What’s the point in a beautiful view out your window if the glass is all smudged and dirty? Cleaning your windows and glass surfaces can be daunting without a good streak-free glass cleaner.
Glass cleaners are specially formulated cleaning products mixed to tackle the challenges of cleaning glass. Chief among these challenges is streaks. The goal of cleaning glass and mirrors is to be able to see without streaks or other impediments.
Some glass cleaners leave your glass more immaculate than others. If you are frustrated with your current cleaner, or are looking for a greener way to keep your windows smudge-free, keep reading. This guide starts with an explanation of the chemistry behind glass cleaners to help you understand how they work, and looks at some of the important features that can help you choose the best glass cleaner for your needs.
Besides aesthetic reasons, glass should be cleaned regularly to prevent permanent staining and damage from elements like rain, snow, and pollution.
How does a glass cleaner work?
You won’t get sparkling clean glass with basic soap and water. The cleaning agents in glass cleaners can dissolve the oils and dirt that get stuck on glass, and that other cleaners can’t quite get “invisibly” clean. Simply spray or saturate a cloth with glass cleaner, wipe carefully, and you’re done. The cleaning solutions in a good glass cleaner will evaporate quickly to prevent streaking.
Glass cleaners usually have alkaline materials with a high pH. Alkaline chemicals are oil dissolvers and help the glass release sticky prints and smudges which usually repel water alone. Alkaline materials help the product evaporate completely off the surface of the glass.
Common types of active chemicals in glass cleaners include ammonia and alcohol, but you can also find chemical-free, all-natural glass cleaners.
Ammonia is a very commonly produced chemical and is used often in glass cleaners. It may be listed as ammonium hydroxide, which is watered down ammonia. It is very effective as a cleaner, but has risks. High exposure to ammonia can cause respiratory problems like coughing or irritation in your nose or throat. Some concentrations are deadly, so we recommend avoiding ammonia or using a face mask when you use it.
Alcohols are another effective cleaning agent that many cleaners use instead of ammonia. Isopropyl alcohol is what you probably know as rubbing alcohol. It is often used because it can dissolve the types of oils and grease often left behind by fingerprints. It also evaporates quickly to help keep the surface free from streaks.
Butyl glycol, or ethylene glycol butyl ether/2-butoxyethanol, is the chemical found in Windex. It’s a very effective ingredient in glass cleaners, but too much exposure to it is not safe.
Isopropanolamine causes fat to dissolve. It is commonly used to help as a solvent material in glass cleaners.
- Plant-based cleaning agents are found in natural cleaners that contain no chemicals. If you want the most eco-friendly choice that is also safer for your family and pets, choose an all-natural cleaner, like the Seventh Generation brand found in most stores. Plant-based glass cleaners do not have any harsh additives like alcohol, fragrance, petroleum, or dyes. They are also cruelty-free.
Did you know?
The appealing smell of some glass cleaners can be attributed to the chemical butyl glycol which is a type of alcohol with a sweet smell as it evaporates.
Aerosol cans vs. spray bottles
Glass cleaners come in both aerosol cans and spray bottles.
Aerosol cans offer the advantage of being able to spray a very light mist of the cleaner. A fine mist allows you to use less cleaner and more easily wipe the window clean, preventing streaks. If you are concerned about the negative effects of aerosol cans on the environment, be aware cans sold in the United States are not allowed to emit the ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) you may have heard about in the past. However, they do use other gases such as hydrocarbons and nitrous oxide which are still dangerous to inhale.
- Spray bottles allow you to dispense the cleaner over an area on your window. The droplets will not be as fine as those emitted from an aerosol can, but you will not have the other gases involved in using an aerosol can . Using a spray bottle cleaner may require more elbow grease on your part because of the larger droplets of liquid. Use less spray, and plan to wipe more.
Scented or unscented
The clean smell that many people associate with traditional glass cleaners comes from some of the alcohols included in the ingredients, which naturally smell sweet. The smell indicates the alcohol has evaporated into a gas.
If you don’t want to give up that “clean” smell, but want a more natural choice, find glass cleaners including natural fragrances like green tea and lime. Contrary to what some believe, unscented glass cleaners are highly effective, too.
Color of the cleaner
Just like scent, it’s just a matter of preference — do you prefer a clear glass cleaner, or do you want the liquid to have some color? The color of a cleaner is just that: color. If you choose a clear cleaner it will work no better or worse than the dyed version of the same product. The color is simply added to make the product more appealing to those who like that. Natural cleaners may have a hue that is not completely clear (usually slightly blue or green). This coloration is from the plant based items in the product, not any added dye.
Can you use glass cleaners on surfaces other than glass?
The same properties that help your glass cleaner lift grease and oil from windows can make it a good option for cleaning other smooth, hard surfaces, streak-free in your home. Those with ammonia also have some sanitizing properties. Some surfaces can handle any glass cleaner. Other surfaces can be damaged unless you use an ammonia free glass cleaning product.
Plexiglass may cloud up if you use an ammonia based glass cleaner. Ammonia-free glass cleaners, however, will do a good job of cleaning these plastic surfaces.
Stainless steel appliances will also clean up well with the use of an ammonia-free glass cleaner. Those with ammonia can damage the shiny surface of the stainless steel over time.
Tile surfaces are cleaned very effectively with glass cleaner and can handle an ammonia based product. Glass cleaner will not damage the grout.
Enameled surfaces like the front of some appliances or surfaces of stoves and ovens are easily and safely degreased with a glass cleaner. Enamel can handle ammonia without damage.
Jewelry is cleaned very effectively with a little bit of glass cleaner sprayed on an old toothbrush. Just make sure your gemstones are non-porous and your glass cleaner does not have ammonia. Do not try this on opals or pearls.
- Sealed wood surfaces and floors can be safely degreased with a glass cleaner. The cleaner should be wiped off quickly, though, or it could leave a water spot.
Glass cleaner prices
Glass cleaner is a fairly inexpensive product. You can buy a very effective chemical based cleaner for between $2 and $3 a bottle. They will vary in size by ounces from about 24 ounces to 36 ounces. So, if you are looking for a deal, watch the size of the bottle carefully. The ammonia-free and natural glass cleaners will cost a little more, between $3 and $8. If the bottle costs more than $8, it most likely is very large and/or contains all-natural ingredients. Those priced $10 or more are specialized for places like car windows, or particular cleaning problems like pet slobber.
Use newspaper instead of paper towels or cloth when you clean your windows. It’s one of the best hacks to keep streaks at bay no matter what glass cleaner you use.
Always spray cleaners near the top of your windows and doors. The cleaner will run down the glass and allow you to use less spray to complete the job.
Try using a cotton swab to clean the corners of your windows or near the frames on your mirrors where your cloth does not easily get in the little nooks and crannies.
When using a spray bottle, make sure to hold it at the recommended distance from the glass in order to spread cleaner out more effectively, and not overuse it.
Other products we considered
If you are looking for convenience, particularly for in the car, or to keep by doors and mirrors to take care of smudges in between cleaning days, there are a couple of great glass cleaner wipes on the market. Windex makes a wipe that comes in a soft pack, which is easy to stash in a vanity drawer or your glove compartment. The packs are resealable like a baby wipe and also work well on glass objects or picture frames you want to clean without having to spray too much cleaner. Seventh Generation also makes a wipe for their multi-purpose cleaner which works on glass and is chemical-free. For optical lenses, we recommend trying the Zeiss pre-moistened Lens cleaning wipes which come individually wrapped.
A glass cleaner formulated for your car windows is more heavy-duty than one for general household use, yet are ammonia-free so as not to cause damage to your car’s exterior.
Q. What kind of a cleaner works best with a glass cleaning microfiber cloth?
A. “Glass cleaning” microfiber cloths are woven with smooth surfaces in mind. They usually work best either dry, or slightly damp with water. They do not work well in combination with glass cleaners. Try dampening one end of the cloth with water only to wipe down smudges and use the dry side to wipe them streak free.
Q. Is glass cleaner an antiseptic?
A. Contrary to what you “learned” in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, glass cleaners do not fix everything. The ammonia in many glass cleaners does have some germ cleaning properties; it is not, however, a general disinfectant, and should not be used as such.
Q. I’ve used the blue kind of glass cleaner for years – is it safe?
A. Yes and no. Like most things, using it here and there should be fine, especially when used in a well-ventilated area, but it may cause some respiratory discomfort if inhaled and is toxic if ingested. Keep all cleaners away from children and pets.