How to clean windows

Find out how to clean windows in our quick and easy guide – we'll have your windows sparkling clean in no time with these simple tips

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? 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.

Follow this simple guide for perfect, sparkling windows with minimum elbow grease. You can find our best window cleaning products in our buyer's guide, too.

Before you clean your windows...

Don't start cleaning windows until you've checked these quick tips:

  • 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.
  • Have you brushed, swept or vacuumed the window? It's sooo much easier to wash 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.
  • Have you removed 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.
  • Have you got some newspaper handy? If you've only got a couple of microfibre clothes, buffing your clean, dry glass with crumpled newspaper will give your windows a sparkling, streak-free finish. 

The best ways to clean windows

There are so many routes to go down when cleaning windows, depending on how dirty your windows are, how big they are and how much time you have. We've split the various best ways to clean windows to reflect what you might be tackling.

1. Get a streak-free finish on fairly clean windows with microfibre cloths and water

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. 

The upside to these 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.

What not to do: Swap out microfibre cloths for kitchen roll? Most will disintegrate when they get wet and they will leave lint deposits on the window panes. 

Find more toxin-free cleaning hacks in our guide.

2. Use soapy water and a scratchy sponge to remove medium-grade dirt

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. 

3. Get a squeegee to clean windows

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.

4. Remove stubborn dirt with a natural solution: 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. 

  • 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.
  • Make sure the frames and sills are clean before you start.
  • Did your grandparents buff the windows with newspaper? It does work if you haven’t got a microfibre cloth handy.
  • Air the room when you’re done – the smell of vinegar probably isn’t what you want hanging around.

5. Resort to a professional cleaning fluid if you can't face the vinegar

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. 

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

6. Get large expanses of dirty glass clean quickly with a window vac

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 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. 

Read our Kärcher Window Vac review for an idea of how a window vac works (and how well). 

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

7. How to 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. Find more ways to clean your home with lemon using our guide.

8. How to 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.

9. 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. It costs just £3!

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.

More no-nonsense cleaning advice: