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How to Get Your Windows Squeaky Clean & Streak-Free

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While I generally keep my apartment at an above-average level of cleanliness (no dirty dishes in the sink; bed made every morning), having company over means I go into scrubbing overdrive. No counter left behind.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

But when my boyfriend's family visited our apartment this weekend, one of them pointed at the window and began to say, "Oh you moved in recently, is that why..." I cut her off to let her know we moved in a year ago, which I instantly regretted. "...your windows are so dirty?" It's a completely legitimate question. My boyfriend and I moved into our apartment a year ago, and while we are Weekend Cleaning Warriors, we've completely neglected the windows.

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Maybe it's because our apartment—on the fifth floor of an old building—doesn't have the most stable patio fire escape. But more likely, it's because the thought had never occurred to me: When a bird poops on your window, that's it—it's the unfortunate hand you've been dealt. But this weekend—after ample research (and more Martha Stewart videos than I care to name here)—we cleaned them.

Simply put, there is no easier way to make your home feel bigger and brighter than cleaning your windows. You'll be amazed by how much more light will come in once that layer of grime is wiped off.

Here's how to do it:

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What you'll need for squeaky-clean windows
What you'll need for squeaky-clean windows

What you'll need:

  • A large bucket or pot (the latter will work as long as you are confident in your pot-cleaning abilities, after the fact)
  • Warm water
  • White vinegar (which, added to your tub of water, helps sanitize and cut grime)
  • A large sponge
  • A squeegee (a scraper with a rubber-edged "blade")
  • A few rags
  • Several sheets of newspaper
  • Window cleaner like Windex or a natural cleaning solution of 1:1 water to vinegar (I found the Windex to work slightly better)

For Dirty Outdoor Windows:

While it only took me about five minutes to clean each window, the time you need to allot will depend on how large your windows are, how easy they are to reach, how dirty they are, and how many of them your home has. When cleaning your windows, aim for early in the morning or late in the day—anytime the sun isn't directly hitting them: You'll be able to see the streaks better when it's not as bright, and the heat of the sun can dry the water or cleaning solution you're using onto the window before you have the chance to wipe it off (read: streaky windows).

Step 1: Add white vinegar to warm water, then sponge.
Step 1: Add white vinegar to warm water, then sponge.

I learned the hard way that if you start by spraying cleaning solution on your window, and use a rag to wipe it up, you will end up with smeared dirt. Don't be like me; here's how to do it right:

1. Sponge the glass with vinegar water.

Fill your bucket with a gallon of warm water, add 1 cup white vinegar, and then soak your sponge in it completely. Wipe the sponge across the window in an S-motion (get to one side, then turn around and go the opposite way, one row down). Dunk your sponge as needed, but do this fairly quickly so the water on the windows doesn't have time to dry before you wipe it off; if needed, do your window in sections. Be especially careful to get flush against the top of the window—it's easy to miss this spot!

Sponge away the first layer of grime using vinegar water.
Sponge away the first layer of grime using vinegar water.

2. Squeegee the solution away.

Slightly wet a squeegee (a dry squeegee will skip against glass) and follow the path you made with the sponge, being careful to wipe all of the water away. You can use a clean cloth to dot at the excess liquid and lines left, but I found that the using the squeegee alone left the fewest streaks.

Step 2: Squeegee away! (I look at this picture fondly when I want to remember the fresh manicure I had *before* I started window cleaning.)
Step 2: Squeegee away! (I look at this picture fondly when I want to remember the fresh manicure I had *before* I started window cleaning.)

3. Spray the glass with cleaner.

Once you've cleaned the first layer of grime of your window, there's still more fun to be had. Spray a stronger mix of 1:1 water and vinegar (or Windex, or glass cleaner) at your window, so that the solution covers most of the glass. (I found Windex to work better, but if you have pets—or kids—who frequently lick outdoor windows, vinegar may be the best route for you.)

Step 4: Spray the window with a cleaning solution (right).
Step 4: Spray the window with a cleaning solution (right).

4. Wipe it away with a rag.

Using a clean rag, wipe the cleaning solution across the window and window hardware—you'll be able to see how much grime is still left!

5. Give it a once-over using newspaper.

Once the window is mostly dry, bunch up a piece of newspaper and wipe any remaining liquid off—this will ensure that it's streak-free. (Don't use newspaper to wipe the cleaning solution off at the first go, as it will get wet and pill-y, and fall apart.)

For Slightly Grungy, Inside Windows and Outdoor Touch-Ups:

The grime is real on indoor windows (this is just what came off of the *inside* of mine).
The grime is real on indoor windows (this is just what came off of the *inside* of mine).

It's just as important to clean the inside of your windows as it is to clean the outside—miscellaneous marks from pets' noses and finger prints, combined with natural dust, pile up make them dirty (see photo above). But they will not, hopefully, be nearly as dirty as your outside windows, which means you can skip a few steps this go-around—you don't even need a bucket!

  1. Either spray a natural solution of 1:1 water to vinegar or Windex at your window so that it roughly covers most of the window. (If you used Windex outside, it might be worth using a natural solution indoors since there isn't nearly as much grime to cut through and this is what you'll be breathing in for the next few days. For the record, I used Windex—this is a no-judgement zone.)
  2. As you did outside, use a clean rag to wipe the cleaning solution across the window and over all window hardware.
  3. Once you've mostly dried the window with the clean rag, bunch up newspaper to wipe off any remaining liquid.

Bam: clean windows! Or, as my boyfriend said, "I can see New York now!"

Just taking in the New York City sunset

For the Most Unreachable Windows:

Because my fire escape is only in front of two windows, I have two windows on either side of the escape that I couldn't reach by hand. The best way to clean unreachable outdoor windows is to do the process listed above, but using extendable handle squeegees and sponges. But, since I live in a New York City apartment that barely has room for a 5-gallon bucket, let alone an extendable squeegee pole, I opted for the next best thing: my Swiffer Wet Mop.

While my outdoor windows could have been less streaky, I'm happy to report that the Swiffer worked just fine, in a pinch—and better yet, it got rid of the pigeon poop I've been staring at for the better part of the year!

Added bonus: Your cat will have the time of her life.
Added bonus: Your cat will have the time of her life.

Life Lessons You May or May Not Learn in the Process:

  1. It is completely worthwhile to clean the windows—just waking up to brighter sun rays, alone, was worth it. I plan on doing it roughly once a month.
  2. If you can reach all of your windows, it's worth it to clean them yourself rather than hiring someone. (Though I'd probably opt for the latter if I had more than 10 or so windows.)
  3. You don't have to live a life that includes having permanent bird poop on your windows.
  4. Window cleaning is fun for both you and your cat.
  5. It's safe to put 250+ pounds of weight (factoring in my photographer) on my fire escape—though I definitely can not vouch for yours! Be safe out there.

All photos by Jonah Ollman.

Do you have any window cleaning tips? Do you trust your fire escape? Tell us in the comments below!

Tags: window cleaning, how to clean your windows, all-natural window cleaning, natural cleaning