How To Clean Car Windows (Inside & Out) – An Easy to Follow Guide

Dirty car windows are just part of the price you pay for having a car.  Unlike your house, your car is constantly on the move, and it takes you wherever you need to be.  You wouldn’t want to go out in public not looking presentable, so why should your car?

Dirty windows make your whole vehicle look messy, even if you’ve just cleaned the rest of your car.  Appearances aren’t the only reason to keep your windows clean, though.

a man washing the windows of his black car from the outside

Sometimes it’s more serious stuff you have to be worried about, such as road glare – a problem that could potentially turn deadly.

Thankfully, dirty windows are completely preventable, and there are proven methods you can use to ensure your car is looking its best while also keeping you safe and not over-washing.

So please read on to discover the very best in easy and practical ways for how to clean car windows yourself at home, inside and out.

Why Should I Clean My Car Windows?

Cleaning your windows seems so tedious, and it really can feel like just another chore you have to do.  Why should you bother?  You can still see pretty well out of your windshield, right?

Well, there are plenty of good reasons to ensure you can see clearly out of all your car windows. Let’s take a look at those now.

Incomplete

Clean windows make the whole car look better, overall. It’s always nice to have a clean car, but seeing a clean car with dirty windows makes it look incomplete.

Cleaning your upholstery and making sure your car leather seats are looking their finest won’t be enough on its own.

Everything you do says something about who you are. Even the cleanliness of the windows in your car makes a statement about the person behind the wheels.

Visibility Difficulty

The most obvious reason to clean your car windows is that windows get dirty, and dirt reduces visibility. Not only does dirt reduce visibility, but smears and smudges can be a real distraction to the driver.

Dirty windows can enhance or even cause road glare. Road glare occurs when the sun shines in such a way that it covers the entire windshield with a bright light or “glare,” making your surroundings largely indistinguishable.

The Automobile Association in the United Kingdom reports that about 3000 accidents and 36 deaths per year are caused by road glare.   This is by far the most important reason to wash your vehicle’s windows.

The biggest cause of glare is the road grime from salt and rain that get onto your car’s windows.  Although road glare is not 100% preventable, its risks may be reduced by cleaning your windows on a regular basis.  Cleaning your car windows may literally save your life.

Offgassing

Offgassing is when chemicals and other compounds are slowly released from the materials used to make the products we use on a daily basis. This includes the windows in your vehicle.

It is what causes the hazy layer of film that you often see on the inside of your car windows.  Even though you may keep the rest of your interior spotless, your windows can’t be left unattended.

How Often Should I Clean My Car Windows?

This is a personal preference for the most part, but just remember that sometimes, your car’s windscreen washer fluid alone won’t cut it.  We recommend a good thorough cleaning of all the windows in your car at least once a month.

Of course, some factors may dictate the need to clean your car’s windows both a little more and a little less often.

If your windows become hard to see through, or you can see obvious smudges and streaks, it’s time for a clean.  If that hazy look doesn’t go away, even after turning on your defroster, it’s definitely time for a clean.

A smudge or smear here and there may not seem like big deal, and just one or two may not be, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.  Getting rid of that spot now will ensure that you will always be doing your best to stay safe, and it will make cleaning easier on yourself later.

Finally, if you use a car cover, or even just a windshield cover, it can extend the time needed between cleaning at lkeast your windscreen, but maybe all windows if you have your full vehicle covered.

What Do I Need To Do Before Cleaning My Car Windows?

Preparation is the key ingredient to success.  Even something as seemingly small as giving your car windows a good cleaning can have a dramatic impact on all of your hard work.

Make sure to give your car windows an initial spray-down or brief surface cleaning with a hose and rag before you get into the deep-clean.

This allows the cleaning agents to do their job better, and it will allow the windows to stay cleaner for a longer time.

Also, you need to always remember that technique is more important than the product itself. As you clean your windows, attention given to the way you clean will result in a better clean, even if you are using the “best” glass cleaner you can buy.

An Important Note About Parking Away From The Sun

Park in a place away from the sun to avoid evaporation. When water evaporates from your windows, it leaves behind watermarks where any leftover droplets used to be.

How Can I Clean My Car Windows?

Focus On One Section At A Time

It’s a good idea to only do sections of each window at a time, especially when cleaning the inside and outside of the front and back windows.  This also prevents evaporation by consolidating the area on which you are concentrating.

No Touching!

Be sure not to touch the newly cleaned glass with your hand or any other part of your arm. The oils in your skin will undo at least a small part of your hard work, even if your hands are clean.

What Material Do I Need To Clean The Outside Of My Car Windows?

Cleaning the outside of your car windows is the obvious place to start.  This will make it easier to see where and why the inside of the windows need to be cleaned too afterward.  Beyond running your car through the local car wash, you will need the following materials and equipment to give your windows a streak-free clean:

  • A spray bottle
  • Distilled water and white vinegar or your favorite glass cleaner
  • 2-4 clean microfiber cloths
  • A magic eraser
  • Detailing Clay
  • Rain-X or detailing wax

How Should I Clean The Outside Of My Car Windows?

Step 1: Having already completed a preliminary surface wash of your windows, spray your window with the glass cleaner or with the mixture of distilled water and white vinegar. We recommend using a 50-50 mixture of water and vinegar if you don’t want to use a store-bought glass cleaner.

The acid in vinegar breaks down dirt and grime that sticks to the windshield, so it’s a great and possibly cheaper alternative to glass cleaner; however, both get the job done, so the choice is yours.

Step 2: Use your microfiber cloth to wipe away the cleaner using an alternating back-and-forth and up-and-down motion over each window.

Using the same side of the cloth, spray a small amount of the distilled water and vinegar solution on the cloth, and wipe down your windshield wiper blades.

This prevents dirt that accumulates on the blades from being re-applied to the windshield when in use.

Step 3: If there are any greasy spots or streaks, respray that area and use the magic eraser to wipe it clean.

Step 4: Any liquid that is left over should get dried up on the opposite side of the microfiber cloth used to clean the window initially.

Step 5: After the window completely dries up, fill your spray bottle with distilled water and spray the window again. Open your clay detailing bar and wipe the window as you had with the microfiber cloth.

The detailing clay is not necessary if you don’t want to spend the extra money, but it does pick up any remaining dirt and grime that may be trapped on the surface of the windshield.

Step 6: After you have wiped the desired area with the detailing clay, wipe any remaining water dry with the opposite side of the microfiber cloth used to clean the windshield initially.

Step 7: Spray Rain-X onto the windshield and wipe dry with a second microfiber cloth. If you don’t want to use Rain-X, you may also use regular car detailing wax.  Both work in the same way, using silicon to form a protective layer over the glass causing the water to bead and run off the window.

Step 8: Apply the wax with a second microfiber cloth using a circular motion over the entire window. Let the wax settle on the window for about ten to fifteen minutes.  You will know that it’s ready to be wiped off when you can use your finger to draw a line in the wax, just as you would write “wash me” on a dirty car.  If your finger leaves a clear trail, it’s ready to be wiped away.

What Material Do I Need To Clean The Inside Of My Car Windows?

You won’t need as many materials to clean the inside of your car windows as the outside, but doing so is just as important.  Having cleaned the outside of the windows will now make it easier to clean the inside.

Here is what you will need to clean the inside of your car’s windows:

  • A spray bottle
  • Distilled water and white vinegar or your favorite glass cleaner
  • Two microfiber cloths
  • A magic eraser
  • A window cleaning wand

How Should I Clean The Inside Of My Windows?

Step 1: Using just distilled water, spray a microfiber cloth to dampen it. Wipe each interior window using alternating up-and-down and back-and-forth motions to reach every area. If you need to, use the cleaning wand to reach behind the seats, in front of the steering wheel, and the rear glass of the car.

The initial “rinse” with just distilled water acts as the car wash, removing any surface dust or dirt.

Step 2: Dry each window with the opposite side of the microfiber cloth used to apply the distilled water.

Step 3: Spray your glass cleaner or 50-50 white vinegar and distilled water solution onto a second microfiber cloth. Wipe each window as you just did with the distilled water being especially careful and gentle when cleaning tinted windows.

Spraying the cleaner directly on the cloth prevents any excess spray getting onto the rest of your interior.

It’s also wise to use a non-ammonia window cleaner if you decide not to use vinegar and distilled water.  Not only can ammonia cause eye and throat irritation, but it can also damage your tinted windows.

Step 4: Use the cleaning wand to reach any places you weren’t able to reach with just your hand.

If you don’t want to buy a window wand, you can always use the back of your hand to reach those hard-to-reach areas of any window.

Step 5: Similar to the outside of the glass, use the distilled water and your magic eraser to find any lingering dirty or greasy spots and wipe them clean.

Use caution with any tinted windows.  A lighter touch is needed to avoid removing the tint, and vigorous wiping may damage the film.

Step 6: Use the opposite side of the microfiber cloth used with the cleaning solution to wipe dry any remaining water spots to make sure there will be no leftover streaks.

Step 7: Before you finish, make sure to roll your window down slightly to clean the part of the glass that sits in the window gasket as dirt and grime build up thicker and quicker where the window seals.

Are There Any Other Tips Or Tricks You Have For Me?

There are always some extra things you can do to make sure you get the most out of your hard work.

– We don’t recommend using paper towels or rags in place of a microfiber cloth.  A microfiber cloth will always be the best option, because it can soak up excess water better, it won’t leave scratches, and it will pick up any extra dirt rather than simply moving it from side to side.

– Not all microfiber cloths are created equally.  We recommend using one with a GSM of between 300 and 400.  GSM is the measure of how soft the cloth is, and using one that is either too coarse or too soft will provide less than ideal results.

– When cleaning the edge of the windows where the rubber gasket meets the glass, use one part of your cloth to clean the edges of the window and fold the cloth over to clean the rest of the window.  Using a clean portion of the cloth prevents dirt and bits of the gasket material to be re-applied to a clean window.

– If you clean your windows right after you clean your car, make sure not to roll down the windows until your car is dry.  The gaskets that prevent water from getting inside your car doors usually take longer to dry and can leave streaks on your windows if they are still damp from the wash.

– Clean the inside of your car windows with the doors open.  This allows some airflow through the interior if you choose to use an ammonia-based glass cleaner.

– If possible, use warm water.  Warm water does a better job at breaking down dirt, just as warm water more easily dissolves most materials easier than cold water.

– When wiping and scrubbing your windows, don’t use a circular wiping motion.  A side-to-side and up-and-down wipe ensures the entirety of the glass will be cleaned the best.  It also allows easier access to the corners and sides of the window closest to the gaskets where dirt buildup is more likely.

– You can always “rinse and repeat.”  Don’t be afraid to go over any window a second time especially since grease can be tough to get rid of.  If you are worried about using too many chemicals, use the distilled water and white vinegar combination and increase the vinegar concentration if needed.

– The products you use are up to you.  You can always find ten cleaning experts who use ten different cleaning products, all of which are “the best.”  You decide what’s best for you.

Wrapping It Up

If you’re one of those people who appreciate a clean car and incessantly work to rid your windows of any blemish, you’re already one step ahead of everyone else.

Window cleanliness isn’t just about making your car look good, though.  It’s also about keeping you and everyone else on the road as safe as possible.

Dirt and grime are everywhere, especially outside.  Driving through all of it is just something that everyone has to deal with every day.  Preventing road glare and dirt buildup on your car’s windows is just one step that you can take to make yourself and everyone else on the road just a little safer.

Shawn Furman

I've had a passion for cars since 8 years old, and been a subscriber to Auto Week magazine since my 10th birthday. Ever since I turned old enough to drive, I have driven as many vehicles as possible, while teaching myself how to perform maintenance and upgrade work on every vehicle I've owned. For the past 10 years, I've been honing my skills as a vehicle hobbyist, in recent years also enjoying writing car reviews, opinion articles, vehicle how-tos, car-buying guides, and even provide individual consultations for those who need car-buying advice. In addition to writing for Vehicle Scene, I currently write for Autolist, and also own and operate my own vehicle blog website, The Unlimited Driver.

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