How to Keep Your Windows Spotless when the HOA Won't

It's not ideal to wash windows on a sunny day -- the heat of the sunlight can cause the windows to dry too quickly, leaving streaks.
It's not ideal to wash windows on a sunny day -- the heat of the sunlight can cause the windows to dry too quickly, leaving streaks.
© iStockphoto/Thinkstock

As many as 20 percent of American homeowners live in a community managed by a homeowners association (HOA) -- and that number jumps to as many as 80 percent for homes built in the last 25 years or so [source: Meyer]. HOAs aren't just found in single-family home neighborhoods; townhouse communities and condominiums also may have to play by HOA rules.

A homeowners association manages a neighborhood's or community's common areas, properties and expenses, such as trash collection, snow removal and upkeep of common green space or swimming pool maintenance -- all with dues paid by residents in the community. Not all HOAs are run the same way, and the rules and responsibilities are individual to each; for example, while one HOA might use fees to cover roofing maintenance costs, another HOA might not, and individual homeowners may be responsible for basic home maintenance such as roof repairs, lawn mowing, and twice-a-year window cleaning.

While your favorite glass cleaner and a microfiber cloth are the perfect one-two punch for removing everyday spots from windows, when you want to go beyond touch-ups, you need a few more tools for the job -- as well as a little free time (and a bit of elbow grease).

Before beginning your window-cleaning efforts, it's not a bad idea to let your neighbors -- and your HOA -- know your plans, especially if you'll be standing on ladders or using telescoping or loud equipment.

Let's begin inside, and let's begin on a cloudy day (cleaning windows on a sunny day can leave your windows with streaks).

The Ins and Outs of Window Cleaning: Inside

When cleaning inside windows, start with the windowsills and frames rather than with the glass -- this will keep any dirt, dead bugs or other debris that may be stuck in corners from adding more smears to the mix when you begin to clean the window glass. Just spray these areas with a general purpose cleaner, wipe them clean, and dry them with a clean cloth. Good ventilation and well-controlled humidity levels in your home will also help keep windows clean; the less condensation that builds up on panes means you're less likely to see small black mold spots on your sills.

With clean sills behind you, it's time to tackle the windows. Working one window at a time, apply soapy water to each window with a lint-free cloth to loosen up the dirt and debris. (Although some may prefer a store-bought window cleaning solution, just a few drops of liquid dishwashing soap mixed with warm water will get the job done just as well.) Remove the soapy solution from the glass with a squeegee, and buff windows to a streak-free dry with a clean, lint-free cloth. Dry any drips on sills or floors with a clean, dry towel.

Regularly cleaning your screens when you clean your windows will actually make the job quicker and easier, so don't skip this step when you clean your window glass -- you'll not only eliminate heavy build-up, you'll also probably find yourself finally making that quick repair to a rip in the screen fabric you've been meaning to get to. Remove dust and debris from screens from the inside with a quick pass of the vacuum fitted with a drapery brush attachment. Alternatively, you could wash them with soap and water -- outside. Be sure to mark which screen belongs in which window before you pull them out for a soapy rinse [source: Pella].

The Ins and Outs of Window Cleaning: Outside

When using a ladder, safety should be your first priority. Try to avoid balancing on one leg.
When using a ladder, safety should be your first priority. Try to avoid balancing on one leg.
© iStockphoto/Thinkstock

When it comes to cleaning outside windows, things depend on the type of window you have in your home. New homes, or homes with newly replaced windows, are likely to have tilt-in or easy-to-remove panes designed with simplified cleaning in mind. The rest of us are going to need a few things for the job: a garden hose, a ladder, a bucket of clean water, a bucket of cleaning solution (this could be a bucket of soapy water made with a few drops of dishwashing soap), a cloth-headed brush or natural sponge, a squeegee and dry, lint-free cloths (microfiber works well). Be careful when choosing the right tool for your outside window cleaning job: While a power washer may make quick work of window cleaning, rent or purchase a light-duty washer and always start on the lowest setting -- spraying windows with high-pressure water streams may cause the glass to break.

Begin by wetting the windows -- give each outdoor window a good spray with your garden hose before applying a soapy glass cleaning solution. If you have more than one story, begin with the highest window and work your way to ground level; and if you're working on a ladder, make sure you take safety precautions and have a spotter close-by if at all possible.

Working one window at a time, use the cloth-headed brush or large sponge to soap up each wet window; this is going to loosen up the debris stuck to the glass, including anything stuck in the corners. The next tool from your bag of cleaning tricks will be the squeegee. Remove the soapy water (or whatever your preferred cleaning solution) with your squeegee (a long-handled or telescopic type may be easier to work with, but it will depend on your windows and your personal window-cleaning style), and wipe the blade with a lint-free cloth after each pull. Dry each window with a clean, lint-free cloth, and don't forget to wipe windowsills with a dry rag.

For a crystal-clear view, use a straight-edge razor blade to remove any paint drips on window glass from the last time the HOA painted.

Author's Note: How to Keep Your Windows Spotless When the HOA Won't

Take a moment to appreciate the fresh edge of a new rubber blade on a squeegee, and you'll understand why they're the best for any window cleaning job -- or so it would seem from general window cleaning instruction and research I read while writing this piece. The verdict? I haven't tried it -- yet.

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Sources

  • D'Agnese, Joe. "How to Clean Windows Like a Pro." This Old House. (June 28, 2013) http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/how-to/intro/0,,20364019,00.html
  • Marvin Windows and Doors. "Glass Cleaning." (June 28, 2013) http://www.marvin.com/cleaning_glass/
  • Meyer, Scott. "Homeowners Associations: Can you fight them and win?" MSN Real Estate. (June 28, 2013) http://realestate.msn.com/homeowners-associations-can-you-fight-them-and-win
  • Pella. "How to Wash Windows and Screens." (June 28, 2013) http://pressroom.pella.com/fast_facts/99/how-to-wash-windows-and-screens
  • Reader's Digest. "8 Clever Solutions for Cleaning Windows." (June 28, 2013) http://www.rd.com/home/cleaning-organizing/8-clever-solutions-for-cleaning-windows/
  • Stoeckert, Anthony. "Resident vs. HOA Responsibility." The New Jersey Cooperator: The Condo, HOA & Co-op Monthly. (June 28, 2013) http://njcooperator.com/articles/241/1/Resident-vs-HOA-Responsibility/Page1.html
  • The Family Handy Man Magazine. "How to Wash Windows." (June 28, 2013) http://www.familyhandyman.com/windows/how-to-wash-windows/view-all
  • The Home Depot. "Buying Guides: Windows." (June 28, 2013) http://www.homedepot.com/webapp/catalog/servlet/ContentView?pn=Windows_Buying_Guide&storeId=10051&langId=-1&catalogId=10053