After thirty three exhausting hours of testing including every window cleaner we could get our hands on, we recommend Sprayway as the best way to clean your windows.
While you might not find it in every corner store, Sprayway proved to be the best cleaner for dirt, dust, grease, and basically everything else in our testing. It’s a great way to get sparkling windows.Buy Now
Table of Contents
How We Selected
The composition of most cleaners is pretty well known. They’re formed from either a mild basic or acidic compound and water. Most are designed to break down dirt, but we wanted to make sure we had everything covered.
We began by researching online reviews and compiling an enormous list of well-rated products. We decided to get an expert opinion, and who better than professional window cleaners?
That turned out to be a bit off-base. The trade is focused almost entirely on commercial glass cleaning and the products they use are similar in composition but often less available than we’d hope for the products we recommend to you. It also only covered exterior windows.
So we called a local maid service to question them. After all, cleaning services are more likely to clean a variety of different windows, mirrors, and other glass surfaces and often use the same commonly available cleaners the average homeowner does.
A quick go-around on Angie’s List soon had us with a list of numbers in our eager hands and a few cursory calls and we had a pretty big list of cleaners that were proven in the field.
We did come across one snag: aquaria. An aquarium is a miniature eco-system and the introduction of ammonia(the most common active ingredient in glass cleaners) into the water column is a sure way to kill your fish. We did find a solution, but it’s a DIY process and we strongly recommend keeping any standard glass cleaner away from your fish tanks. You can find our process farther down.
From the enormous list we cross referenced with online ratings and general availability. We wanted to be sure that anything which wasn’t a super niche cleaner could be picked up locally when you run out.
Once we had them in the office, it was time for our patented method of figuring out how to test them: come up with an absurd battery of tests and see what happens.
Our Testing Method
We reasoned that there are two main glass surfaces which need to be cleaned: indoor and outdoor. The sources of debris are different on each. While dust and dirt might appear to be quite similar, dirt is primarily made of minerals and dust is primarily discarded organic matter.
So, it made sense that we would test out both.
Staining from the calcium deposits left by hard water were also a concern, especially for bathroom windows and mirrors. At the time our main concern with hard water was aquaria but as you’ll see… there’s a big reason why no experienced fishkeeper will give you a product recommendation for cleaning them.
Everyone loves someone else taking care of their windows, so it wasn’t hard to convince a few people with dirty windows to let us take a crack at them. All of our performance tests were done with cheap microfiber towels, just so we didn’t have to deal with loose threads or paper spotting that sometimes occurs.
We measured performance based on the following on mirrors, as well as interior and exterior windows:
- One Wipe Test- The window cleaner was sprayed over the window and a single wipe was made across the top of the pane in its entirety. This was to test the actual “cutting” power of the cleaner and to check for streaking.
- Full Cleaning- The window was then cleaned entirely and the amount of time and “trouble spots” measured.
- Drying- The final metric was to see just how “streak free” the finish was after the cleaner had been squeegeed but not fully dried out. We also measured the drying time but it turned out to be more dependent on temperature than the cleaner itself.
We also had our reviewers note the smell and any difficulties that cropped up.
Our failed aquarium test was notable although not relevant to the window cleaners in the end. We used a series of 5-gallon, cycled aquaria and cleared up the outside with no hood on. We compared the ammonia levels and pH before, after, and three hours post with a test kit.
Any change in either meant it was right out. While some may have been in livable parameters, we’re not going to recommend anything to our readers that has a chance to harm their pets. No animals were harmed in our testing, the tanks were for a recently completed breeding project and all livestock had been removed.
Click here to see what to do with aquarium glass.
Once we’d done all of that, we picked out eight that seemed to perform the best and sent them home with our testers to use for their cleaning for a month to see if anything cropped up and then selected the five best of the lot.
Our conclusions were the following:
- Sprayway costs a bit and isn’t available everywhere, but it performed the best on windows across the board in our testing.
- Windex Original Glass Cleaner performed great across the board. It’s readily available, not all that expensive and works great for most applications of window cleaners.
- The greener Method Glass Cleaner is a good choice for the eco-conscious, but we found that it wasn’t quite as powerful as the others.
- Invisible Glass was excellent for automotive purposes, and as an all-around cleaner but it’s too expensive to recommend for doing all the windows in your house. The good thing is that it’s safe on tinted glass as well.
- Bio Clean outperformed all others on hard water stains. It’s also a bit expensive and left some streaking when we weren’t careful, so make sure you’re going through proper glass cleaning techniques when using it.
Top 5 Window Cleaners
|2||Windex Original||Ammonia-based||Check Price|
|3||Method||Ammonia-free, plant based||Check Price|
|4||Invisible Glass||Automotive window cleaner||Check Price|
|5||Bio Clean||Multi-surface hard water cleaner||Check Price|
1. Best Overall Window Cleaner
Sprayaway surprised us, we saw it sold well on Amazon and immediately threw it in the basket to see just why. Testing proved that the consumer is usually right in the end, this stuff absolutely rocks.
We found it cut through dirt and grime, handled grease stains, and even made a dent in serious hardwater stains without needing you to put backbreaking effort into it. We kind of wish it came in a regular spray bottle, however, as the aerosol can felt a little bit odd compared to the others on our list.
That said, this is the stuff for those who want to make sure they’ve got sparkling windows at the end of the day. While some of the others performed better for niche applications, and we don’t recommend using it on or in your vehicle, overall Sprayaway proved it’s worth immediately.
Our biggest concern was that we hadn’t seen it on store shelves, but that’s less of a concern for a window cleaner since it’s a task which is rarely performed. Just order it beforehand.
For those who want sparkling clean windows, Spraway proved itself to be the best of the lot in our testing. The aerosol can design and lack of ready availability may turn some people off however.
- Excellent clarity
- Virtually streak-free
- Smells great
- Moderately priced
- Can be hard to find in stores
- Aerosol can design
2. Runner Up for Best Window Cleaner
Windex Original Glass Cleaner
Sometimes the original still shines pretty bright. In our testing we found that Windex actually beat out all of the generic blue competitors to claim the title of runner up. Chances are that you’ve used it at some point, it’s the standard against which other glass cleaning products are measured for the most part.
We found that it cut through all but the thickest grime, and even made a pretty good dent in grease without requiring us to go completely overboard. It didn’t do very well with hard water stains, however.
It allowed for a crystal-clear finish, however, once we had our window washing process nailed down. No extra effort required in the drying off phase which was a nice touch. That said, it performs even better out of the bottle, say applied to a sponge and then the window, than it does as a spray.
However, Windex is still an ammonia-based glass cleaner, which means that it’s not suitable for things like automotive use.
Sometimes the classics are still winners, and that’s definitely the case when it comes to Windex Classic. You can pick it up virtually anywhere, it performs well on almost everything that ends up on your glass, and at the end of the day… there’s a reason it’s a longstanding best seller.
- Cleaned very well
- Readily available
- Works great in or out of the bottle
- Not great for hard water stains
- Ammonia based
3. Best Green Window Cleaner
Method Glass Cleaner
While Method Glass Cleaner wasn’t our favorite overall, it does have the advantage of being one of the cheapest, green cleaners on the market. It also had the distinction of working pretty well on other surfaces, although we found that one out by accident.
For those who are olfactory-inclined, however, it comes in a wide variety of different scents. During testing we used the “Waterfall” scent, but their products come in seven different color and scent combinations.
It’s good stuff, in all honesty. It takes care of most window stains readily, but it fell short on being able to tackle grease like you might have on your kitchen windows, and the kinds of hard water stains that are seen on shower doors in areas with a lot of calcium.
Not everyone appreciated the strong smell, however. The scent we tried didn’t have the artificial undertones you find in some regular cleaners, but it’s a lot stronger than anything else on our list.
The nice thing is that it’s not ammonia-based, which makes it biodegradable and also allows it to be used around delicate organics like leather without risk of damaging them.
Of the green glass cleaners on the market, Method is a standout option. It’s fairly-priced, cuts through regular window debris and marking and leaves a good finish.
- Ammonia-free glass cleaner
- Many scents available
- Great price for a green product
- Cleans all surfaces well, not just glass
- Scent is too strong for some
- Not the best for grease and calcium build-up
4. Best Automotive Window Cleaner
Invisible Glass is the name that came up when we were trying to find a safe option for automotives. The thing is this: many household cleaners aren’t meant for the kinds of surfaces in a vehicle and if you use them you risk a bit of damage.
This was the best of the three automotive glass cleaners that went through our testing. We’ll be fair here, apart from cleaning the boss’ windshield we didn’t use it on a lot of auto glass but the results should stay the same.
It cleans dirt and grime extremely well and actually seemed to leave less residue than anything else on our list when left to free-dry. Best of all? It’s safe for use on tinted windows, which your average window cleaner isn’t by any stretch of the imagination.
That said, it’s probably too expensive to be flinging at your windows all willy-nilly. We’d save this one for detailing your car. It also didn’t do too hot when it came to hard water stains, which is probably why the formula has remained primarily in automotive use.
For those who need an automotive window cleaner, Invisible Glass is the stuff you’ve been looking for. For general house cleaning it’s too expensive to be a serious option, however.
- Formulated for automotive use
- Ammonia-free formula
- Safe for window tinting
- Leaves virtually no streaking
- Rather expensive
- Wasn’t great about water spotting
5. Best for Hard Water Stains
We had to find something for hard water stains. Calcium buildup is an absolute plague anywhere that has a mineral-rich water table and it was our most common complaint with the other cleaners. They just didn’t cut it for heavy hard water stains.
Bio Clean is mainly sold as a hard water cleaner, but we found it performed pretty well on general cleaning for glass as well. It certainly did better than our DIY control-solution, but don’t expect it to break up dust like Windex or Sprayaway.
This is bathroom stuff for the most part. Shower doors, mirrors, and other fixtures tend to accumulate calcium like no other and Bio Clean cut right through it and left a great finish. A little bit more streaking than dedicated glass products but the little bit of extra effort is worth it to see your mirror turn into a window.
It’s expensive, however, and it smells… odd. It’s hard to describe.
For those primarily concerned about hard water stains on their glass, this is the stuff. It’s expensive, but if you’ve ever had to deal with the headache of trying to get your mirrors and shower panels sparkling again… you probably won’t mind much.
- Excellent overall cleaner
- Safe for most surfaces
- Handles calcium build up amazingly
- Not quite as good as dedicated window cleaners
The Chemistry of Window Cleaners
Products designed to clean glass come in a few varieties. The most common, like our favorite, are based on an ammonia formula combined with detergents.
The detergents are designed to leave as few streaks as possible, since streaking is a huge concern for windows and mirrors. Products designed for either can be used interchangeably.
Some surfaces don’t react well to ammonia, however, and in that case it’s often vinegar which is used instead since it’s on the opposite side of the pH scale.
It’s also true of most cleaning products in the end, the only thing that really varies is how strong of an acidic or basic solution is used. Clog busting, for instance, can require caustic solutions which are extremely toxic and caustic if you come into contact with them.
Glass cleaners tend to be mild, despite the fact that glass creates such a hard surface. The non-porous nature of the surface means that most things don’t stand a chance of penetrating the surface. Instead, the big difference between cleaners comes from the various detergent formulas kept proprietary by their manufacturers.
As a general rule, for most indoor applications ammonia solutions win out. It makes a better disinfecting agent and evaporates more quickly. When not masked the smell of the ammonia concentration used in most window cleaners is pretty minor as well.
Due to the effects of weather, most outdoor preparations use an acidic base of one stripe or another to move any dissolved minerals which happened to end up in the dust. This can happen from rain, normal condensation, or even when you hose down the outside of your home.
The reason we bring this up is this: ammonia-based cleaners should not be used anywhere they’ll come in contact with materials like leather or vinyl. So, be aware of what you’re working around and use a specialty cleaner like the recommended option above for automotive glass cleaning.
Getting a Streak Free Finish
We found that getting a finish without any streaking was quite a bit harder than we thought at first glance, even with products that left relatively little streaking. Indeed, we found “streak free” cleaners to mostly just cover for errors in technique.
It all starts with towel choice. Microfiber is the ideal cloth for cleaning glass, since it doesn’t have loose fibers like most rags and they’re quite cheap. They also don’t pull dust into the fibers.
For large windows, a squeegee is the preferred method of drying. They’ll allow you to cover more space easily. To use one properly is a bit of an art, but generally you should pull it at a right angle to the bottom of the window with about an inch of overlap between strokes.
The biggest culprit, in our testing, was environmental dirt. We eliminated it by cleaning around the edges of the sills with a microfiber, just wiping all the dust off and ensuring it wasn’t going to end up back in the solution.
A clean working area makes cleaning your windows a lot easier.
The professionals really get into the process and recommended a whole lot of different methods and techniques, but the common threads were the following:
- Never pull a squeegee off the window mid-pull, follow through to the end.
- Applying the cleaner to a sponge and using it to form the initial layer is ideal, since it spreads more consistently than the spray bottle most glass cleaners come with.
- Always dry your windows when done, ideally with a squeegee but blotting can be done if you don’t have one handy.
- If you’re using a concentrated cleaner, make sure you use distilled water for the base to avoid any water spotting which can occur from dissolved minerals.
Really, we were using amateur techniques. It’s possible to get a great finish with almost anything provided you don’t mind putting in a little bit of extra time, and even the best window cleaner will require you to put in the initial work to avoid any quirks of the environment.
A Word About Cleaning Aquaria
Aquaria shouldn’t be cleaned with any sort of regular glass cleaner.
While theoretically they’re not going to end up in the tank if you’re careful, even a small amount of an ammonia-based cleaner can cause major issues and designated window cleaners almost always contain dyes and detergents that can be a problem for your plants and animals.
After asking around we found that most hobbyists recommend using 1 part white vinegar and 3 parts water. The solution is applied with a rag, extremely carefully around the top, and then wiped down. Don’t use a spray bottle.
If your tank has hard water stains contained on the outside that the vinegar solution won’t remove, spot application of a fresh razor blade will make short work of the problem.
This solution can also be used to clean the inside of a tank which has been empty for some time, but you should rinse the tank carefully with water afterwards.
If you’re having heavy evaporation from your fish tank and the hard water stains are on the inside, use a fresh, non-oiled razor blade and keep it wet then keep the tank topped off so that it doesn’t happen again. In extreme cases this can be a lot of work but it’s the only safe way to go about it.
Our Home Made Solution
While professional products often get all of the glory, we actually found our home made solution great. With the right tools and techniques it’s on par with most professional products, it’s just lest convenient to have to make it.
For our application we used Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap and distilled water, in a 2 teaspoon to 1 gallon ratio. We’ve found that this combination mimics many household cleaners and performs well across the board, but it tends to suffer a little bit in niche applications like crystal-clear glass.
Most online recipes will tell you to combine whichever liquid Castile soap you’re using alongside white vinegar and water.
Don’t, it makes a mess. The ratio really doesn’t matter, it’s just whether you end up with an unusable cleaner or something which leaves behind a ton of soap scum.
We tried a few ways, but decided to go with distilled water to simplify our testing. Castile soap has a reputation for leaving behind soap scum but it’s not a property of the soap itself, instead it comes from the interaction of the basic oils in the soap with the minerals in any non-distilled source of water.
If you accidentally use tap water, the water spotting can be easily removed with a 1:2 white vinegar to water solution after the solution has dried. Just squeegee with the vinegar solution. This can also be used to clean the windows in the first place, provided you don’t find the smell too irritating.
So, while it’s easy to make something effective for use at home… it’s not always worth the effort depending on how you value your time. The distilled water/Castile soap solution was just to give us a baseline reading.
What Else Can Window Cleaner Be Used For?
Glass cleaners, due to their composition, actually lend themselves well to cleaning a lot of things around the home. They’re pretty mild compared to most cleaners, making them perfect for delicate metals.
In particular, non-acidic window cleaners can double as a surface cleaner for granite or marble. These stones are infamously reactive, especially when not sealed and grabbing a bottle of Windex can save you quite a bit of money on specialized cleaners. It’s not that they’re more effective, just that they tend to be a bit handier.
Other applications include things like silver, which you may not want to hit without a specialized cleaner, lest you end up damaging the precious metal.
Basically, think of your window cleaner as a slightly less strong cleaning solution. Most things around the home aren’t going to suffer from a bit of Spraway or Windex.
The best window cleaner will depend on what kind of mess you’re handling. Outdoor, indoor, and your technique will all affect the final finish. We just tried to find the easiest to use for someone who’s not a professional.
We think we found most people’s solution in Sprayway, which performed great on everything we threw it at. There’s a good reason it’s a top seller.
Suit the chemical to the application, however, and you’re sure to be blinded by the results. Are your windows getting what they deserve?