I've always liked washing windows, especially if they are good and dirty. When I was a kid I’d grab the spray bottle of vibrant-blue window cleaner and a roll of paper towels and have at ‘em. Later, I learned that crumpled newspapers worked better than paper towels (and are free), and that vinegar diluted with water is just as effective as commercial window cleaner spray (containing who-knows-what-all chemcials). Then I learned the REAL secret to fast, green, and superior home window cleaning: the squeegee!
A squeegee pulls all the water and dirt off freshly washed glass, leaving nothing but the shine: no streaks, no lint, no smudges. If the rubber part gets nicked, you can replace just that, but otherwise it will last for generations. And it works with a little natural dish soap in a bucket of water, so using it is practically free and very ecofriendly. Squeegeed windows even stay cleaner longer because you aren’t putting a static charge on them that will attract dust and fuzz, which happens when you clean glass with rags or paper.
Now's a good time of year to scrub your windows, removing all the gunk from a winter's worth of cooking and indoor living so you can enjoy the beauty of spring.
What You'll Need:
• A squeegee (12 inches to 20 inches are widths to start with; you don't want a squeegee wider than your window) [You’ll find professional window-washing tools at janitorial supply houses, some big-box home-improvement stores, or online. Expect to spend $15 to $20 for a good squeegee with a replaceable rubber blade.]
• A sponge (I like the kind with a scratchless scrubber on one side) or—and this is a real time-saver for large windows—a window scrubber, which is a professional window-washing tool that looks like a floor mop, that's the same width as your squeegee)
• A large bucket
• 2 soft, absorbent, and, preferably, lint-free cloths
• Natural liquid dishwashing soap
• A handle extension or appropriate-height ladder (if any of your windows are too high to reach)
• Razor blade scraper for stubborn gunk and paint spots and such
Ready, Set, Wash!
Dust your window with one of your cloths, remove the screen (if any), and brush or vacuum out any dirt lurking in the track or frame where the window or screen fits. If you have removable mullions (grills designed to make it look as if the window is made up of multiple panes), take those out as well.
Put a few inches of water in your bucket, add a squirt of dishwashing soap (don’t overdo it), soak your sponge or window scrubber, and squeeze most of the water out of it by hand.
Use the sponge/scrubber to give the whole window a good rub. If you encounter spots that aren’t yielding, use the razor blade on the wet window (to help prevent damage) to scrape them loose. Do NOT use a razor blade or anything other than the soft scrubber on windows with protective coatings or energy-efficiency films, except according to the window manufacturer’s instructions. Finally, clean around the edges where the glass meets the frame, and wipe down the frame itself. Lots of gunk can collect there, so sometimes those edges need extra attention.
Run your second cloth around the edge to dry the frame and the very edge of the glass next to it. Then, holding the squeegee horizontally, place the rubber edge against the glass at one edge of the top of the window, and pull it smoothly across the windowpane to the other edge. Lift the squeegee, wipe the edge with your cloth, and repeat, slightly overlapping the last swipe you just made. Repeat with as many swipes as required, and when you're finished, dry any drips on the bottom frame or sill with your cloth.
If hard-water spots remain, clean them off with a paste of water and Bar Keepers Friend (the powdered kind made of oxalic acid) on a sponge, wipe it down with the soapy water, and squeegee dry again.
The squeegee works well only on wet glass, so if you find the lower part of the window is dry before you get to it, give that part another once-over with your scrubber before finishing the window.
Outdoor Window Washing:
If your windows tilt so you can wash all the sides from inside, you're home free. If not, you’ll have to head outside to do the second half of the job.
A still, cloudy day is a good day to tackle the outsides, as the wind and the sun will tend to dry your windows before you get a chance to squeegee them. If ladders are involved, be sure you know how to use them safely, and do your washing when someone else is around to help you if you have a problem.
Most of my windows are just a little too high to reach, so I stick with a simple pole extension, which is less work than lugging a ladder around and setting it up multiple times. When working over your head with the extension, it's easiest to start at the top and pull the pole down toward you, covering the window with vertical swipes. (And if you do horizontal swipes inside and vertical ones outside you’ll be able to easily tell which side any streaks that might remain are on.)
Clean Your Screens:
There is no sense putting dingy screens back over your sparkling-clean windows. Most of the time, vacuuming gently with a soft brush attachment will remove dust, but if they're really dirty, they'll need to be washed. Be sure to do that against a flat surface so you don’t stretch or damage the screening.
It's easiest to do this outside: Spread a couple of old towels on a picnic table, lay one screen at a time flat on the towels and scrub both sides with a soft scrub brush and water with a squirt of dishwashing soap in it. Lean the scrubbed screen against a wall and rinse the dirty water off with a hose. Dry, and reinstall. You can also try this in your tub or shower, perhaps scrubbing up against one of the walls; just be careful not to scratch the finish of the tub or shower with the frames.
Rinse your tools and set them out to dry (in the sunshine is always good), toss the wiping cloths in the washer, and you’re done! Affordable home window cleaning with no trash at all. Hard to get any greener than that.
Farm gal, library worker, and all-around money-pincher Jean Nick shares advice for green thrifty living every Thursday on Rodale.com.