Tips for Cleaning Exterior Windows

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If you are considering cleaning your exterior windows, it’s important not to waste your time or money on ineffective or costly cleaning products. Don’t be duped into buying an expensive window cleaning robot from an electronics store. While there may be some commercial applications for this technology in high-rise window cleaning, those sold to homeowners are not worth the money.

Alternately, avoid the common but incorrect advice that encourages homeowners to spray their windows with a hose, or scrub them with old newspapers and cleaning spray, or worst of all to mop them with your floor mop. These will not give you good results! There’s a reason the simple squeegee has remained the tried and true method for window cleaning for nearly 100 years. In this article we’re going to explore the best practices and give you some tips for cleaning exterior windows.

The Best Tools for Window Cleaning

Before getting started with your window cleaning project, you will need a few tools. The first and most important is a squeegee designed for window cleaning (the one you use for your shower doors won’t cut it), a strip applicator, a nice big bucket full of water, some soap, and towels.

Let’s explore the squeegee. While the same high quality tools the pros use are unfortunately not available at hardware stores, a reliable classic style squeegee is all you need for most basic window cleaning. There are many different brands of squeegees and specialty varieties available. However, for your basic window cleaning all you will need is a standard fixed handle (non swivel) squeegee which can be purchased at a hardware or janitorial supply store. Look for well known brand names like Ettore or Unger. A squeegee is comprised of a few parts: a handle, the channel, a rubber blade and clips. The rubber slides into the channel, which is held in place by clips and is attached to the handle. When buying you squeegee, it’s a good idea to buy a couple replacement rubber blades of good quality as they are the most important part of the squeegee.

The strip applicator is what you will use to scrub dirt and grime off the outside of your windows.

Any bucket you have handy will work, but ideally it should be large enough to fit the applicator comfortably inside.

There are different commercially made soaps available. If you are in the hardware store, keep an eye out for Zep or something similar. Alternately, you can also use Dawn dish soap instead. Your soap will accomplish two things:

  • It will help loosen and break up any built up grime and dirt on the window surface.
  • It provides lubrication to help the rubber of the squeegee glide over the surface of the glass.

The proportion of water to soap you use is important and will directly affect your results. If you use too much soap, you will leave a soapy film behind on the windows. Too little and you will hear a lot of squeaking from your rubber due to friction. Use about a tablespoon of soap per gallon of water for your cleaning solution.

Another important but often overlooked tool is the towel. It’s good to have a few options for towels. A large absorbent towel you don’t care about is good to have on hand (old bath towels work well for this). You can use this as a drop cloth to avoid drips while cleaning interior windows. Professional window cleaners often employ some combination of either surgical, huck or scrim towels for detailing windows. Essentially what you are looking for is something lint-free, durable and highly absorbent. Once you have your tools together you’re ready to get started!

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Tips for Cleaning Exterior Windows

First we will go over the basics of how to clean a window, and then we will explore different squeegee techniques. Use a towel to wipe away any visible dirt from the frame of the window. If you see any visible damage or cracks in the glass skip the window as cleaning it may cause further damage or breakage. Soak your strip applicator in your cleaning solution and use it to scrub your windows. Squeegee the solution off of the glass. The squeegee will likely leave a small line of solution around the edges of the glass near the frame. Use your detailing towel to carefully remove any remaining solution.

There are a number of different techniques for cleaning windows, but they generally are variations of two main methods. The first and easiest approach is a simple side-to-side or top to bottom straight pull with the squeegee. For a beginner this is most likely the best place to start.

After scrubbing and soaking the window with your applicator, position your squeegee at the edge of the window. Right or left side, whichever feels most comfortable to you. Run a towel, top to bottom, down the side of the window making sure to clear the solution. Position your squeegee so that it is perpendicular with the edge of the window, and the top edge of the channel is touching the top frame of the window. With a smooth, steady motion, drag the squeegee over the surface of the glass removing the solution. Repeat this process. With each successive stroke make sure the squeegee is overlapping the line of remaining solution by at least an inch or two before starting. When you are finished, take your detailing towel and carefully wipe down the edges of the window to remove any cleaning solution left behind. The basics of straight pull are easy to get the hang of, but take time to master.

A more advanced technique is called fanning or also sometimes called the s-motion. If you’ve ever watched a professional window cleaner, you may have noticed how the squeegee moves with continuous motion without being lifted from the glass until it is completely clean. This is fanning. There are times to use a straight pull instead of fanning, but once you get the hang of it you will likely find that fanning is far more versatile. It allows you to clean irregular shaped windows, correct mistakes and also clean large windows with a medium sized squeegee quickly. There are many variations of this technique, but we will go over a few basic steps. They are: cutting in, clearing the corners, cutting down the middle and closing out.

Scrub the dirty window with your applicator. With your dominant hand, take the squeegee. Cut in by dragging the squeegee across the left side of the window. The edge of the squeegee will run along the left side of the window towards the upper left corner. Once there, without lifting it off the glass, drag the squeegee across the window from the upper left corner to the upper right corner and then down clearing roughly the top quarter of the window. Next you are ready to start cutting down the middle. Accomplish this by using arcing motions with the squeegee, right to left, left to right. The key is even pressure on the squeegee and smooth motion. You don’t have to go fast. Keep an eye on where your squeegee is headed and where the edge of the solution is. Each time you arc across the window, make sure you are overlapping the remaining soap with your squeegee about 1.5” from the end. The final stroke removing the last of the solution is called closing out. You can close out with the channel of the squeegee parallel to either the side or bottom of the window. How you close out will be based on the shape of the window, which is your dominant hand and other logistical limitations.

If you don’t get this technique right away don’t get frustrated! It typically takes window cleaners months if not more of continuous practice to truly get it down

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Advanced Techniques and Troubleshooting for Cleaning Exterior Windows

Once you feel comfortable with the basics of window cleaning it’s time to add some advanced techniques and tips to your tool box. Here are a few that may help:


Streaks on a window you’ve just cleaned can happen in any number of ways. The better your technique gets the less often you will leave streaks on the glass. Try to notice when you are leaving them, this will help inform you to make adjustments to your technique. Not enough soap in your solution causing the rubber to drag? Not enough solution? Are you overlapping your strokes by not enough or too much? Is there damage to your rubber blade, possibly something stuck on it?  Most of the time you can use a piece of grade 0000 steel wool to scrub small streaks away. However, please read below for some hazards with using steel wool.


If you have divided light windows (windows that are separated by grilles) or french doors, you may want to consider measuring the windows and cutting down your squeegee channel with a hacksaw to make an exact fit. This will allow you to clean each window with a single side-to-side stroke, saving you time.


Before getting into these potential tools it’s important to note that they are generally best left to the pros. Improperly utilized they can cause damage to your windows. That being said, if you feel comfortable with the risk, they can also be very useful. Never use razors on tempered glass. Generally you can identify tempered glass by looking in the corner of the window. Either the top or bottom it varies by manufacturer. Look for something that says “tempered, heat-strengthened, etc” stamped on the glass. Additionally, never use razors on windows that have film on them. Some homeowners will get UV blocking film installed on their windows to cut down on glare. If you use a razor blade on this, you will take it off! Similarly, do not use steel wool on windows with film as you will destroy the film. Keep an eye out for plexiglass as well. To save money some homeowners will replace broken windows with plexiglass. It looks very similar to real glass, but will scratch badly if you use steel wool or a razor on it.

Caveats aside grade 0000 steel or bronze wool and razors can be useful tools in window cleaning. If you are finding windows with a lot of built up dirt, adhesives, overspray, flecks of paint, stucco, cement or silicone on them a scraper and/or steel wool can help take them off.

Again, it’s important to reiterate that these techniques are generally best left to the pros!


If you live in an area with hard water, you may notice some of your windows becoming cloudy or pitted with stains over time. These are hard water stains. They are common on windows that routinely splashed by sprinklers or near flower planters that get watered often. The best way to avoid hard water stains is to never spray your windows with the hose! Some people try this as an inexpensive way to clean their exterior windows, but end up paying the price later on. As hard water starts to build up on windows it is very difficult to remove. Unfortunately, standard window cleaning methods will not remove it. It requires the use of specialty acid-based window cleaning products to remove. Professional window cleaners will charge a premium price for this cleaning as it is very time and labor intensive to perform properly.


If you are finding a window that stubbornly resists your cleaning attempts and appears to be dirty even after cleaning both sides, you may be looking at a broken seal. Newer windows are typically double paned. A broken seal means that water and/or dirt has gotten in between the two panes. To remedy this you will need to have the window repaired or possibly replaced.

Cleaning Windows Under Difficult Weather Conditions

If you are cleaning windows on a hot day, your best approach is to plan ahead. Anticipate the trajectory of the sun throughout the day. Cleaning windows will be easiest if you are working in the shade as you are moving around your home. Inevitably you will get to a least a few windows that have been baking in the direct sun. Your best bet here is to use the fanning method and to work quickly. If you are coordinated, you can use the applicator in your non-dominant hand the squeegee in your main hand. By soaking the entire window and then dragging the applicator a couple inches ahead of your squeegee while moving both in unison, you will have an easier time cleaning these windows.

On the other hand, if you’ve put off you window cleaning project and now the weather is getting close to freezing you will have different set of problems. You may find that your solution is freezing on the windows before you can squeegee it off. In this case, you may want to consider adding some windshield washer fluid to your cleaning solution. Please be careful. While this will keep your solution from freezing, but is also harmful to get on your skin. The best option is to avoid cleaning windows when it’s this cold, but if you have no choice this will work. Neoprene gloves will help keep your hands warm and dry throughout the process as well.

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Wrapping Up

If you are interested in tips for cleaning exterior windows hopefully this has helped. At first glance window cleaning seems easy. If you’ve ever watched a professional cleaner in action, it can seem almost effortless to clean a large window. While the basics technique can be learned fairly quickly, it takes a long time and consistent application get professional results. The reality is that many homeowners bite off more than they can chew when they decide to take on their own window cleaning project. After a weekend of hard work all they have to show for their efforts are mediocre, streaky results. Leave the dangerous rickety old ladder in the garage and let us take care of it for you!

Summit Window Cleaning is Denver’s best window cleaner. Our technicians have years of experience with thousands of clean windows behind them. Attention to detail, with the best training and tools available allow us to give you superior results every time. And our streak-free guarantee means you never have to worry – we stand behind our work!

Reclaim your weekends- most residential window cleanings only take our team 3-5 hours for a medium to large home with unparalleled results! We are a safety minded, conscientious, and friendly team and will treat your home as respectfully as it were our own. Give us a call today for a free no obligation estimate!


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