Which Homemade Window Cleaner Works the Best?

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Written by contributor Donielle Baker of Naturally Knocked Up

Over the past few years I’ve been able to find a replacement for just about every conventional cleaner I’ve ever purchased, but the windows have been my nemesis.

You see, I happen to have a very large dog. A 125-pound rottweiler to be exact! And he loves nothing more than to stand at the window, with his nose smushed right up against it. He also licks the windows. And head butts them from the outside when he wants in.

His head level also happens to be my children’s hand level. This means that pretty much across the windows and sliders, it’s a mess from that level down. Keeping the windows clean is a full time job around here! (which also means that if you happen to drop by at some point, my windows most likely won’t be clean. Just sayin’.)

I figured it was time to buckle down and figure out this whole window cleaner thing. I’ve used a few different homemade recipes, but usually revert to a store-bought version when company comes over. You know, so we can actually see outside.

The Experiment

  1. A vinegar and water mix – I chose to use 1/2 water and 1/2 vinegar, which seemed to be the most commonly used ratio.
  2. Alcohol – Many actually said they used vodka, but like others, I used 70% Isopropyl rubbing alcohol since it’s much cheaper.
  3. Cleaning mix – 1 cup of water, 1 tablespoon vinegar, and 1 tablespoon rubbing alcohol.
  4. Norwex polishing cloth – granted, this isn’t a homemade option, but you only use water with the cloth.
  5. Newspaper and vinegar – I’ve always been told that newspaper does a great job and had never tried it.

Other notables:

  • I do not currently own any paper towels, and haven’t for some time, so I used a regular microfiber cloth while testing.
  • It’s cold here in Michigan! This means the windows are pretty chilly when it’s only 25 degrees out.
  • Each cleaner, unless noted, was given the same amount of swipes on the window – ten.
  • I waited until the sun was not shining on the window to help make sure we didn’t see streaks.
  • I used the dirtiest window in the house, full of kid prints and dog slobber along with mud and over spray from the sprinklers.

natural window cleaner
Photo by Donielle Baker

1. Vinegar and Water Mix – 1:1

This mix caused me to feel like I was making pickles! The vinegar scent was pretty strong and I had a hard time wanting to spray any more than my small strip of test window, even though I know it dissipates rather quickly. This mix was very “wet”, and after 10 swipes I felt I had to go a couple more or risk leaving major streaks.

  • Result: As you can see above, after cleaning, there are some spots and streaks left (more outside than inside). It was effective in cleaning, just not in polishing.

2. Rubbing Alcohol

I don’t know if it was the already overwhelming smell of vinegar, but the rubbing alcohol pretty much stunk too. I was realizing why people were buying vodka as it doesn’t have near the scent. The one bonus of the rubbing alcohol though, was the fact that I could just use a spray top screwed onto the bottle I purchased it in. I also keep this in the house more often than vodka, which is normally only purchased for making vanilla extract and herbal tinctures.

  • Result: Almost spotless, the rubbing alcohol worked very well with minimal elbow grease. On the outside it dried so quickly while I was scrubbing a mud mark that I had to spray more.

natural window cleaner
Photo by Donielle Baker

3. Cleaning Mix (1c. water, 1T alcohol, 1T vinegar)

My poor nose didn’t know what to smell with this one! The rubbing alcohol and vinegar together was an odd combo and definitely could have used some essential oils in the mix. (though I don’t know how well that would work on the window)

  • Result: not as many spots as #1 (the water vinegar mix) but definite streaks there. This one did dry faster than just the water/vinegar mix though.

4. Norwex Polishing Cloth

If you haven’t heard of these before, they basically look like over priced micro fiber cloths that you buy from a “Norwex lady”. You’re supposed to only get it wet and wring out as much water as possible before using. Then you clean your object. Also to note, you’re supposed to use the regular cloth first and then the polishing cloth. But I’m not doing my windows twice.

  • Result: That strip took less than 10 swipes and with the lack of liquid on the cloth, it remained streak and spot free.

natural window cleaner
Photo by Donielle Baker

5. Newspaper and Vinegar Mix (1:1 with water)

I had to scrounge through the bottom of one of my closets before finding an old newspaper from December of 2008. Yes, you read that right – I have a three year old newspaper in my closet, kept around for packing gifts and messy crafts. When you come over, don’t look in this closet.

For this one I met up with my good friend google to make sure I had the procedure down correctly. You just crumple and use like a paper towel.

Got it.

  • Result: Oh. My. Word. People actually like washing their windows this way!! It was messy and wet. The newspaper does not handle easily and it took forever to wipe the window clean. I was so glad that this strip started cleaner than the others. The outside fared even worse than the inside. I just couldn’t get the outside dry enough, even after re-crumpling the paper.

Final Verdict

I’d have to say the polishing cloth and rubbing alcohol tied for first. Both were streak free and dried quickly. The rubbing alcohol smelled a bit while spraying, but the smell dissipated quicker then the vinegar smell did.

What effective homemade window cleaners do you use?

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About Donielle

Donielle is an amateur herbalist and natural momma to two littles. She has a passion for nourishing nutrition, natural living, and spreading the word on how food truly affects our health. Her blog Naturally Knocked Up focuses on natural fertility and reproductive health, and her book on natural fertility will be available in June 2012.

Comments

  1. It’s interesting that the polishing cloth tied for first. Have you tried a regular microfibre cloth just damp with water at all? I’d be interested to hear if there’s something special about the norwex one.

    The vinegar newspaper thing does sound messy – and, like you, I never buy newspapers!

  2. I’ve used norwex cloths for years. My girls clean the windows and mirrors in my house and these are easy and safe for them to use.
    Kika@embracingimperfection´s latest post: The Importance of Being Heard: anxiety & panic attacks

  3. It’s interesting that the newspaper didn’t work well for you, it’s actually my favorite way to clean windows and mirrors! I just use water in a spray bottle though, no vinegar. It doesn’t leave streaks and makes it so sparkly.
    Madison´s latest post: Being Authentic Online

  4. I use the rubbing alcohol with a micro fiber cloth. I clean all those doggy nose prints and kiddo handprints off my glass doors. I clean and polish my mirrors as well as faucets and countertops in my bathrooms. I also spray a little onto my microfiber cloth and hit the doorknobs and light switches throughout the house. If I’m being very thorough, I’ll go through 2 – 3 cloths (especially, if bathrooms are invloved). I feel like everything is very clean, germs are killed, it’s economical and there is no residual scent or odor.

  5. Club soda works well for windows and mirrors. The downside (for me) is that you have to buy club soda just for cleaning. But it would be worth a try if you’re looking for another good option!

  6. I was told that you use the newspaper as a final step to get rid of the streaks. That way has worked for me when everything else has left streaks.

  7. It should be noted that when using natural cleaners (like vinegar) it can sometimes take a few times before it’s streak free due to the fact that it takes awhile before it can remove all the old product build up.
    Brittany T.´s latest post: Crunchy Acronym Quiz

  8. I usually use a wet dishcloth with a bit of dish liquid then followed by drying with a cotton dish drying cloth…..all washable and reuseable…I also have used a microfiber cloth just as much.

  9. I love my Norwex cloths, they do the trick for our windows and mirrors.

  10. I’m not happy with the vinegar/water combo which is what I’ve been using for the past few years. I don’t do windows very often. ;)

    I don’t know why I haven’t used this recently, but an old recipe I have for washing windows: 1 gallon water, 1 cup rubbing alchohol, and 1 teaspoon Joy dishwashing detergent. I’ve used it in the past and it worked fantastically. You can cut the recipe down for spray bottles or make up a bucket for washing all your windows.
    Tammy´s latest post: ~Happy Hearts~

  11. Interesting! I use Kangen water for my window cleaner, degreaser, and sanitizer, mouth wash, toner, wound care, burns and to wash those oil based herbicides and pestacides off my fruits and vegtables. I could come up with some more uses but I figured that would do for now. All this and more with Kangen water!!!

  12. I use the vinegar/water mix, but with a couple drops of castile soap mixed in. Although, for heavily soiled windows I use a squeegee instead of a cloth. That way the window can be cleaned with rag soaked in water or a soap blend or whatever, and then the squeegee with a dry rag for the edges makes sure there are no streaks. It’s the same principle as cleaning your windshield at the gas station. Finding a good squeegee can be hard, though.
    Maya´s latest post: Time to Take Care of the Nestee

  13. Newspapers work great. I spray the window first and use a dry piece of crumbled newspaper to wipe the window. Results are streak free and shiny. I also love using a wet microfiber. I clean everything with just a slightly damp microfiber. Even my hardwood floors and wood furniture. Leaves everything very shiny – no streaky residue. I’ll have to try your polishing cloths. Where do you buy them?

  14. interesting results. i’ll have to try the alcohol and water mix. i would have to agree with the 2 comments above regarding the newspaper. it has really gotten the windows (and mirrors) streak free and shiny compared to using a washcloth. the only problem is we don’t buy newspapers so it’s hard to have enough for cleaning windows.
    prasti´s latest post: wordless wednesday::a gathering

  15. I like to use a microfiber cloth designed for glass (tight, smooth weave similar to those norwex cloths) with water, and for the more grimy jobs I use the same cloth with a combination of vinegar, water, and a dab of dish soap.

    What I’d love to know is what everyone uses for cleaning up grease spatter from kitchen surfaces (like the walls and microwave).

  16. You mentioned needing an essential oil for the smell: A friend always puts a few drops of a citrus-based essential oil per quart of vinegar/water mixture. Citrus is supposed to help degrease and cut grime…I’ve yet to try it, but her windows and stainless are always sparkling and her house smells lightly of lemons. It would help cut through the dog and kid grime :)

  17. Club Soda is what I read about in a “green cleaning” book and it has worked great for me! It doesn’t matter if it still has carbonation or not!

  18. I do not have a preferred method as my windows rarely get cleaned :/ lol But I will definitely have to look into those Norwex cloths. They sound wonderful.
    Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds´s latest post: On Keeping It Simple

  19. I usually use distilled water if the window is really dirty (say…on the out side) to remove the residue. I then follow up with alcohol. I have found that vinegar & other mixes don’t work well on greasy stains (like nose prints from pets or humans). If there’s alot of dirt on outside windows I hose them down (with or without screens if they are dirty) first. I think that’s what causes streaking…too much “crud”.

  20. No one has mentioned cucumbers. I’ve read that they’re great for cleaning the bathroom mirror, so why not windows?

    And, regarding essential oils, It may sound counter-intuitive, but some natural oils are the base cleaner for store-bought natural cleaners. I wouldn’t expect eucalyptus, tea tree, or citrus EO’s to leave residue, and they’re great for cutting grease and goo.

    BTW, I had read somewhere that isopropyl alcohol is pretty bad to inhale (besides the smell), particularly for young children. Anyone else have info on that?

    I use white vinegar for everything, even greasy stoves. The smell hasn’t bothered me since about the first week or so.

  21. I have something that’s like a Norwex cloth, but I think I need more. I have a lot of windows and the cloth gets dirty before I can finish the job.
    Mireya @myhealthyeatinghabits´s latest post: Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut “Pesto” – Food Matters

  22. I clean house for a disabled couple and I use Theives from Young Living Essential Oils in water, microfiber cloth then newspapers. It’s very effective, but I would still like to leave out one of the steps. I haven’t done the alcohol spritz treatment yet, I’m interested to try it.
    Laura Black´s latest post: Pollinators and Colony Collapse Disorder

  23. I love my Norwex cleaning cloths and my polishing cloth I bought from Shaklee. I also love my purple cleaning rags I bought from flylady.com. They are a mix of polishing cloths and microfiber cloth and I haven’t met a mess they couldn’t tackle. : ).

  24. I want to try to alcohol now! We have hard water stains on the outside of our living room windows and vinegar just isn’t cutting it. Any other advice on removing hard water stains from windows would be welcome!
    charis´s latest post: never too old to learn something new!

  25. Had to laugh at the “don’t look in this closet.” I have an even simpler solution. I recently dug out a spray bottle, filled it with water and a tablespoon of vinegar, then stuck it in the toy sorter with a rag and moved the toy sorter close to the “kids” table and that messy window. Yes I have the same window. It turns out 2, 3 and 4 year olds love to clean. They wash that window ten times a day. They wash it until they run out of spray. Their table is really, really clean now too — and the floor for a mile around the table. I recommend it. They are so good I now “let” them clean other stuff, like their bathroom counter and the pantry door. And I “let” them have a brush and a dustpan of their very own too.

    So at my house, it no longer matters what is in the bottle. Though I will try the straight alcohol very soon on the high windows. They look pretty bad by comparison now!
    Dreena Tischler´s latest post: Experimental Esthetician

  26. I’ve been using Norwex products for a couple of years now and honestly find it so quick and easy to clean everything in my house that I can’t imagine going back to using additional products. For Kara E. above, my norwex microfiber cloth, just wet, has removed grease splatter, baked on food spills and even the tarnish on my stainless steel toaster oven. The norwex microfibers are different than those you buy at the store because the fiber is much smaller, the weave is tighter, and many of the cloths have silver fibers woven throughout which makes them antibacterial as well. No, I don’t sell it, I just love it!

  27. Thank you for doing this test! I’ve been in the same predicament with natural window cleaners. I had not heard of the Norwex cloth and I am glad it works so well. I will have to try it! Thanks!!
    Becky @ Pure Vitality´s latest post: Give Your Pantry a Healthy Makeover

  28. Like others said, I’m surprised the newspaper didn’t work for you! I always clean my mirrors with vinegar and newspaper — when I have newspaper! Otherwise I just use paper towels. (Yuck.) Apparently I need to invest in a microfiber cloth!
    Jessie´s latest post: Valentine’s Day 2012

  29. For those of you who are interested in the Norwex products, I now sell them after using them for almost 4 years. We have been using natural/chemical free products for about 13 years. I have to say that once I found Norwex, I have been able to not only simplify my cleaning (because I don’t need so many different cleaners/spray bottles for different jobs), but it has saved us a ton of money! I am very grateful to have these products in our life because with 5 children home all day (we homeschool) and 4 of them being boys (enough said!) we can make some pretty big messes!! It is so easy to simply use the wet microfiber cloth to wipe up messes. Knowing that they will clean up the bacteria and self purify due to the silver makes them even better!

  30. calliope Greece says:

    after having tried almost everything natural on my windows/mirrors this is what works the best:
    1/4 c rubbing alcohol
    1/4 c white vinegar
    1 Tbsp cornstarch
    2 c warm water
    combine and shake well before each use as the cornstarch tends to go to the bottom of the bottle.
    Wipe with newspaper or cotton cloths (i had some scraps from ikea curtains and they were the best ever)

  31. Great article. One good trick is to add a few drops of essentials oils to make a pleasant scent.

  32. Australian Cleaning Force prides themselves on their No Quibble Guarantee Every clean is unconditionally guaranteed You remain the sole judge of our service and quality If, for any reason, you are not satisfied with any single clean, simply ask for it to be re done immediately at no cost

  33. Helpful post Donielle. We agree with your finidings on the best homemade cleaner. Big, tough jobs on exterior call for more elbow grease and a soap of some type – or call in the pros to help!

  34. Being our sanctuary, our homes deserved being taken care of through keeping it clean and free of clutter. Although a lot of companies are now offering house cleaning services, we are still the one who is primarily responsible on keeping our homes clean, organized and clutter free. Doing this might be very cumbersome and stressful because it involves a lot of tasks like vacuuming, mopping floors, dusting furniture and organizing every single part of your house. And if you are a very busy person, managing all of these tasks is definitely not an easy thing to do. Because of this, handy tips on making your house organized and clean can be a great help.

  35. House cleaning is a common word which means an act of cleaning and eradicating dirt, clearing every parts of the house and providing the house an atmosphere of freshness and a room a good place to live. There are people who often do the house cleaning and some people escape in doing it. However, house cleaning to some is a work and responsibility but to some people this is a passion of cleanliness and a part of their lives.

  36. The newspaper is to be used dry as a polishing cloth, so to speak.
    This is the way my mom’s generation used to use it.
    BTW – newspaper is a fabulous odor absorber. We’ve used it in smelly shoes and skates and off season footwear.

  37. Good old vinegar, works a treat. My nan told me that trick!

  38. Donielle, really great post with tips every homeowner can use to keep their windows sparkling clean! Thanks for sharing.

  39. Thanks for your info: . The homemade cleaner is best of world.

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