Oh Say Can You See? Cleaning the Windows

This month, we'll cover a topic that often seems to be the most frustrating of all: Cleaning windows. As we all know, you can have a car that's perfectly clean and shiny but if the windows aren't sparkling… Besides being a cosmetic eyesore, dirty and smudged windows can also be a safety hazard. Especially when driving with the sun in your eyes. The exterior of your windows is exposed to acid rain, insect fluids, sprinklers, industrial fallout and atmospheric contaminants that can etch the surface. The interior is subject to smoke, off-gas film (new car smell) and oily hazing from some interior dressings/conditioners.

To clean windows, we need the proper chemicals, tools and techniques. The chemical is the glass cleaner. This comes in three flavors: ammonia, vinegar and alcohol. I suggest not using vinegar based cleaners; while they may add some pizzazz to your salad, they do little to clean your windows. Ammonia and alcohol based cleaners are ideal, but they are not all equally effective. The concentration of each cleaner will affect its cleaning power. Also, use caution when using ammonia based cleaners on after-market tinted windows; many of the older films are very sensitive to them. The tools we use are our window towels specifically made for windows only and if required a spatula-like tool to get into tight corners. I prefer to use a fine microfiber suede towel like our DyNA Clarity Glass MicroSuede™. However, remember that no matter what towels you use for your windows, use them exclusively for that purpose (that means also washing them separately from anything else). See "Care For Synthetic Microfibers".

The technique that works best is the two-towel method: use one to apply and work in the cleaner and the second to buff the glass out. Always spray the cleaner on the towel and wipe versus spraying the cleaner on the glass to avoid creating spots on your dash components. As soon as the second towel becomes damp, don't hesitate to switch to a new one. Also, don't be afraid to use pressure when cleaning.

Occasionally, specialized products are needed. The exterior windows often collect mineral deposits (a.k.a. water spots) and insect residues. Most people's cars get the water spots while parked next to sprinklers. Contrary to popular opinion, water spots usually can be safely removed chemically without polishing or strong acids; you just have to have the right chemical. I strongly suggest you avoid abrasively polishing (especially the windshield) unless absolutely necessary, because the procedure can affect optical clarity. To remove new water spots on the glass or paint, try using a microfiber spot-dampened with distilled white vinegar. As far as insect residue, you can use a soft scotch-brite pad (or a similar sponge designed for your non-stick cookware) with a glass cleaner or a good pre-wax paint cleaner (especially a citrus based one) to remove it.

Now that you've your windows sparkling clean, you may want to protect them. That protection comes via "hydrophobic glass treatments" (it's just a fancy way to describe a chemical that repels water). Remember, much like paint, glass is porous (btw, which is why it's sometimes so difficult to remove mineral deposits). Think of it as waxing your windows on the outside. The most popular product that does this is Rain-X which was originally developed to be used on the cockpits of military fighters (I guess wipers don't work that well at Mach 2). Now that the patent has expired, a whole group of similar products popped up. Application of this product greatly protects the glass from the effects of sprinklers, other contaminants and makes it much easier to clean. We're currently testing a new family of products that not only repel water, but pretty much everything else with increased durability. So far in the midst of the winter snow/ice storms in the northeast, it has repelled ice and snow much better that Rain-X. We'll keep you up to date with the results of the testing.

A few final notes: Remember to clean the corners of the windows. And yes, that means behind the rear speakers on your Carrera and underneath the rear wiper motor of your 944 and other hatchbacks. Also, be careful with the defrost grid on the rear windows. I recommend you refrain from using those "anti-fog" treatments on the inside of your windows. (If you've ever applied them, you know why.) Finally, remember that it's much easier to keep windows clean if you keep up with them.