Crystal-clear windows make us happy. It's true. Sparkling, streak-free windows are on most people's lists of top five surfaces that make us happy when we know they're clean -- in fact, clean windows are ranked fifth among those surveyed about cleaning satisfaction, behind floors, toilets, countertops and showers (mirrors, though, fall near the bottom of the list -- we don't really mind if those get a bit dusty). And when the windows aren't clean, they're the very first thing we want to wash when spring comes around -- at least for 72 percent of us [sources: Sansoni, Sansoni].
Let the sun shine in with these window cleaning tips for apartment dwellers not blessed with a window-cleaning service. First, you'll need a vacuum.
Just as you'd spend the additional time to prep your space before starting a painting job, a little prep before washing your windows may lower the amount of scrubbing you'll need to do.
Before breaking out the cleaning solution, break out the vacuum -- if you have an apartment-friendly, space-saving handheld vac or a dusting-brush attachment, now's the time to put it into action. Vacuum (or sweep) all around the window, including the corners, the screens and the windowsill. While vacuuming won't help clean up water stains, mineral deposits, and dirt from the glass, doing so will help keep dust and debris that's built up around the window frame from streaking (or worse, scratching) the window glass as you clean. Use a cotton swab that's been moistened with a little white vinegar to clean any grime hiding out in corners.
If your apartment windows have blinds or drapes, take them down before cleaning -- and maybe give them a good vacuuming, too.
Don't Wash Windows on Sunny Days
While you might think you need a bright, sunny day to see the most streaks and grime that have built up on your windows, when you clean glass in the sunshine you're actually creating more streaks -- and that's the opposite of your desired end result. What's going on is this: If you apply cleaning solution to glass that feels warm when you touch it, those hot windowpanes will cause the liquid to dry too quickly, and that will leave streaks behind.
Instead, pick a more gloomy day to tackle this task -- overcast days are good choices, as are days that are about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (about 21 degrees Celsius) [source: SanSone].
Squeegee: The Right Tool for the Job
One of the best tools for window cleaning isn't -- contrary to what many of us use -- a roll of paper towels but, rather, a squeegee. It's what the pros use, and properly using a squeegee to clean the inside of your windows won't make a big wet mess. Let's talk about technique.
First you need to choose the right size tool for your space, and for the windows you're cleaning. You'll do fine washing most windows with a 10- to 12-inch (25.4- to 30.5-centimeter) squeegee, and for windows that have muntins (those strips of wood or other material that make up the grid of a divided windowpane) or skinny windows, get a custom-fit by snipping the metal ends of an improperly-sized squeegee so there is quarter-inch (a little more than half a centimeter) gap between each end and the edge of the windowpane [sources: Family Handyman Magazine, D'Agnese]. Attach an extension pole to your squeegee for windows too high to reach.
Although you probably won't need to wash your windows more than a few times a year (if that), you can still put your squeegee to work; use it as part of your bathroom-cleaning tools to clean a glass shower door.
Select the Right Window Cleaner
Among the bottles in the cleaner aisle, you'll find glass cleaners promising streak-free results -- but what they don't tell you is that those results often come with a catch: a lot of elbow grease.
You don't need to buy a special glass cleaner, although the best is a non-abrasive window cleaning solution -- you probably already have a cleanser in your apartment strong yet gentle enough for the job. Soapy window cleaners -- a few drops of liquid dish soap in a bucket of warm water, for example -- will work on cutting through dirt and grease and will also work well with your indoor squeegee technique (and it's also safe to use on tempered glass). When you use a soapy or sudsy detergent remember: The less you use, the better. Use too much and these products can cause a soapy residue to build up on your windows, causing streaks and dull, dingy glass.
A one-to-one ratio of vinegar to water also makes glass sparkle, and can be used in place of a soapy cleanser (although it probably won't smell as good).
Perfect Your Washing Technique
Get professional-grade window cleaning results by following a professional-grade cleaning technique. Begin with a scrubber such as a soft sponge, natural sea sponge or a cloth-covered head on a squeegee, a bucket of warm clean water (your "dirty" bucket), and a bucket of warm water with just a few drops of liquid dish soap in it (if your blade squeaks like an old wiper blade on a dirty car windshield, you need a little more soap in your mix). Dip the scrubber in the soapy water and squeeze out any excess suds. Scrub one window at a time.
Begin cleaning the window with your squeegee. Start at a top corner and pull the squeegee down in a single straight stroke; repeat downward strokes, and dry the squeegee blade with a lint-free cloth (not a paper towel, which will leave lint on the blade) after each stroke. When all vertical strokes are done, pull the blade horizontally across the bottom of the window glass to clean up any remaining drips [source: Martha Stewart].
Use a Squeegee Inside
Using a squeegee for cleaning the inside of your windows means tidying up your technique to avoid puddles and drips from accumulating on your sills and floors as you clean. It's important to keep window cleaning solution away from woodwork as it can damage the finish, and is best avoided with a wipe-as-you clean style (a few strategically-placed towels laid out before you begin can make a big difference in your fight against drips). Use the smallest amount of water to do the job -- and keep the blade of the squeegee from becoming too wet by wiping or shaking excess off the blade and resting it on a dry surface instead of in a bucket of water [source: Family Handyman Magazine].
For best results, clean with new blades; buy replacement rubber blades when yours becomes worn around its edges, cracks or no longer seems to do a very good job cleaning -- and wipe up any drips as they may happen.
Dry With a Soft Cloth
Don't reach for that handy roll of paper towels to dry your newly-cleaned window glass. Paper towels can leave behind lint, and there are other -- and better -- options that are lint-free, gentle and will leave your windows sparkling. Reach for a microfiber cloth or reuse a soft, often-washed T-shirt, clean cloth diaper or chamois; a piece of crumpled, black-and-white newspaper or a clean paper coffee filter will also dry and buff your window glass to a streak-free finish.
Wipe the window frame with a clean, dry cloth to catch any droplets or soapy residue that may be lingering.
Polish With Paste
Renters take note: You may avoid move-out fees for any minor scratches in window glass by buffing them out yourself before your lease ends.
It's likely you already have what you need for the job: A toothpaste that contains baking soda, or any non-gel toothpaste, is the best for polishing out tiny scratches. And the technique is simple -- you'll need clean windows, a tube of toothpaste and three clean cloths. Apply a small amount of paste to a soft cloth first, and gently rub the scratch (a circular motion is best) for about 30 seconds. Wipe the area clean with a damp cloth and dry it with a lint-free cloth [source: Luttschyn].
Baking soda can be used as an all-purpose, non-toxic cleanser, and because it's is a gentle abrasive it could be used instead of toothpaste -- just mix up a thick paste (about 3:1 baking soda to water), and use as above.
Buffing is also important for removing any tough stains that may have accumulated over the years.
Remove Labels, Stickers and Decals From Glass
Believe it or not, stickers and labels stuck with an adhesive to your window glass can be removed -- and without a trace of glue residue. How? It's not magic; it's isopropyl alcohol.
Soak part of a soft cloth with isopropyl alcohol (also called rubbing alcohol). Apply the cloth to the sticker, and gently rub the area until the sticker begins to lift and the glue dissolves. Lemon juice or a nail polish remover that contains acetone will also work, if that's what you have on hand. For best results, wait a few minutes after applying the adhesive remover before peeling off the label, and just as when you're cleaning window glass, removing adhesive from glass should be done out of direct sunlight.
Use Homemade, Nontoxic Glass Cleaners
The sparkle created by a homemade glass cleaning solution can rival the work of a chemical cleaner, but without the worry about introducing toxic, damaging chemicals to your home. Distilled white vinegar (or lemon juice) and warm water -- mix them together in equal parts -- can be relied upon to not only leave windows streak-free, but the vinegar will also break down any residue or grease on the surface of the window.
Also use homemade glass cleaner to make your own glass cleaning wipes, good for touch-ups: Combine half a cup of white vinegar and half a cup of isopropyl alcohol with two cups of water, and pour over a roll of paper towels that's been cut in half. Store in a zip-top bag.
HowStuffWorks finds out how often you should wash your coffee cup or mug to avoid germs.
Author's Note: 10 Window Cleaning Tips for Apartment Dwellers
I think that of all the valuable glass-cleaning tips I picked up researching this article, most of all I appreciated learning good technique for removing stickers, labels or any other adhesive-backed thing from glass -- I've also now used lemon juice as well as white vinegar to remove labels from the bottoms of kitchen tools and pots.
More Great Links
- Andriani, Lynn. "There's a Wrong Way to Dust? And 5 Other Cleaning Mistakes." Oprah. Jan. 30, 2012. (June 14, 2013) http://www.oprah.com/home/House-Cleaning-Tips-and-Ideas
- Apartment Therapy. "Quick Tip: Clean Scratched Glass with Toothpaste." Feb. 17, 2011. (June 14, 2013) http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/quick-tip-clean-scratched-glas-139567
- Better Homes and Gardens. "How to Wash Windows." (June 14, 2013) http://www.bhg.com/homekeeping/house-cleaning/surface/how-to-wash-windows/
- D'Agnese, Joe. "How to Clean Windows Like a Pro." This Old House. (June 14, 20130 http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/how-to/intro/0,,20364019,00.html
- Forte, Carolyn. "Quick Window-Cleaning Tips." Good Housekeeping. (June 14, 2013) http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/cleaning-organizing/quick-window-cleaning-tips
- GlassesCrafter. "How to Remove Scratches on Eye Glasses." (June 14, 2013) http://glassescrafter.com/information/remove-scratches-on-eyeglasses.html
- LiveWell Network. "Glass Cleaner Wipes." (June 14, 2013) http://livewellnetwork.com/Deals/recipes/Glass-Cleaner-Wipes/8707431
- Marvin. "Glass Cleaning." (June 14, 2013) http://www.marvin.com/cleaning_glass/
- Palomo, Eulalia. "Natural Homemade Streak-Free Window Cleaners." National Geographic -- Green Living. (June 14, 2013) http://greenliving.nationalgeographic.com/natural-homemade-streakfree-window-cleaners-2457.html
- Perratore, Ed. "Tip of the Day: How to Clean Windows." Consumer Reports. July 31, 2007. (June 14, 2013) http://news.consumerreports.org/home/2007/07/tip-of-the-da-1.html
- Sansoni, Brian. "Happiness is ... Shiny Floors and Tidy Toilets?" American Cleaning Institute. May 14, 2008. (June 14, 2013) http://www.cleaninginstitute.org/happiness_is_shiny_floors_and_tidy_toilets/
- Sansoni, Brian. "Spring Cleaning Survey Reveals Consumers 'Dirty' Little Secrets." American Cleaning Institute. March 20, 2013. (June 13, 2013) http://www.cleaninginstitute.org/spring_cleaning_survey_reveals_consumers_dirty_little_secrets/
- Sansoni, Brian. "Windows, Blinds, Curtains and Carpets: Top Targets for Spring Cleaners." American Cleaning Institute. March 14, 2012. (June 14, 2013) http://www.cleaninginstitute.org/2012_spring_cleaning_survey/
- The Family Handyman. "How to Clean Glass Windows and Doors." (June 14, 2013) http://www.familyhandyman.com/windows/how-to-clean-glass-windows-and-doors/view-all
- The Family Handyman. "How to Wash Windows." (June 14, 2013) http://www.familyhandyman.com/windows/how-to-wash-windows/view-all
- The Martha Stewart Show. "Washing Windows." (June 14, 2013) http://www.marthastewart.com/265525/washing-windows