Have you noticed how fantastic your vehicle looks with perfectly clean, clear windows and plastic? I know I do. Unfortunately, many of us ignore the windows when we wash, because it adds a few precious minutes. I’m guilty, myself. After all, who likes to do windows?
Okay, let’s be serious for a moment. Forget the time involved in keeping your car’s windows clean; have you stopped to think about how dirty, hazy, water-spotted glass can be a safety hazard?
Driving your car with dirty, hazy windows on a rainy night or in heavy traffic, straining to see, is a driving impairment. You should consider this a true danger. I know I do. In fact, the older I get the more I appreciate an unobstructed view.
Cleaning your windows is one of the most tedious car detailing tasks, but it’s worth the effort. In addition to being a hazard, the effect of dirty glass will quickly ruin the appearance of your perfectly polished and waxed automobile. After you’ve completed all other detailing tasks, put the perfect touch on your car by detailing the glass.
Automotive Glass Cleaners
As with the selection of car wash and car wax products, it seems like no two car enthusiasts can agree on the ultimate glass cleaner for their car. Some people like ammonia cleaners, while the purists will use nothing but clear water. Whatever you use, the principles are the same: clean, dry and polish.
I highly discourage the use of ammonia-based glass cleaners on your car. While ammonia is an excellent glass cleaner in your home, ammonia is harmful to many car surfaces, including vinyl, rubber and leather.
More importantly, the use of ammonia inside your car is harmful to your health. Use an automotive glass cleaner that specifically states it’s safe to use on window-tint film. A glass cleaner that’s safe for window-tint film will not harm the plastic and vinyl surfaces in your car.
Glass cleaners in a spray bottle work fine. The only problem is overspray on the dash and upholstery, as it’s difficult to direct the spray of glass cleaners. You will have the best luck spraying one side of a clean towel, wiping the glass, and then drying with the other side of the towel.
In the old days, professional car detailers used plain water for wiping and cleaning the windows, and dried the glass with newspaper. Unlike paper towels and most cotton towels, newspaper does not leave behind lint, and the ink acts as a glass polish.
The big drawback to this method is the newsprint ink on your hands when you’re done. With the advent of microfiber detailing clothes, cleaning windows with newsprint is all but gone.
Here are a couple of automotive glass cleaners that I highly recommend:
- Meguiar’s Perfect Clarity Glass Cleaner (an amazing cleaner… I also use it in the house!)
- Invisible Glass Premium Glass Cleaner
Cleaning Car Windows
Start your window cleaning with the driver’s door and front passenger’s door. If your door has a window frame, lower the window approximately 1-inch to allow access to the top part of the glass. This part should be cleaned and dried first. Spray with glass cleaner and buff dry. Now roll the window back up, and clean the remainder of the window.
Pay attention to the corners of the windows, as this is where you will get most smears and streaks. Don’t forget your driver’s side and passenger’s side mirrors.
While you’re sitting down in the passenger’s seat, clean the inside of the windshield. It is easier to clean from the passenger’s side, as your access is not obstructed by the steering wheel.
Take your time around the rear view mirror, as it is only glued to your windshield. If you bump into the rear view mirror hard enough or at the right angle, you can break it loose from the glass.
The inside of the rear window is the most difficult to reach and should be done last. The best technique for cleaning your rear window is to use the back side of your hand to guide your towel down into the corners. Trying to use the palm of your hand will force you to be a contortionist and you will draw strange looks from your neighbors.
Microfiber Detailing Towels
Not long ago I recommended a specific glass-detailing towel. While the microfiber glass towels worked great, I was going crazy trying to keep the different towels and their purposes straight. I had dark blue, light blue, green, orange and pink towels. It was nuts! I finally came to the conclusion that the waffle weave detailing towels are the best general-purpose towels, and they work great on glass and clear plastic.
If you’re looking for a specific microfiber towel for glass, my experience is that the towels with a deep, plush nap do not work well on glass. The best microfiber towels for glass have a low pile and a tight weave, like a polishing towel. The tight weave gives them a little more scrubbing power.
Be cautious of inexpensive microfiber towels. There’s a good chance that any microfiber towel you purchase in bulk through a retail chain will leave lint on your glass.
Fiber shedding is a significant problem with bulk towels. These bulk products are most commonly created for janitorial services by low-cost bidders in China. The quality is often terrible.
When using microfiber on glass, it’s best to use two towels. One should be damp with water or your favorite glass cleaner. The second towel should be dry for buffing.
Cleaning Water Spotted Car Glass
I suspect that the windshield is the most overlooked surface on most cars. At best, you wash it when you wash the car and spray it with a few shots of glass cleaner when you can no longer see through the haze. Did you ever think of polishing your glass?
Normal driving will coat your windshield with a variety of contaminants that normal glass cleaners cannot remove. Plus, your windshield has the greatest vertical forward exposure, which means it gets pelted with road stones and other debris. It’s a wonder that windshields hold up as well as they do.
Automotive glass polishes that remove minor water spots and road contamination have been around for quite a while (although they are not always easy to find). I recommend Griot’s Garage Glass Polish to keep glass clean and free of water spots.
It’s simple to do. Just rub the polish in thoroughly with a terry cloth applicator, and buff dry with a terry cloth or microfiber towel. For really tough spots, Griot’s Garage makes a polishing system with a 6" Random Orbital Polisher.
If you have severe water spotting, you can use your glass polish with #000 or #0000 synthetic steel wool (use on exterior only!). The ultrafine synthetic steel wool provides a bit more cutting power for the really tough jobs.
Be aware that a glass polish cannot fix glass damage from road stones and severe water spot etching. If your glass is badly pitted or etched, it may need to be replaced.
Hard Water Requires Action
Speaking of water spots, some parts of the country are burdened with extremely hard water with contains high levels of trace elements including calcium, iron, lime and other minerals. These trace elements tend to remain on glass when water from sprinklers or regular washing evaporates on your car.
These hard-water spots attach themselves to glass like cement. If left on your glass for very long, hard-water spots will not wash off with shampooing or regular glass cleaners.
If hard-water spots remain for more than a few days, they may permanently etch the glass. So, even though you have removed the minerals causing the water spots, the spot’s outlines may remain as surface damage to your glass. The best solution is to polish the glass as soon as possible.
Windshield Wiper Care
Windshield wipers are essential for cleaning your windshield and rear window in rain or snow, or when your windows become bug-ridden or dirty from long road trips. Wipers perform best when the rubber is in good shape and the glass is fairly clean.
Make it a habit to clean your front and rear wiper blades at the same time you clean your glass. After cleaning your glass, use a damp cloth to wipe the rubber blades, removing bug residue, wax and other dirt buildup.
While rubber and vinyl dressing helps preserve, protect and beautify the rubber and vinyl parts on your car, you should not use dressings on your wiper blades.
Rubber dressing on your blades will cause streaking and smearing, impairing your vision. The best overall maintenance of your blades is keeping them clean.
If you want to protect your blades, or if your wiper blades skip or squeak, use 303 Wiper Treatment. If you have expensive after-market blades, 303 Wiper Treatment will make them last twice as long.
A good wash fluid is just as important as your wiper blades. Pick a wash fluid with enough power to cut the grime, but don’t use something so harsh that it stains your car.
I was using a popular orange wash booster, but it created these horrible white stains around my windshield. I finally switched to 303 Instant Windshield Washer Tablets, which performs flawlessly in all conditions.
Final Touches on Automotive Glass
If your car is a year or more old, a close inspection may reveal dirt buildup in the corners of your windshield and rear window around the trim. To remove this caked-on gunk, use an old toothbrush or detailing brush with your spray cleaner. Before cleaning, lay a towel at the base of the window to catch drips.
Spray your brush with window cleaner and shake off the excess cleaner. Use your brush to scrub along the trim, breaking loose the dirt. Use the tip of a cotton swab to reach underneath trim and remove trapped dirt. If your brush won’t remove the buildup of dirt, use a sharp single-edged razor blade to gently remove the dirt from your glass.
Take care not to push your razor blade too far under rubber seals, as this may cause leaks. On the rear window, stay clear of defroster strips that are not embedded in the glass. Cutting the defroster strips will render them useless. Follow up after the razor blade with your brush and glass cleaner.
Cleaning Tinted Window Film
Tinted window film is often applied to the inside of windows to shade passengers or provide privacy. Tinted window film is a thin sheet of Mylar plastic. Mylar scratches easily and will be destroyed by ammonia. To clean tinted windows, use water or a mild cleaner such as Meguiar’s Perfect Clarity Glass Cleaner.
Tinted window film that has been scratched can be polished with cleaners designed for the vinyl windows often found on convertible tops. The product I recommend for polishing and regular maintenance of tinted window film is Plexus.
Plexus comes in an aerosol spray can and is safe for use on plastic, Plexiglas and tinted window film. In addition to polishing your tinted window film, Plexus works great on your taillight and headlight covers.
Maintaining Clear Plastic
Maintaining clear plastics and window tinting is tricky. These materials will scratch easily and lose their original clarity. Use Plexus on window tinting, convertible rear windows, headlight lenses, instrument panel lenses and other clear plastic surfaces. To use Plexus, simply spray and wipe. That’s it! There’s no buffing, no mess and no waste.
Polishing Scratched & Yellowed Plastic (Including Headlights!)
The days of the glass headlight are long gone. Most vehicles made since 1990 have plastic lenses covering the headlights. These lenses protect expensive lamps from flying stones and road debris, but over time they discolor and become chipped from road stones.
Without proper care, plastic headlight lenses will degrade until they turn opaque, which severely restricts the amount of light reaching the road. Most of the damage is caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. If you live in a southern state, headlight lens discoloration will become noticeable in as little as 2 years.
Plexus is Perfect
To maintain your plastic headlight lenses and taillights, I highly recommend regular use of the product called Plexus. It’s a combination cleaner, polish and protectant. When used regularly, Plexus will protect plastic lenses and windows from UV damage.
Plexus will not repair damaged or scratched plastic. For this you will need a plastic safe abrasive polish, such Meguiar’s PlastX Clear Plastic Cleaner & Plastic. Annual polishing with a polish will restore the transparency of plastic windows and headlight lenses.
To restore yellowed or scratched plastic, such as your headlight lenses, you will need plastic polish and a buffing tool. Several good kits are available, such as the 3M Headlight Lens Restoration Kit.
Automotive Glass & Plastic Summary
I don’t know anyone who likes doing windows. If you find the right tools and cleaners, this chore will be much easier. I hate doing the interior windows so much that I rotate which windows I clean each time I wash. For example, one week I might do the windshield, and the next week, the side windows. Thankfully, with the advent of microfiber towels, window cleaning has become much easier.
After cleaning your car’s windows and polishing the clear plastic, it’s time to Detail and Treat Trim!