side with horizontal wiping, and the other vertically. That way if and when you do leave a streak, it’s easier to take care of it.
This is what I’ve always done: HI-VO (like the old auto parts store Hi-Lo that became Oreilly)
Horizontal – Inside
Vertical – Outside
Makes it easy to know which side of the glass needs more attention.
I use the Wax-On Wax Off motion gets the glass Super Clean
Thanks Tim. I actually had 10 points originally and that was one of them. For real! But it felt too long so I cut that tip out. Glad you mentioned it. Especially as you are learning it’s a great practice.
You thoughts on good old “Glass Wax” in the pink can for the exterior; I found it to be quite good. Too messy inside with its residue.
Hey Tim, I can’t find Glass Wax sold anymore. Do you know of it anywhere? I’d be willing to try.
I’ve been using Gel/Gloss. It’s yellow and very much like Glass -Wax. You can find it on Amazon.
Actually it’s called Glass Wax Polish by Gel Gloss. Sorry for the confusion.
Thank you! About the Magic Eraser-I had just restored a Dune Buggy and received the permanent license plate. The tape I used to attach the paper temporary license left residue. I thought that a Magic Eraser would be a good choice to remove the residue. That is when I learned that the Magic Eraser is SANDPAPER! The shiny finish was now marred with dull squares. It took a lot of buffing to get most of the shine back.
Oh no Rick! Really appreciate you sharing this story. Hopefully others will read your comment. I don’t want someone using a Magic Eraser just because someone else recommended it without understanding the risk!
Using newspaper is still the best choice over towels.
With all respect, have you tried those waffle weave towels or the specialty glass towels from a good microfiber like the Rag Company? Pretty impressive. And yes, I have cleaned more than one smokey back bar mirror with newsprint!
For years I’ve used product call NoStreek – it’s like a wax, which is applied with a slightly damp clean rag (like a t-shirt, and after it hazes, removed with a micro-fiber towel. Always crystal clear.
Newspaper does work well, alot of car dealers use it
Thank you Matt for the great tips. Any opinion on RainX. Should I apply to the exterior of the windshield after I get it clean?
I do like RainX and use it on the outside glass. It doesn’t last forever, I would estimate about 2 months in my experience. RainX usually says 3 months. But it’s pretty cheap. It’s a slightly different application process, basically you need to let it dry before wiping if off.
I like Rain-X as well ! Let dry Completely and buff it off with a soft cloth. No matter how well I buff / wipe, I see a haze in the right light. I have found that spritzing a little mist of water after buffing using a paper towel to wipe dry takes care of that !✔️ Hardly ever use my wipers with that stuff. Good and useful tips in article btw !
Interesting, Rain X in the picture but no disussion. I S W E A R by it, but then again I’m a British Car fan up on which are the most useless wipers in the world are installed. Rain X literally makes rain roll off glass. GREAT STUFF!