How to get smear free windows: These are the best things to use

Window cleaning products

Although we use a local window cleaner for cleaning the external windows, the inside window cleaning task is down to my wife and I. In fact, now that I’m spending more time working from home I think I should actually make more of an effort to clean the outside windows as well! So, in this article I take a look at how to get those perfectly clean windows.

This article  focuses on how to get smear free windows and covers the following topics:

  1. Choosing a window cleaning solution.
  2. Selecting the right cleaning cloths.
  3. Do I need any other tools to clean windows?
  4. How to clean hard to reach windows.

What are the best things to use to clean windows?

There are 2 (3 if you include “elbow grease”) basic items you need to clean windows – some cleaning solution (this could be a spray of even water) and something to wipe the windows. At the moment we’re simply using Mr.Muscle Window & Glass spray with some of those all purpose (dry) kitchen cloths. This seems to work fine. Apparently it also contains vinegar for “effective cleaning” (more on that later).

1. Window cleaning solution

This is either going to take the form of an off-the-shelf spray or something you prepare yourself. In terms of the ready-made cleaners, I was a bit surprised that when I did a quick search online there are only two main “branded” window cleaner products – the Mr.Muscle that we use and Windolene’s Glass & Shiny Surface cleaner (which comes in a bigger 750ml bottle). As an aside, I remember my mom using some pink Windolene thick liquid when I was a kid, looked hard work using it as well! Edit: just found out you can still buy this.

Window cleaners comparison

To test the cleaning products available I purchased a number of different ones from Sainsburys and assessed them on price, cleaning performance and time/effort to polish the window dry (I used these sprays with a dry multipurpose cloth). These are compared in the table below.

ProductPhotoPrice / LitreResults
Sainsbury's Window CleanerSainsbury's Window Cleaner£1.40 per litreCheap! Took a few goes with the cloth to dry off the window. Does not smell over-powering.
Windolene Glass & Shiny SurfacesWindolene Glass and Shiny Surfaces£2.33 per litreHas a strong chemical smell. Difficult to read instructions as these are printed on the back of the front label.
Mr.Muscle Window & GlassMr.Muscle Window and Glass£3.50 per litreMost expensive liquid cleaner. Had a strong smell - made me cough & smell still in room 15 minutes later. Dried quicker than other liquid cleaners. Note: bottle in photo is not full as this is the one we currently use
Windolene Glass & Shiny Surfaces wipesWindolene Glass and Shiny Surfaces wipes£1.25 for 30 wipes (4p per wipe). This is the offer price, usually 7p per wipeAs with the Windolene liquid, had a strong (ish) smell. Cloths smaller than expected but did the job. Would probably need to use a few cloths on larger windows.Very quick to dry.

The Windolene is cheaper at £2.33 per litre compared to £3.50 per litre for the Mr.Muscle. The Sainsbury’s own branded window cleaner (500ml bottle) only costs £1.40 per litre. Something I also came across were Windolene glass cleaning cloths (30 pack). These looked quite convenient but at 7p each (I paid the equivalent of 4p per cloth on offer) this would surely work out more expensive in the long run.

When it comes to the actual product performance I have to say I actually quite liked the wipes. They had a noticeable chemical smell but left the windows clean and dry quickly. I think these are a great convenience product but I would not add to our cleaning product list, mainly due to price.

So this leaves us with the sprays. When it comes to getting the windows clean and streak free, to be honest, I could not actually tell any difference between the three sprays. What was noticeable though was the smell and the drying time/effort. The Mr.Muscle spray had a very strong chemical smell but dried off really quickly. In fact the smell was so strong it made me cough and was still present in the room some 15 minutes later.

The Sainsbury’s spray had the least noticeable smell with the Windolene spray having a noticeable smell but not as strong as the Mr.Muscle. Both required similar effort to dry & polish the windows. For cleaning and ease of use I would pick the Mr.Muscle (even though its more expensive than the others) with the caveat that the smell might be too strong for some people. The Sainsbury’s cleaner would be the good runner-up; it’s a lot cheaper than the Windolene spray and cleans/dries almost the same.

Window cleaner sprays winner

Homemade window cleaner

Another option for a cleaning solution is to make it yourself. So what makes the best homemade window cleaner? The most popular method is using vinegar. Vinegar is generally regarded as good cleaner due to its high acidity that breaks down dirt build-up.  To make the “solution” yourself is very easy: simply mix 1 tablespoons of white vinegar (not malt vinegar) with about 2 litres of water, and dispense into a used spray bottle (make sure you wash out the bottle first). You’ll also need some other storage container as most spray bottles are only 500-750ml in size.

However, vinegar does not smell all that great so an alternative is to use lemon juice. Lemons contain citric acid (which is present in a lot of branded household cleaners) which is an effective cleaner. To prepare a lemon solution, mix 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice with around 1 litre of water and again pour into a used and clean spray bottle and spare containers.

If your are looking for cheap and environmentally friendly alternatives to cleaning sprays and cloths, then a vinegar (or lemon juice) solution applied with newspapers (see below) is a good alternative.

2. Cleaning cloths

As mentioned earlier we just use a normal dry multi-purpose kitchen cloth to clean the windows. Alternatively you could use something like a old T-shirt but you would have to be careful that it doesn’t leave lint all over your nice clean windows.

I vaguely remember my grandparents also insisting on using old newspaper to clean windows rather than cloths. This sort of makes sense as they always had some ready at hand, they are cheaper than buying cloths and are recyclable. I was going to give newspaper a test but amazingly could not find any newspaper in the house (sign of the times I guess).

Window cleaning cloths comparison

There are a couple of products marketed specifically as window cleaning cloths. Again we purchased two different microfibre window cleaning cloths from Sainsbury’s; the Spontex Microfibre Window cloth and something called the “e-cloth”. These cloths are sold on the benefits of not needing chemicals (“just add water”) and washable (so reusable). Both products also claim to remove 99% of bacteria (what is the 1% that is always so difficult for cleaner manufactures to remove or kill?!); I’m not completely sold on this as benefit to be honest as the claim is based purely on the structure of the microfibre cloth rather than any anti-bacterial properties of the cloth. Both cloths were tested with water and assessed in terms of price and cleaning performance.

ProductPhotoPrice / LitreResults
Spontex Microfibre Window clothSpontex Microfibre Window cloth£2.00 per clothNo instructions so I wet cloth with water as packaging states "efficient with just water". Cleaned windows okay. Now left with wet cloth. Slightly smaller than e-cloth. tried second time by wetting window then drying. Performed same as e-cloth.
e-clothe-cloth£4.50 per clothLot more expensive than Spontex. I wet windows first then dried with cloth. Seemed okay.

Spontex vs e-Cloth sizeThe first thing to say was that I was slightly confused by how to use the Spontex cloth. Having read the packaging and a review it sounded like you just needed to wet the cloth with water and away you go. I did this but then I still had to dry off the window with another dry cloth which sort of defeated the purpose. Plus, I was also then left with a damp cloth.

The instructions for the e-cloth were more clear and stated that you had to wet the window first then polish off with the cloth. The cloth dried the window very quickly. To make the test fair I also dried out the Spontex cloth and wet the window first then dried off. There was very little in it between the two cloths with both leaving a good finish. The e-cloth costs more then double the price of the Spontex. Yes, its slightly larger and the cloth feels higher quality but I’m not sure that can justify the higher price.

So if you want an environmentally friendly window cleaning method that avoids chemical sprays (but don’t want to use vinegar), then I would choose the Spontex cloth.

Apart from the cloths, do you need any other tools to clean windows?

Not really. If you’re cleaning outside windows then a brush (to wipe away dirt & cobwebs) and a bucket & sponge for the initial clean are useful.

A squeegee is also a handy window cleaning tool but is normally only used for cleaning outside windows. The squeegee is used to wipe away the cleaning solution and generally leaves a good streak free finish. Just remember to keep the rubber blade clean during wiping and you’ll probably need to replace the blade/squeegee if it becomes worn or damaged to get the best results (frequency depends on how often you use).

A good selling window squeegee is available from Oxo Good Grips, it’s expensive compared to more basic squeegees but has good reviews ([amazon_textlink asin=’B000NZKHKU’ text=’click here for the price on Amazon’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’rabe00-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’b1fdc8cd-18b0-11e8-b4fe-2bd7ca09d6cd’]). It also comes with a suction cup so can be mounted on bathroom tiles for shower door cleaning.

A cheaper alternative is the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00023TBCS’ text=’Draper telescopic squeegee’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’rabe00-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’2ba809dc-172d-11e8-af90-c501b2d82bcc’] that has an extended length of 72.5cm. This one also comes with a handy sponge on the other side of the squeegee head.

Do you know where the word “squeegee” comes from? According to the Oxford dictionary it may come from the word “squeege”, meaning press or squeeze, which was first recorded in 1783. Interesting…

A quick word on window vacs

Karcher WV2 Plus Window VacWhen it comes to window cleaning, a product that has grown in popularity over the years is the “window vac”. This trend was started a few ago by Karcher who basically attached a vacuum motor to a squeegee and charged upwards of £50. Prices are a lot cheaper now, with competitors such as [amazon_textlink asin=’B00M9BM272′ text=’VonHaus’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’rabe00-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’e63ba2ee-175f-11e8-8b8f-81393f846fc9′] offering window vacs for under £30, however, Karcher pretty much dominate the market with their “WV” range.

So is a window vac any good at cleaning windows? Well, we recently video reviewed the Karcher WV2 Plus and completed a number of tests including outside window cleaning. The [amazon_textlink asin=’B00WSJQPRS’ text=’Karcher WV2 plus’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’rabe00-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’f484723f-1760-11e8-9019-67582508f143′] package includes a combined spray bottle and cloth to clean the windows, then you simply hoover up the water with the vac. We’ve had the WV2 for a few months now and cannot really fault it but it’s nearly twice the price of the VonHaus model – we’ll be comparing both in a back-to-back test soon.

How to clean hard-to-reach windows

If you need to clean first floor windows or even conservatory roofs for that matter, then you are going to need a long handled squeegee and brush. The longest one I could find on Amazon was the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00BXF1EZ6′ text=’Bargains Galore telescopic model’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’rabe00-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’1808bf2f-17f6-11e8-b32c-c92bd14191ea’] with a length of 3.5 metres. This is very well priced and looks to have a combined squeegee and sponge head. Reading the reviews though its a bit flimsy but seems to do the job reasonably well.

If you have a Karcher window vac then [amazon_textlink asin=’B00HUORV10′ text=’Karcher sell an extension pole kit’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’rabe00-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’27a29443-17f6-11e8-bca9-230a1057089a’] that includes a pole for the vac and another pole containing a brush. This is not a cheap bit of kit and only extends to 1.9m meters so is limited in its use. Also, I would not fancy attaching my £50+ window vac to the end of a pole! If you’re buying this then please check that it’s compatible with your model of Karcher window vac.


If you have any comments on any of these products tested or have some great window cleaning tips, then please leave a comment below.