Sweating the Details: 9 easy steps to streak-free windows

Clean windows make a car look soooo good. Matt Fink

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?

Does the inside of your windshield look like this? Time to clean those suction cup marks! Matt Fink

What to have on hand

I like to use surgical towels as my window cleaners. Matt Fink

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.

Bonus tool

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.

Matt Fink

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.

Close to the defroster strip, but not on it. Matt Fink

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.

Up and down, then side to side. Then repeat with your dry towel. Matt Fink

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.

Matt Fink

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.

Make sure to wipe off that dirt line from the top of each window. Matt Fink

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.

Matt Fink

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.

Click below for more about
Read next Up next: Underdog takes Daytona 500, Honda’s wild CR-V track monster, AMG Hammer heads to auction


    What about vinegar and water, equal parts? I use this on my house windows and have found it works well on my car as well, especially removing bug splat.

    You can definitely use that. And it’s CHEAP! I like actual car window cleaner because I find it cuts through the haze on windows that haven’t been cleaned in many years better. But both work good.

    Yep, I mentioned that in the article. I still get the best results with nice towels, but newspapers definitely work as well. And are CHEAP!

    After failing to get some haze/dirt/grim off the windshield of a 2019 Corvette that I recently purchased using normal old-school processes (Stoner Invisible Glass cleaner and cloth rags). But after cleaning it multiple times and still NOT getting it perfectly clean, I went to Groit’s Garage website and ordered some Ultra Premium Glass Cleaner, Speed Shine, and Class Cleaning Clay. I followed the directions for each product and cleaned the windshield 3 times in succession. Each time it was better but still not perfect. So I really worked the Glass Cleaning Clay hard into the inside and outside glass. That finally got the crud off the window that I was seeing from the driver’s seat. Note: I think the previous owner (or the Dealership that I purchased the car from) had used a ceramic-type treatment on the windows as well as the paint.

    I think the Glass Cleaning Clay and using Speed Shine as a lubricant got the final layer of crud off the glass. So if just can’t get the glass clean, try using a glass-cleaning clay bar!

    Wow, fantastic review thanks. Maybe we need another article about how/when to use clay? I’ve definitely seen good results with it on the outside of windshields that have some tiny pitting going on. I can’t say I’ve ever tried it on the interior but now I’m intrigued!

    Great article. Two things think were pointed out but that I’d give more emphasis from my own experience.
    1- Waffle weave microfiber is much better at cleaning glass than common terry microfiber. I can’t understand why and I was a skeptic until I tested it myself.
    2- Unless the window is already very close to clean, I’d just go with the two step process. Then use something that breaks up oily type stuff first, then a dedicated glass cleaner second. Seems to me that the glass cleaner requires a lot of manual scrubbing with some types of deposits, and using only that ends up taking much longer than a 2-step method right from the get-go. So I’ll often use 409 or Fantastik first, then glass cleaner second and that’s a pretty easy way to do it.

    I always like to have clean windows. Long ago I was taught to use newspaper and agree it works the best. Never leaves streaks. Not sure why it works so well. Is it the water based ink or just the paper itself. Only problem is no one gets the paper anymore.
    thank you,

    Newspapers work because they are made of multiple dense fibers packed together. This makes it tough so it doesn’t fall apart and leave lint behind. And it makes it absorbent. It also doesn’t have a rough texture so it is gentle on the windows. Most newspapers in America uses a soy-based ink which leaves no streaks or smears. I guess there are a few that use a petroleum-based ink that does leave streaks though. You can test by holding a newspaper between your index finger and thumb for a minute. If they come off stained, it is probably petroleum-based and not good for windows. Otherwise, you’re good to go.

    Streaking is always a problem, and the final wiping with a dry towel is the important step. I use microfiber towels and find they leave “micro” particles on the glass. They typically don’t show right away, but a few days later. I think cotton towels may be the best.

    That’s weird about your experience with microfiber towels as that shouldn’t be the case. But I agree about the cotton towels and have had great success with a nice waffle weave surgical towel.

    Every rental car has dirty windows. At my first motel stop I use the wet rag/dry rag method with clear water to get the windshield reasonably clean.

    Preach Neil Preach! Rental cars are literally the dirtiest windows on earth because they so often try to clean them using the same dirty rag they just washed the wheels with (at least that’s what I picture in my head when I see the results!). I may need to bring towels with me the next time I travel and copy your advice.

    Thank you for the tips. Often times there are multiple ways to accomplish something, and some are better than others. The above tips will produce a much better result than the old Windex and paper towels. It just depends on the quality you are trying to achieve. I appreciate the article. Keep up the good work.

    Thanks Blake! For sure if someone has something that works then keep doing it. But I know most people struggle to get rid of streaks so just trying to offer some advice. And prevent anyone from causing damage with certain products.

    A few years back I came across a cleaner called ( are you ready for this?) SPRAYWAY. Stoners was the local go to product and I found it to be not so good. I do home improvements and I noticed the glass installers using Sprayway after installing new windows. I found it to be excellent, but only if you were following your methods to the letter.

    I had never heard of it but it sounds interesting. It’s very cheap at Walmart right now and says it is ammonia free and safe on car window tint. Thanks for the tip!

    Great article especially for those that have never been taught or learned the hard way to clean glass. I use and sell products from Pacific Products. the detailspray is called Super-Kleen. It is a concentrate of one rablesppon of concentrate to one quart of water. about 27 cents a quart as each quart will make 64 quarts of product. It will not streak in direct sun, even with black cars of which I own two. I use the 100% cotton towels from Costco. Be sure to wash them first. If your wife uses dryer sheets, clean the tub with a bit of vinegar or else you’ll have streaks. High grade micro-fiber works very well with Super Kleen when washing the body of the car. I get mine from Griots.
    Windex is a terrible product for car cleaning. One exception, spill coffee on yur carpet. Spray Windex and soak it up with a cotton towel. Voila! stain gone.

    Read all labels for cleaning your car! Pacific Products products are exempt from CA EPA because all ingredients are natural and bio-degradeable. Our tire cleaners, Re-Tire, Ultimare and Effort-Less will restore a natural and soft finish to the tires, either with white walls or black walls. It is also a great grease and oil remover like motorcycle engines. Spray and rinse!
    Effort-Less will remove the brown stains on new tires that are left over molding marks from the manufacturer. Maintain the clean with either of the other two. Re-Tire is excellent for cleaning and softening leather seats and stains from the carpets.
    Water spots remover is also available and can be used in direct sun too. I use a soft brush on vinyl tops or textured surfaces, , otherwise dab on and rub. There are many other products to use for cleaning, even aircraft fuselages need cleaning, we have that too, all harsh chemcial free. Interested, http://www.pacprokleener.com. For bugs on the paint, use two tablespoons of Super-Kleen in a quart of water, spray, let soak a few seconds and the bugs can be wiped away. We’ve done this at shows with flat-nosed Kenworth trucks and the drivers always buy it! Don’t use the bug spray for other cleaning tasks as it will streak. Like the article said, too much isn’t always better.
    I find using a dash carpet helps with the plastic effusions onto the windows. Nothing stops the wife’s make-up exuding on to the windows in hot weather. Just clean it again. We also have a great plastic headlight restorer, check out all the products from Pacifci Products, a small business in the Sierra Mountain wine country of Sutter Creek, CA.

    That’s a great recommendation, thanks. I will check out your website and may have to try some in the future. Thanks for sharing.

    Drive a roadster without roll up windows and all you have to worry about is the windshield and it is easy to get to.
    Now there is that damn Challenger.

    Haha, I started sweating just thinking about trying to climb in the back to clean the rear glass of a Challenger!

    Or just use Spray away!!!!! This glass cleaner is so much superior than all the others. I’ve used them all and this is the one u see at all the big car show competitions. Home depot sells them cheap in a four pack

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *