I have an old Jeep with a huge deep windshield, cleaning it with the wrong materials can be soul-destroying. You think you’re doing a great job and the stand back to admire….. What!! Streaks and smears, so annoying, who knew cleaning glass could be so difficult.
The newspaper will clean windshields but it’s not ideal, newspaper drags grit across the glass surface which can scratch it. A waffle weave microfiber towel is the best material for windshield cleaning.
My father ran his own garage, as a kid on my summer holidays, I was drafted in to join the small army of stock detailers. These guys went from dealer to dealer cleaning stock, they got paid by the car so they had to be fast.
I watched and learned from the pros. In those days they used newspaper to clean windshields, and so I did too. But I don’t use paper anymore, and here’s why.
Why I Don’t Use Newspaper
The newspaper will clean windshields, and do a pretty good job. The dry paper absorbs the window cleaner and then wet, it catches the dirt. Problem is, older car glass is tougher than modern glass and that’s why I don’t use paper to clean car glass anymore.
Newspapers are covered in inks obviously and will stain interior dashboards and headlining especially the light-colored interiors on modern cars.
Lots of chemicals and acids are used in the manufacturing of newspapers. Rubbing them on rubber, plastic, glass, and paintwork edges can cause damage.
Dragging grit across the glass surface can scratch it. Even fine scratches will damage the glass, especially if you use this method regularly.
Washing the windshield before using newspaper will reduce the risk of scratching, but you’ll still need to be careful of the paintwork. Running outside the window frame has the potential to scratch the paint surface.
It’s never a good idea to clean headlamps or soft top rear window plastic using newspaper, these types of plastics will scratch easily.
Cleaning A Windshield Exterior
A windshield will have many different types of contaminants on it. The contaminants on the inside will differ from those on the outside. Cleaning the outside of the windshield first helps identify interior smears and grease marks.
On the outside of the windshield, you may have road grit, bugs, pitting, pollen, tree sap, bird droppings, oils you name it really.
Cleaning the windshield the right way is a simple process.
For this job you’ll need:
- Two micro-fibre waffle weave towels (different colours)
- Good quality glass cleaner
- A blade window scraper tool is very useful for stubborn bugs and dried in bird droppings, but it isn’t essential.
Pro tip – remove your Microfibre towel tags before using them.
Windshield Cleaning Step One:
Remove the grit from the exterior of the windshield, the best way to do that is to power wash it. Power washing removes all the heavy loose grit from the surface without rubbing it across the glazed surface.
Designate a window cleaning towel and fold it in half and fold again. Now spray the hand-sized pad liberally with window cleaner. Lift the wiper blades off the windshield and clean the glass in an up and down motion.
Turn over the towel to use a fresh surface as it becomes dirty.
Use the second microfiber towel to buff the glass. The pros use this method to prevent cross-contamination smearing.
Clean your wiper blades with glass cleaner before folding them back onto the windshield.
That’s it your done with the exterior unless you want to take your glass cleaning to the next level. Check out how to clay bar and wax coat your windshield below.
Cleaning The Windshield Interior
Cleaning the interior windshield can be awkward especially if your windshield angle is low. Contaminants on the inside include grease, oils, condensation watermarks, and maybe even cigarette smoke.
Ever wonder where the dirt comes from? Grease and oil on the windshield build up on cars that sit in direct sun. The heat causes the interior materials to gas and the oily vapors cling to the windows. Parking in the shade or garaging helps to prevent plastics gassing.
Also, lots of dashboard dressings are oily and as the sun hits them they too gas and causes greasy windows. Look for an oil-free dashboard dressing to reduce contaminated windows.
Move to the passenger side of the car. Fold your cleaning cloth so you have a fresh clean surface, spray it liberally with cleaner. Spraying onto the glass can cause dashboard staining.
Lean across to the driver’s side and begin cleaning the edges and corners. The bottom of the windshield can be a challenge, the trick here is to turn your hand backways and push (stuff if necessary) the cloth into the wedge. Move your cloth across to the passenger side, cleaning in one motion.
Depending on how dirty this area is, you may need to re-apply and repeat.
With the edges, bottom, and corners of the window clean, go ahead and turn your cloth to a new pad, re-apply cleaner and clean the main body of the windshield in an up and down motion.
Using your second buffing cloth, buff the interior glass to a smear-free shine.
Clay Bar The Windshield
Even though the windshield is clean, it may still have contaminated or pitting. The pitting is caused by flying debris hitting the windshield at speed.
You can tell if your windshield suffers from pitting or contaminants by running your hand down the windshield. If you can hear the movement, you need to clay bar your windshield.
Clay bar is commonly used on car paint work to remove grit and contaminates. It grips the dirt and pulls it from the paint. This very same technique is used on the windshield.
Use a fresh piece of clay.
Lube the windshield and the clay bar and keep it lubed, you can use soapy water if you don’t have lube.
Move the clay across the windshield in an up and down or over and back motion, avoid moving in circles. Rotate the clay if it becomes very gritty.
Clean the windshield using window cleaner and the two cloth technique.
That’s it, you can feel the difference by running your hand down the windshield, you’ll hear the difference too.
If you want to take a step further, see the windshield coating below.
As your windshield has never been cleaner, now’s the time to use a windshield sealant. I use Rain-X because I know it works, it seals the window and repels rainwater. Any good sealant will clear from the windshield of rain at about 60 mph without the wipers.
Repelling rain water is the windshields sealants main function but it also protects the windshield and prevents UV rays, water spots, acid rain and helps repel dirt.
It also allows the wiper blades to move like butter, reducing friction reduces wear on the wiper blades, motor and reduces wiper noise.
Stuff you’ll need:
- Two Micro-fibre cloths
- Windshield sealant
Apply the sealant to a clean windshield and allow dry.
Buff off using a micro-fiber cloth.
The Rain-X product will last a few months, before needing re-application. Avoid using a sealant on soft top plastic glass.
Micro Fibre Towel Care
Once you use a Microfibre cloth you won’t go back. The clever design packs more dirt clinging fibers into every square inch than any other fabric. The towels are super-efficient at grabbing water and dirt.
The Waffle weave micro-fiber specializes in grabbing moisture and dirt, it’s perfect for auto detailing. Great for paintwork, chrome, interior, and glass.
Towel care is important, as these guys are so good at attracting dirt, they need to be cleaned regularly. I wash mine in hot water, no detergent or softener just hot water, and allow them to dry naturally.
Are paper towels good for cleaning windshields? Microfibre cloth is the best material to clean a windshield. A paper towel will move grit around the surface of the glass with the possibility of scratching it.
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John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.