How to clean windows – the best way for streak-free results, with vinegar or not

Find out how to clean windows for streak-free results. This is the best way – using the right tools, and cleaners like vinegar – to have your windows sparkling clean, quickly

how to clean windows
(Image credit: Hillarys)

Learning how to clean windows is all about learning how to get the best possible, streak-free results with a minimum of effort. Ever spent half an hour cleaning a window only to discover that it's still grimy/covered in unsightly streaks? You can dodge streaks easily using the right technique plus some brilliant household ingredients like white vinegar... It is an essential job that makes your home look more presentable and can noticeably increase how much light is coming into your rooms – all the better when it is done with ease. 

How often should you clean your windows?

We spoke to the Thames Valley Window Company about the best way to clean your windows inside and out, and how often we should be doing it.

Ryan Thomas, Managing Director says, 'In order to maintain the aesthetics and practicality of your windows it’s important to clean the frames once or twice a year, although you may need to do this a little more if you live near the sea where salt exposure is high, or if you live in a busy city and are close to major roads or industrial sites.' 

'Water marks, dust and dirt will soon build up if you don’t regularly clean window glass. We suggest using warm, soapy water, but don’t use too much washing up liquid, as too many bubbles will leave residue marks on your windows. Use a clean lint-free microfibre cloth and change the water regularly so you’re not smearing on dirt! Use a soft, clean cloth to remove any drips. Finish by using a glass cleaner, or one part distilled vinegar with one part warm water if you’d like to make your own solution. Spray this directly onto the glass and use a soft paper towel to rub it off.'

clean windows: white wooden pane windows

(Image credit: Thames Valley Window Company)

The best way to clean windows

There are a few different routes to go down when cleaning windows, depending on how dirty yours are, how big they are, how much time you have and whether you prefer to use natural cleaning agents like vinegar or not. This is the best course of action:

1. Pick the right day for streak-free clean windows

Is it a sunny day? If it is, hold off washing windows until a cloudy day – it might be easier to see smears on a sunny day, but the sun drying the windows too quickly is usually the cause of any streaks in the first place.

2. Remove dust from dirty windows

Have you brushed, swept or vacuumed the window? Your success rate will be far higher on windows that are free of dust, so vacuum the sash, frames and sills first. Plus, doing so will ensure there's no muddy, soupy mess on the floor afterwards. Thomas recommends ''To clean window frames, start by opening your windows wide. Using a soft paintbrush, loosen any cobwebs, dirt and grime around the edges and hard to reach areas, then use a hoover with a soft nozzle brush to hoover around the frames.'

3. Choose your window cleaning tools, products and method

The tools you use depends on the buildup of dirt and your preference too. For every day wiping down, you may not even need any product whereas neglected windows will need more elbow grease for sparkling results.

Quickly cleaning windows

If your windows are given a regular wipe over and aren't hideously dirty, you can simply use a damp microfibre cloth to wet them, and a dry cloth (or a series of dry ones) to dry them off and achieve a streak-free finish. 

Ryan advises to 'Mix up some mild detergent with warm water and use a soft cloth to clean away any dirt. Make sure you don’t use anything with harsh chemicals as they may damage the frame finish. Wipe the window with fresh water to rise off any suds before wiping dry.'

The upside to using microfibre cloths is that they can be simply popped in the washing machine, ready for use next time, making them a fairly eco-friendly way of cleaning windows. Plus, you can use a squeegee before you dry off the windows with your microfibre cloth to cut down on the cloths you use and get the job done even faster.

Deep cleaning windows 

If microfibre cloths aren't coping with the dirt on your window – maybe it's not stubborn, but it's definitely copious – you might need to take a solution of washing up liquid and warm water to it. 

Start by wiping the soapy water on with an abrasive sponge, then rinse the windows with clean water; use a squeegee to get any further soapy deposits off; then use the microfibre cloths for a streak-free finish. 

What not to do: Make the water too bubbly – soapy suds will be left as filmy streaks on your windows and you'll wish you'd never started. 

If you're set on using a chemical cleaner to wash windows, we'd recommend a product that professional window cleaners use (and that we've tried out): HG Window Cleaner.

It does not contain ammonia or methylated spirits and complies with all professional requirements, as it is pH-neutral and does not damage paint, varnish or plastic. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for best results. 

To squeegee or not to squeegee?

We absolutely swear by squeegees at Realhomes.com Towers. There's one by the shower to clean the glass shower screen, and one under the sink to wash windows. We simply use the sponge mentioned in tip 2 then take a squeegee to the soapy suds to leave a streak-free shine. Finish it off with clean, dry, e-cloth and you're done.

What not to do: Clean the outside of an upstairs window from a ladder – leave that to the pros. 

4. Or, clean windows with vinegar...

Vinegar is probably what your grandparents used to wash their windows – and it's still seen as a really effective way to remove stubborn dirt. Better still, it's non-toxic and anti-bacterial. To make your own vinegar-based window cleaning solution, simply add two tablespoons of it to a small bucket of warm water. Then follow the steps for using soapy water (but be sure to wear rubber gloves).

If dirt is really, really ground on, put the vinegar solution in a spray bottle and apply to the panes, then leave for a few minutes before tackling with your sponge.

What not to do: Use a vinegar solution on any windows that have matt-painted or undercoated-only frames – you might find the frames stain. 

5. Clean big windows with a Kärcher

If your house has a large glazed extension or if you're lucky enough to have lots of large windows all around the house PLUS your home is somewhere that's prone to dirt build-up on windows, a window vac like Kärcher can help you get the window cleaning job done quickly – and with good results. 

Choose a cordless model with decent battery life, and bear in mind that these cleaning appliances do tend to do the job best with a cleaning fluid, so if you're looking for a natural solution that doesn't involve chemicals, you may like to keep reading. 

What not to do: Invest in one of these for small window panes; these appliances are best suited to expanses of glass.

More ways to clean windows naturally, or not

Clean windows with lemon

This is a simple alternative to window cleaners that both cleans and has a mild abrasive action. Simply cut a lemon in half, taking care to remove all pips, and rub the lemon half all over your window, finishing with a lint-free cloth. This method will work best on smaller windows as it's quite labour- (and lemon-) intensive.

Clean windows with rubbing alcohol

Don't have or don't want to use vinegar or lemon? Reach for your first-aid kit: rubbing alcohol is great at cleaning windows and disinfecting them, cutting through even stubborn dirt. The trick is to always mix it with distilled water rather than just your regular tap water. Distilled water doesn't have any mineral content that could show up on your windows as streaks once the alcohol has evaporated. Use a couple of tablespoons per 500ml of water.

More window cleaning tips

  • Avoid direct sun: Remember that you shouldn’t clean windows when the sun is shining directly on them, as the heat can cause the water to dry into spots or streaks.
  • Remove window dressings: This isn't a must, but if you're doing an annual, thorough window clean, it makes sense, especially if your window dressings are a) in the way and b) likely to be dirtied easily by drips and splashes. Plus, you can use this as a good opportunity to have curtains and blinds cleaned or freshened.
  • Frames first: Make sure the frames and sills are clean before you start.
  • Newspaper on streaks: Did your grandparents buff the windows with newspaper? It does work if you haven’t got a microfibre cloth handy.
  • Avoid flimsy kitchen roll: Some can disintegrate when they get wet and they will leave lint deposits on the window panes.
  • Air the room: Especially if you've been using vinegar as it's not the smell you want hanging around.

Best window-cleaning cloth

The Marigold Crystal Clear Window Cloth is a machine washable microfibre cloth that you wet and use to wipe the surface.

We wanted to know the quickest and most efficient way to clean mirrors, shower screens and windows, so we tested various cleaners to see how easy they were to use, how well they cleaned, and how easy they are to keep clean themselves.

Marigold Crystal Clear Window Cloth
This 'next generation' microfibre cloth gives streak-free results when you're cleaning glass. We love it!View Deal

When you're in a hurry (and when are we not?), you don't want to be faffing around with loads of bottles, so we tested with plain old water. The Marigold Crystal Clear Window Cloth is designed to be used with either water or a spray-on detergent for more thorough window cleaning. In our test, it was the easiest to use – it's just a single cloth that you dip in water and then use to wipe away marks. 

How effective is it at cleaning? If you want to quickly whizz around the inside of your windows, a window vac is undoubtedly speedy, but if you're on a low budget, don't have the storage space for one, or are tackling smaller surfaces, such as mirrors, the Marigold cloth gets your surfaces sparkling with minimal effort – simply wet and wipe. 

Is it easy to keep it clean? Yup, the Marigold cloths can simply be popped in a 60ºC wash, which makes them simple to keep clean. Job done.

You can see clearly now! 🏡