How to get your kitchen windows squeaky clean and streak-free

You can see clearly now

By Leslie Stephens
March 31, 2021 12:00PM (UTC)
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(Jonah Ollman / Food52)

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We're not exactly sure why, but cleaning the windows is one of those tasks that gets put off until the absolute last minute. And by last minute, we mean: It's 9 a.m. and your in-laws are visiting at 10 a.m. — the counters have been scrubbed, the beds are made, the floor has been vacuumed — but the light coming into your home remains . . . mottled.

Okay so maybe it's because for many of us, this means getting up on a ladder outside our windows, and for others, it simply doesn't seem doable at all in a 5th floor walkup (hello, city-dwellers). Unfortunately though, we've all got to face it at some point, since there's nothing that makes a space feel bigger and brighter than cleaning the windows.

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Plus, it's been a long winter of kicked-up street salt, stay-inside days, and dirt gripping onto water marks. You'll be amazed to see how much more light comes in once those layers of grime has been removed. I'm also happy to report it only took me about five minutes to clean each window, aka, no excuses!

When cleaning your windows, aim for early in the morning or late in the day — anytime the sun isn't directly hitting them: You'll be able to see the streaks better when it's not as bright, and the heat of the sun can dry the water or cleaning solution you're using onto the window before you have the chance to wipe it off (read: streaky windows).

I learned the hard way that if you start by spraying a cleaning solution on your window, and use a rag to wipe it up, you will end up with smeared dirt. Don't be like me; here's how to do it right:

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* * *

What you'll need:

  • A large bucket or pot
  • Warm water
  • White vinegar (which, added to your tub of water, helps sanitize and cut grime)
  • A large sponge
  • A squeegee
  • A few rags
  • Several sheets of newspaper
  • Window cleaner like Windex or a natural cleaning solution of 1:1 water to vinegar (I found the Windex to work slightly better)

* * *

What you'll do:

1. Sponge the glass with vinegar water.

Fill your bucket with a gallon of warm water, add 1 cup white vinegar, and then soak your sponge in it completely. Wipe the sponge across the window in an S-motion (get to one side, then turn around and go the opposite way, one row down). Dunk your sponge as needed, but do this fairly quickly so the water on the windows doesn't have time to dry before you wipe it off; if needed, do your window in sections. Be especially careful to get flush against the top of the window — it's easy to miss this spot!

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Photo by Jonah Ollman

2. Squeegee the solution away.

Slightly wet a squeegee (a dry squeegee will skip against glass) and follow the path you made with the sponge, being careful to wipe all of the water away. You can use a clean cloth to dot at the excess liquid and lines left, but I found that the using the squeegee alone left the fewest streaks.

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Photo by Jonah Ollman

3. Spray the glass with cleaner.

Once you've cleaned the first layer of grime of your window, there's still more fun to be had. Spray a stronger mix of 1:1 water and vinegar (or Windex, or glass cleaner) at your window, so that the solution covers most of the glass. (I found Windex to work better, but if you have pets — or kids — who frequently lick outdoor windows, vinegar may be the best route for you.)

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Photo by Jonah Ollman

4. Wipe it away with a rag.

Using a clean rag, wipe the cleaning solution across the window and window hardware — you'll be able to see how much grime is still left!

Photo by Jonah Ollman

5. Give it a once-over using newspaper.

Once the window is mostly dry, bunch up a piece of newspaper and wipe any remaining liquid off — this will ensure that it's streak-free. (Don't use newspaper to wipe the cleaning solution off at the first go, as it will get wet and pill-y, and fall apart.)

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* * *

For the inside windows:

It's just as important to clean the inside of your windows as it is to clean the outside — miscellaneous marks from pets' noses and finger prints, combined with natural dust, pile up make them dirty (see photo above). But they will not, hopefully, be nearly as dirty as your outside windows, which means you can skip a few steps this go-around — you don't even need a bucket!

  1. Either spray a natural solution of 1:1 water to vinegar or Windex at your window so that it roughly covers most of the window. (If you used Windex outside, it might be worth using a natural solution indoors since there isn't nearly as much grime to cut through and this is what you'll be breathing in for the next few days. For the record, I used Windex — this is a no-judgement zone.)
  2. As you did outside, use a clean rag to wipe the cleaning solution across the window and over all window hardware.
  3. Once you've mostly dried the window with the clean rag, bunch up newspaper to wipe off any remaining liquid.

Added bonus: Your cat will have the time of her life.

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Added bonus: Your cat will have the time of her life.

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For the unreachables:

Because my fire escape is only in front of two windows, I have two windows on either side of the escape that I couldn't reach by hand. The best way to clean unreachable outdoor windows is to do the process listed above, but using extendable handle squeegees and sponges. But, since I live in a New York City apartment that barely has room for a 5-gallon bucket, let alone an extendable squeegee pole, I opted for the next best thing: my Swiffer Wet Mop.

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While my outdoor windows could have been less streaky, I'm happy to report that the Swiffer worked just fine, in a pinch — and better yet, it got rid of the pigeon poop I've been staring at for the better part of the year!


Leslie Stephens

MORE FROM Leslie Stephens


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