Home Project Tip 1: Cleaning Windows


Home Project Tip #1
New Series


As we noted in yesterday’s post, “Shaking Out The Cobwebs“, it’s high time to take on some of those long-delayed projects.  Today, we’ll do that  and start a new series in the process—our Home Project Tips series.  In our first tip, we’re going to tackle window cleaning. My windows need cleaning inside and out, but I also need to wipe down the window sills, I’ve got to clean my skylights, and I need to clean the track for my sliding glass door.

Upper story windows can be difficult to clean.

I’ve noticed it’s high time to clean the windows.


Let It Shine


Windows are one of those projects I realize I’ve neglected when the sun comes out and I see all water spots and accumulated grime of the season in the bright reflection.  However, it turns out cleaning on a cloudy day can actually help reduce streaking since you minimize evaporation.  Also, if it’s cold enough outside when you clean windows, you can use auto car window washer which resists freezing.


Plenty Of Water


What’s generally the best way to clean windows?  For the outside it depends on the amount of dirt that’s accumulated and how easy they are to access.  If there’s a lot of dirt, be sure to grab a hose or bucket and pre-rinse your window with plenty of water.  By removing the excess dirt first, you can prevent scratching the glass.


A Solution


For my outside windows, I often fill a one gallon bucket with plain water and add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of white vinegar. If you buy a gallon size container of vinegar at a store like Costco you can keep the cost down.


Squeegees can also be attached to an extension pole.

I wipe the window with my squeegee and then wipe the squeegee with a cloth.

Scrub A Dub


After hosing the windows down, I’ll use my vinegar solution along with a soft “window” brush or sponge to scrub the windows clean.  If you use a sponge, don’t use one with a scouring pad and rinse it often.  It’s important to use lots of liquid as you clean so any dirt you knock loose doesn’t end up scratching the glass.  I rinse with a hose after scrubbing and then use a squeegee and cotton rag to remove the excess water.  Alternatively, if I’m in a hurry and am only working on a couple of windows, I sometimes just spray them down with a regular window cleaner that contains ammonia and then use a soft cotton cloth or paper towels to dry them.  Here’s another tip:  If you wipe your glass up and down on the outside, wipe left and right on the inside.  That way if you have a streak leftover you’ll know which side of the glass it’s on.


Use A Pole Or Get A Pro


If you’re uncomfortable on a ladder, you can try those extension poles for brushes and squeegees available at hardware stores.  Alternatively, it may pay to hire a pro to handle your outdoor window cleaning.  I’ve got a two story home, but my comfort level on a ladder is pretty good.  I also have tall enough ladders that I’ll be able to reach my second story windows with ease.  In fact, I can wash a couple of my high windows from a lower roof so there’s really only one window that requires my extension ladder.  If you use an extension ladder be sure to tie it off so it can’t slide as you climb it.  Be smart: Take all normal precautions.  Remember, it’s best to have a spotter whenever you use a ladder.


Clean your screens before putting them back in.

Grab the tab, push or pull toward the resistance and then pop the screen out.

A Word On Screens


I remove and clean my screens as I clean my windows.  My screens are the common variety you find with aluminum or vinyl windows—they’re tension mounted.  All you need to do to remove them is to grab a hold of the tabs (if the screen frame lacks tabs grab the frame itself).  Once you have hold of the screen, slide it toward the direction of resistance.  When the edge of the screen clears the window frame you can pull or push the screen frame outward to remove it (depending on whether you’re inside or the outside the house).  I use a hose to rinse my screens before re-installing them.


Putting your screens back in is a simple matter of reversing the process—insert the screen frame edge in proper window frame channel and push in the direction of resistance until it pops back into place.  Be patient with this.  It doesn’t take a whole lot of pressure to bend a frame.


Back Inside


Cleaning a skylight can really warm you up.

Don’t stand on the last two ladder steps. This ladders too short for this job.

With the outside complete, it’s time to tackle the interior.  I’m pretty tall so I can reach most of the glass inside without a ladder (except the skylights).  Ladders are a prime source of accidents around the home.  If the ladder you own isn’t sturdy, do yourself a huge favor and get rid of it.  I was once working on a construction job and the ladder I was on just collapsed beneath me.  It all happened so fast, there was no time to react.  I was lucky.  I only sprained my ankle, but please believe me when I say that hurt.


Another tip: Adjust the ladder so the feet are fully extended and secure, and be sure to stay off the highest (or last two) steps.  When I’m in a hurry, it’s always tempting to take shortcuts, but it’s just not worth the extra risk of injury.



Making Your Own


A "green" window cleaner.

Making your own environmentally friendly window cleaner is easy.

I must confess, I tend to get lazy when it comes to making my own window cleaner.  For that reason, I usually have a generic brand of window cleaner sitting around for general use.  However, it’s very easy to make an environmentally friendly window cleaner by taking an old clean spray bottle and filling it with a mix of white vinegar and water.  When I’m using the bucket like I did outside, I tend to use less vinegar as I often knock the bucket around and lose a good portion of my solution to waste.  Inside, I’ll take a spray bottle and fill it with a solution made of one part vinegar to three parts water—in other words, I fill ¼ of the bottle with vinegar and the rest with water.  My indoor mix is therefore stronger than my outdoor mix, and though I notice the vinegar smell as I’m spraying it, the “bouquet” dissipates within an hour or two.


Quick Dust Up


You can use a damp cloth to wipe the window sills down.

My window sills are showing signs of age. This cracking looks like a project for another day.

Once I finish cleaning a window, I spend a minute wiping down my window sills.  My current sills are wood coated with varnish.  For now, I’m just using a damp rag and some “elbow” grease to clean them.  I did notice some sun and water marks on a couple of them that will eventually require more serious attention.  I’ll leave that for another day.  If you have sills made out of sheet rock, you can still wipe them down with a damp rag, but avoid excess water.  Also, if you note any mildew around the frame edge you can generally kill it with a mild bleach solution—mix a cap full of bleach to a cup or two of water.  However, if you use a bleach solution take care not to spill it to avoid accidentally bleaching  furniture or carpeting, and be sure to test it in an inconspicuous place so you don’t bleach paint.  If your paint is white this shouldn’t be an issue.  I’ll sometimes use a cotton swab or two dipped in bleach solution if the mildew resides in a tight crevice.  Don’t forget: Wear rubber gloves whenever using bleach or other cleaning solutions.




Take proper precautions whenever you're up on a roof.

When the roof of this house was re-shingled the roofers installed safety hooks.

I have three skylights on my upper roof.  Again, if you’re not comfortable with ladders get a pro to handle this job.  My roof pitch is relatively tame so I have no problem walking across it.  Your roof pitch or the type or condition of your shingles may make cleaning skylights difficult.  For example, if you have a lot of moss on your roof it can be very slippery.  Be sure to take appropriate precautions, like wearing rubber sole shoes, using a safety harness and tying the harness off to a roof rope hook like the one shown in the picture.


Cleaning my skylights from above.

I didn’t want to use the hose, but I doused the skylights with lots of cleaning solution.

This time around, I used a spray bottle on my skylights as I didn’t want to drag my hose up to the roof.  I just made sure to douse them thoroughly before wiping them down to avoid scratching.


Indoors, my skylights are harder to access.  I have to carefully snake my ladders up a narrow chute to reach them.  It was tight enough in my bathroom that I wrapped the end of the ladder with a soft towel to avoid marring the paint.  Cleaning skylights can really warm you up.  Hot air rises so I was sweating by the time I’d finished.  Next time, I think I’ll start with the skylights early in the morning.


Tracks And Sliders


Get all that dirt out.

I got my track clean, but it took some detailing.

My glass slider track has been filling up over the winter with tiny bits of pine needles and dirt.  It doesn’t help that our dog constantly drags stuff into the house.  I’ve tried vacuuming the track out several times, but I’ve been unable to get into the smallest crevasses even with my vacuum crevasse tool.


Vacuum up the lose particles in the track first.

Wrap the tip of a screwdriver with a soft towel or try a toothbrush for detailed work.

It’s important to keep the track on your slider as clean as you can—don’t let the goo build up as pitch or grit will slowly foul the wheels and/or glides under the door.  For this job, I used my hand vac and a damp rag to wipe up as much of the loose material as I could.  Then I attacked the rest with some water, mild soap, a toothbrush and a clothed covered screwdriver. Be sure to take care if using any sharp tool like a screwdriver to avoid scratching the slider frame.  I suppose you can say the advantage or disadvantage of a white slider door frame is in how well the dirt shows up on it.


Stay Tuned For More Tips


Whew!  That was a lot of work.  I’ll be back in a couple days to tackle a couple projects in the kitchen.  Hope you join me then.

If you’ve taken on a project or have an idea about window cleaning you’d like to share be sure to comment below.


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