Cleaning Car Windows With Alcohol: To Wash or Not to Wash?

Many people like to take their time getting their ride to look just perfect. If that’s you, you might want to start cleaning your car windows with alcohol. I’ve found that using alcohol as a cleaning solution or even adding it to other cleaners is a great way to get the crystal clear clarity you want — and, indeed, need.

After all, the windows of a car do serve an incredibly important purpose. You need to be able to look out the windshield without distractions and check your rear and side mirrors as well. So how could alcohol help with that?

Back in the day, people used to use ammonia-based window cleaners. However, that really didn’t pan out well for cars, especially if the cleaning solution slid down into the rubber seals around the windows. The ammonia really dried out the rubber, making the seals break — and all hell break loose. I’m talking water leaks every time it rains, which leads to rust and mold.

But, if you’ve already made the same mistake and messed up your seals — don’t worry. I’ve already written about how you can switch out your window gaskets. If you aren’t able to replace the damaged seal, like those around the windshield, you can also use a window sealant to secure the fissures.

Can you clean car windows with alcohol?

STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO CLEANING CAR WINDOWS WITH ALCOHOL

Once you’re sure that your gaskets are good to go, you can start in on the windows. It does seem as though they need more care than other parts of the car, doesn’t it? Even if you clean the exterior of the car regularly, having dirt on your windows can be particularly distracting while you’re driving. So most of us find ourselves cleaning the glass parts of our vehicles more often than the metal ones. Let’s see what that entails.

Gather Your Supplies

As always, you’ll want to start by gathering your supplies. While you do that, make sure that your car is in deep shade so that it has the opportunity to cool down, especially during the summer months. You don’t want your cleaner to evaporate before you can wipe it off. Streaking usually isn’t a problem if you’re using alcohol, but you still wouldn’t be able to wipe off the dirt.

If you’re only cleaning your windows, you’re going to need only the bare necessities:

Naturally, the brand of all of these items doesn’t matter, but you can see what they look like by clicking on the Amazon links I’ve provided.

At this point, you can also buy a car window cleaner. However, in my experience, most window cleaners suffer from one of two faults. They either contain ammonia, which I’ve already explained isn’t the ideal ingredient for the rubber gaskets, or they leave streaks. But nothing will leave your glass looking as spotless as an alcohol solution.

Make the Rubbing Alcohol Cleaning Solution

So why is alcohol so good for cleaning car windows? Well, there are several benefits to using it, not the least of which is its disinfecting capability. For one, alcohol is great if you’re looking for a streak-free finish. That’s also why we want to use distilled water since hard water from the tap will leave marks as it dries.

Additionally, alcohol is a completely safe ingredient to use even on tinted windows. Conversely, ammonia-based cleaners such as Windex, an incredibly popular option for car detailing, may actually fade the tint. Although, of course, the layer of tint is usually on the inside of the glass, you can never be too careful. And, in any case, ammonia is still detrimental to the rubber.

Fortunately, a simple alcohol solution is unlikely to harm any of the parts of your car windows. To make it, you can mix equal parts of rubbing alcohol and distilled water in your spray bottle. Alternately, warm tap water would also work fine. And if you want to up the ante, you can also add a tablespoon of white vinegar.

I recommend using a funnel to pour the liquid into the spray bottle. There’s no need to make this more difficult than it has to be. In fact, all of this should take you no more than 10 minutes, with the washing. Speaking of which, there’s also a technique you can use to make your windows as shiny as you want them to be.

Apply the Solution to the Windows

When you’re cleaning your car windows, you want to start with the front and the rear ones. These are going to present the biggest problem, so it’s best to get them over with as soon as possible. Lift the wiper blades on both ends and get as close as possible with your bottle — some vehicles are easier to clean in the back nowadays since the trunks aren’t as pronounced as they used to be. However, if your vehicle doesn’t allow you to get right up to the windshield, you can do one side at a time.

Start With the Front and the Rear

So spray down the glass liberally, let it break down the dirt for a second, then wipe it off with either a squeegee or a microfiber towel. You could even use an old newspaper

I like to do a double-wash, first doing a quick-pass with a squeegee, then spraying again and rubbing the cleaner off with a microfiber cloth. I find that this gets me the best, most streak-free results. 

After you’ve cleaned the windshields, doing the door windows will be a breeze. I like to spray them down and wipe them off in vertical motions, then roll them down to clean the section of the window that would have been covered by the gasket. You can also use this opportunity to polish your side-view mirror with this cleaner.

Now that the outside of the glass is clean, you can probably see all the grime that’s accumulated on the inside. So repeat all of this inside the car. Here is where you’ll find the long handle of the windshield cleaners I mentioned in the supply list particularly helpful, especially if you’re not flexible enough to reach all parts of the window.

Generally, if you use vertical motions on the outside, you’ll want to use horizontal and circural ones inside. That will allow you to see any spots of dirt you may have missed so that you can wipe them off.

Add a Water Repellant or a Window Sealant

After you clean your windows, you’ll see the effects of rubbing alcohol. All grime will have vanished, and there’ll be no streaks in sight. Alcohol is a pretty amazing automotive tool all around. In fact, in winter, you can even spray snow with pure rubbing alcohol to melt it instantly. Alcohol will also keep your windows cleaner for a bit longer — but I would also apply some sort of a window sealant once you’re done.

You can use something like Rain-X to create that hydrophobic barrier on top of the glassMichael Warbux on YouTube also recommends using Chemical Guys’ Jet Seal. The technique he showcases in the video probably won’t cost over $10.

When you go to apply a glass sealant, you’ll want to have a clean microfiber cloth. Fold it up to the size of your hand and spray it with the sealant. Then press it to the glass and rub it in using circular motions. You’ll see a bit of a cast on the glass, but don’t worry. That’s only temporary.

Once the cast dries, apply another coat of the sealant. I really love having this on my windshield glass because rainwater rolls off with no problem. So if you want to give your glass that additional protection and extend the time between washes, I recommend using a water repellant like the two I’ve mentioned.

Finally — Clean the Wipers

Now that your windows are crystal clear, you don’t want to ruin them by putting your filthy wipers back on them. Use the same rag you used on your windows, soak it with the alcohol solution, and wipe the blades. Then use a dry part of the rag to speed up the drying process, and lay the blades back in their normal position.

Or, while they’re upright, you can also apply a bit of wiper treatment to keep the blades from streaking. And if your windshield wipers are juddering, you can also check out the article I wrote about that very topic.

MORE ON USING ALCOHOL FOR CLEANING WINDOWS

At this point, your windows should be so clean that you won’t even notice they’re there! The alcohol will have completely dissolved the dirt and grime, allowing you to wipe it off easily. It will have also left your windows completely streak-free. And if you apply a window sealant on top, you probably won’t need to clean the windows for some time.

But you can’t have squeaky clean windows without taking the time to make sure that your interior is similarly spotless. Make sure to clear the junk out of the cabin, then clean and polish the dashboard. In fact, if your car is really filthy, you should wash everything else before getting to the windows.

You can also vacuum the seats and the floor, maybe even wash the carpets. And if you’ve noticed some suspicious smells, you could have food or gasoline spills in the car that you ought to deal with. Still, I’m sure that your ride will be smelling like a brand new car by the time you’re done cleaning it!

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