Start with a good squeegee
The keys to success are buying a good squeegee and keeping it fitted with a sharp, new rubber blade. The same high-quality window washing tools the pros use are readily available at home centers and full-service hardware stores. The whole setup is inexpensive and will last many years. In addition to a 10- or 12-in. squeegee you'll need a scrubber, a bucket (a 5-gallon plastic bucket will work), hand dishwashing liquid and a few lint-free rags or small towels.
Buy a good squeegee and replace the blade frequently. Look for replacement blades, also called rubbers, where you buy the squeegee and pick up two or three to have on hand. The pros we talked to change their squeegee blades as often as once a day. That's because you just can't do a good job if the edge of the blade becomes nicked, sliced or rounded over with use. If your squeegee leaves streaks or just isn't performing like new, don't hesitate to replace the blade (Photos 9 and 10). You can get a little more mileage out of blades that aren't nicked or sliced by simply reversing them to expose a fresh edge. When you store the squeegee, make sure nothing touches the blade.
You don't need fancy buckets or special soap. Any large bucket will do. Just add a couple of gallons of water and about a teaspoon of dishwashing liquid and you're ready to go. In warm weather, you'll get a little more working time by using cool water. If you've procrastinated so long that you're washing windows in below-freezing temps (I learned this the hard way), add wind shield washing solution until the water doesn't freeze on the glass. Scrubber or sponge? It's up to you. A scrubber works great and is worth buying if you have a lot of medium to large panes of glass. But a good-quality sponge is all you really need, especially if most of your windowpanes are small.
Our squeegee method is easy to master
Photo 7: Wipe off excess water
Use the rag in your pocket to wipe up excess water along the bottom edge of the window. Then poke your finger into a dry spot on a separate lint-free rag and run it around the perimeter of the window to remove any remaining suds. Wipe off any streaks using a clean area of the lint-free rag. Change rags when you can't find any fresh, clean areas.
Follow our complete how-to in Photos 1 through 7.
Professional window cleaners sweep the squeegee back and forth across the window in one continuous motion. But this “fanning” technique takes practice to master. Instead, the method we show allows you to get great results immediately. We're moving the squeegee horizontally across the glass (Photos 4 – 6), but vertical strokes will work too. If you work vertically, angle the squeegee to direct excess water toward the uncleaned area.
You can use a squeegee inside the house too
Photo 8: Divided-lite window solution
Wash divided-lite windows with a sponge and a small squeegee. If you can't find a small enough squeegee, you can cut off a larger one to fit your glass size. Scrub the glass with a wrungout sponge. Then use the tip of the squeegee to clear a narrow strip at the top (same technique as Photo 3). Pull the squeegee down and wipe the perimeter.
The pros do it all the time, even in houses with stained and varnished woodwork. The key is to squeeze most of the soapy water out of the scrubber to eliminate excessive dripping and running. Then rest the scrubber on the edge of the bucket rather than dropping it in the water after each window. Depending on how dirty your windows are, you may be able to wash five or ten windows before rinsing the scrubber. Keep a rag in your pocket to wipe the squeegee and quickly clean up soapy water that runs onto the woodwork. Use a separate clean rag to wipe the perimeter of the glass. New “microfiber” rags (Photo 7) work great for window cleaning. They’re available in the cleaning section of some home centers and hardware stores.
How to change your squeegee blade
Change the squeegee blade if it's nicked, sliced or worn. Photos 9 and 10 show you how.
Tips for hard-to-clean windows
Photo 11: The razor blade solution
Remove paint specks and labels with a razor blade mounted in a holder. Always use a new blade to avoid scratching the glass. Wet the window first and push the blade across once. Rinse the blade and repeat on the next section to avoid trapping debris under the blade that could scratch the glass. Don't use a razor blade on tempered glass.
Dried paint, sticky labels, tree pitch and bug crud may not yield to plain soap and water. Here are a few tips for removing this tough grime.
- Scrape wetted glass with a new, sharp razor blade to remove dried paint (Photo 11).
- Remove tree pitch or bug droppings with a fine (white) nylon scrub pad. Wet the glass first and rub in an inconspicuous area to make sure you're not scratching the glass.
- Add 1/2 cup of ammonia per gallon of water to help remove greasy dirt.
- Loosen sticky residue left from labels or tape by soaking it with a specialty product like Goof Off. You'll find Goof Off in the paint department at hardware stores and home centers. Then scrape off the residue with a razor blade.
Window washing in a nutshell
Once you master the simple technique, you can get your windows sparkling clean in 30 seconds! Follow this 10 photo series.