Does the Color of Windshield Wiper Fluid Matter?

Windshield wiper fluid's only job is to assist in cleaning the windshield so you can drive safely. But does its color matter? It depends on the brand.

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As a General Motors master technician for 27 years, an ASE master technician since 1978 and an automotive technology teacher currently preparing the next generation of automotive service professionals, car fluid service is a topic I know inside and out.

Running out of windshield wiper fluid (aka washer fluid) is a major annoyance, especially if you’re trying to see through dirt and snow while driving.

Like its distant cousin anti-freeze, windshield wiper fluid comes in assorted colors. The color of anti-freeze is used to indicate its type and the additives the original equipment manufacturers specify to protect engines from overheating and corrosion. But no color standards currently exist for windshield wiper fluid— the colors are mostly cosmetic.

Windshield Wiper Fluid Colors

Different color windshield wiper fluids are usually dyed for marketing purposes, and, depending on the brand can indicate different things:

  • Blue: Standard year-round fluid, effective for dust and road dirt.
  • Green: Summer driving, effective bug remover.
  • Orange: All-season with deicer, effective against ice and road salt.
  • Yellow: Winter with deicer, effective melting ice off the windshield with freeze protection up to -34 degrees.
  • Purple: Concentrated wiper fluid mix for summer.

Regardless of the color, read the label to determine if the windshield wiper fluid you plan to purchase meets your vehicle’s specific needs. If your vehicle has a rain-sensing wiper system, choose washer fluid that doesn’t leave streaks and thoroughly cleans the windshield. Residue left on the windshield can confuse the rain-sensing infrared sensor located next to the rearview mirror, keeping the wipers on even if it is not raining.

Does It Matter What Windshield Wiper Fluid I Use?

It depends. Blue washer fluid works fine for most applications. It’s important to use a wiper fluid containing deicer during the winter if you live in colder climates with frequent snow. Look for bug remover windshield wiper fluid if you spend a signification amount of time driving on highways.

What Is Windshield Wiper Fluid Made Of?

There are no standards for windshield wiper fluid ingredients. The fluid is mostly water and may include additives such as methanol, ethanol, isopropyl or denatured alcohol, ammonia, dyes, mild degreasers, detergents and ethylene glycol (anti-freeze). Most washer fluids contain surfactants, which are chemicals that help the wiper squeegees evenly spread the washer fluid to better clean the windshield. Some manufacturers no longer use methanol (because it is a hazardous liquid) or denatured alcohol because it can ruin a vehicle’s paint.

Windshield wiper fluids free of harsh solvents

  • Prestone Bug Wash windshield wiper fluid (which is green) contains no harsh chemicals or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and is for summer use.
  • Rite-Kem Bio-Clean windshield wiper fluid concentrate (which comes in several colors) is biodegradable and contains no ammonia, VOCs, solvents or other caustic ingredients or agents. However, you’ll need to add ethanol or isopropyl alcohol for winter use.

Safety First: Alcohol and methanol are flammable. Always use a funnel when pouring these fluids into the windshield wiper fluid reservoir and clean spills with plenty of fresh water.

Can You Put Water in Windshield Wiper Fluid?

Yes, but you shouldn’t. Water will dilute windshield wiper fluid’s cleaning ability and make it more like to leave streaks on your windshield. More importantly, the washer fluid reservoir, hoses, nozzles and washer pump can freeze and crack if you forget to empty the water before the temperature drops below freezing.

Can You Make Your Own Windshield Wiper Fluid?

Yes, there are many homemade windshield wiper fluid recipes people can try out. Most are affordable, and usually very eco-friendly. Here’s a basic recipe:

  • 32 ounces white vinegar(other types of vinegar can stain your paint or windshield glass).
  • 96 ounces water (preferably distilled).
  • Three or four drops Dawn dish detergent.
  • Clean one gallon jug.
  • Mix all the ingredients, then pour into the washer fluid reservoir.
  • Cut the vinegar to 16 ounces and replace with 16 ounces isopropyl alcohol for winter weather.
  • Mix the solution well and use as needed.

Pay attention to the ingredients when concocting homemade windshield wiper washer fluid. Here’s a true story: It was snowing. My washer reservoir was empty, and the dealership where I worked was out of washer fluid. I needed something for the long ride home. Someone suggested using alcohol from the body shop. Mix it 50/50 with water, they said. “It’ll be fine.” Unfortunately, what I grabbed was denatured alcohol. The following week I found the denatured alcohol had completely stained the paint on the roof and hood, resulting in an expensive paint job.

Can I Mix Different Color Windshield Wiper Fluid?

Yes, if you must, but it’s not recommended. Mixing different types or color washer fluids isn’t dangerous. However, mixing washer fluids reduces the benefits of each, often making the resulting fluid less effective.

Pro Tip: The best windshield wiper fluid will not make up for worn or damaged wiper squeegees.

In my experience, the windshield washer fluid reservoir is one of the most overlooked maintenance items in our vehicles. Replace it if there is scum, muck or rust build up that can clog or damage the washer fluid pump.

Bob Lacivita
Bob Lacivita is an award-winning ASE and General Motors auto technician, educator and freelance writer who has written about DIY car repairs and vehicle maintenance topics. His work has been featured in The Family Handyman, a Reader's Digest book and Classic Bike Rider magazine. He has been a career and technical educator for 25 years teaching automotive technology, as well as writing state, federal and organizational foundation grants. He also helped design a unique curriculum delivery model that integrates rigorous, relevant academic standards seamlessly into career and technical education.