How to Clean Windows, Inside and Out

how to clean windows, white room with windows

Calimia Home

If there’s one thing nearly all homeowners—even renters—look for in a new place, its natural light galore. Spacious windows allow bright light to flood your rooms and promote an indoor-outdoor balance, let you take in the views from outside, and can even make a small room feel much bigger. But if you fail to clean your windows regularly, you may not be maximizing on all that coveted natural light. 

Over time, it's normal for windows to become smudged with caked-on dirt, debris, watermarks, fingerprints, and more. To restore your windows to their former glory, it’s important to give them a thorough cleaning now and then. To help you out, we tapped experts for their top tips for how to clean windows, inside and out, so you can add this to your next house cleaning to-do list.

How Often Should You Clean Your Windows?

Realistically, your windows are not always going to be at the top of your must-clean list. However, the longer you go without a good washing, the harder it can be to properly cleanse them. For best results, it is recommended that homeowners give their exterior windows a thorough washing twice per year—possibly just once if your windows have screens. Interior windows should be wiped down every three to four months.

However, keep in mind that if you live in a location with above-average rainfall, high wind conditions, or lots of pollen, you may need to give those exterior windows a clean more often.

Things You'll Need:

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Dish soap
  • Spray bottle
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Squeegee 
  • Streak-free glass cleaner (optional)
  • Old newspaper or brown paper (optional)
interior kitchen windows

Calimia Home

How to Clean Your Interior Windows

Step 1: Remove Window Coverings

First thing's first: before you can even start cleaning your windows from the inside, you'll want to remove any window coverings. This is a great time to throw those drapes in the wash or give that pull-down shade a wipe to get rid of any dust that may have accumulated.

Schedule your window cleaning (both for the interior and exterior) on a cloudy day. This way, it will be easier to see the areas that need attention and the heat from the sun won't dry the cleaning solution too fast.

Step 2: Sweep Away Dust, Debris, and Cobwebs

Before wetting the windows, Roman Peysakhovich, a professional cleaner and CEO of window-cleaning company Onedesk, recommends using a dust cloth or microfiber towel to clean the dry window surface. Ray Brosnan of Brosnan Property Solutions says you can also use a brush or vacuum cleaner and get rid of any dust, cobwebs, or dirt that may be lingering in the corners or higher areas. "Be sure to also clean your window sills and the frame itself," he says.

Step 3: Wipe Down Frames

Next, you'll want to wipe down any remaining dirt and dust from your window frame, including the window sill. A damp washcloth should do the trick. "By doing the frames first you’re ensuring you’re not dripping dirty water all over your clean window panes," says Brosnan.

Step 4: Prepare Your Cleaning Solution

While a streak-free store-bought window or glass cleaner is a viable and easy option to use on your interior windows, a DIY solution of equal parts distilled white vinegar and water also works well. Peysakhovich recommends mixing one part vinegar with one part hot water in a clean spray bottle. Vinegar is highly acidic, meaning it can easily break down the grime left on glass window surfaces, without any of the chemicals or smells used in a store-bought cleaner. It's also naturally streak-free. For added cleaning power, add a drop of dish soap to the solution.

large windows in living room

Design by Emily Henderson Photography by Tessa Neustadt

Step 5: Clean Windows in an "S" Shaped Motion

Spray the cleaner or homemade vinegar solution on the window. Then, get to wiping down the surface with a microfiber cloth or newspaper (not paper towels!).

For best results, start in the top corner and work your way across and down the glass in a long "S"-shaped motion, making sure to rub every part of the window's surface. Another useful tactic is to use small, circular motions from the top corner, down. Either way, make sure there's a method to the way you wipe, as this will lessen the chances of missed spots or streaks.

According to Alexa Varela, general manager of Dallas Maids, newspaper makes a great window cleaning tool. "Use it as a drying cloth, and make sure it’s a black-and-white newspaper and not color. You can also use paper coffee filters, they are just as effective. This will ensure sparkling, streak-free shine."

Step 6: Squeegee Away Excess Water

A squeegee is the standard cleaning tool for windows, so we recommend investing in a good one if you plan on taking the DIY approach to cleaning your windows. They remove as much water and cleaning solution as possible to minimize streaking but allow the windowpane to stay moist as it finishes drying naturally.

How to Clean Exterior Windows

large windows in dining room

Studio KT

Step 1: Remove Screens And/Or Shutters

"If your window has screens in them, remove them from your window frame first — they’re very delicate and require gentle care when being cleaned," says Michael DiMartino, senior vice president of installations at Power Home Remodeling. DiMartino says that the most important thing step to cleaning outdoor windows is proper preparation. That means having your materials ready and your windows accessible. This may require removing shutters as well.

Step 2: Prepare Your Cleaning Solution

According to DiMartino, the biggest mistake homeowners use when cleaning their windows is using the wrong materials. "Many people use a standard, store-bought glass cleaner to wipe down windows, which seems like a smart solution, but, in reality, a lot of glass cleaners are made with harsh chemicals like ammonia and petroleum." Per DiMartino, these additives can not only attract dust, but they can also potentially eat through your window’s sealant and vinyl and degrade the integrity of the window itself. Additionally, these chemicals can also damage the low-E coating found on window glass, which helps keep out harmful UV rays and helps increase your home’s energy efficiency.

Instead, less is more here. The best solution is to use a homemade mixture of dish soap and warm water. With a bucket of that in hand, you’re ready to start cleaning.

Step 3: Wipe Down the Windows

The newspaper trick works just as well on exterior windows as it does with interior ones, but you might want to leave it for the final swipe, since the dirt on your exterior may be caked on harder and require a bit more elbow grease. You can begin with a regular washcloth and the cleaning solution to remove the caked-on dirt, and finish off with a swipe of dry newspaper in the same "S" shape to mitigate any streaks or missed spots.

Step 4: Squeegee Away Excess Water

Our experts are in agreement: don't forget the squeegee step. Start at an upper corner, and draw the squeegee down in a straight stroke. Make sure to wipe the blade of the squeegee with a lint-free cloth in between strokes, if needed.

How to Get Rid of Streaks on Windows

If streaks happen, here's how to get rid of them. First, try buffing it out with a dry, lint-free microfiber cloth. Sometimes, just a tiny bit of elbow grease will help to eliminate the lingering mark. If the streak still remains, re-spray the area with the vinegar-water mixture, wipe clean, and squeegee in a clean, downward motion. As Brosnan tells us, "It is essential to use a squeegee so you’re not left with unsightly streaks on your clean windows."