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Cleaning the windows on the outside of a car can be a bit frustrating especially if the vehicle isn’t always garaged so that it is protected from the elements. What can add to the difficulty of cleaning are contaminants that are really stuck on the glass and aren’t easily cleaned off with a simple car wash or even glass cleaner.
I’ve put together some methods to for some more aggressive ways to clean your window glass, short of using a dedicated glass polish. Polishing the glass with a dedicated glass polish may be one of the most aggressive process and in most cases is a very time-consuming process that may not be worth the result. Knowing that on most vehicles, the cost to replace the windshield or window won’t be more than a few hundred dollars, so it simply doesn’t make sense to spend so much time and effort going through a full-on restoration of the glass.
There are a number of ways to deep clean your glass, but in my opinion the best ways is either glass cleaner with a white scotch pad, or glass cleaner with 0000 steel wool. These offer the safest, most effective methods for deep cleaning window glass. However, I’ve offered up a few other methods that still work as they can be done using household products that you may already have laying around the house.
Sprayway Glass Cleaner: Pack of 1 / Value Pack of 4
White & Grey Scotch Pad: 3M Scotch-Brite Scuff Pads (5 ea of White, Grey, Maroon)
0000 Steel Wool: Homax Steel Wool, 12 pad, Super Fine Grade #0000, Final Finish
Other dual-use polishing products I’ve used to deep clean as well as remove water spots, etching, residue from glass:
Clean and Evaluate the Window Glass
Generally, you’ll always want to start out by just washing your car so you can first get the windows clean. By doing so, you can gauge the condition of your windows and be better able to identify the next steps. For most mild contaminants on the glass, you can clean it off using window cleaner or even a rubbing alcohol/water 50-50 mixture or vinegar/water 50-50 mixture. These are very mild cleaners that wont hurt the glass, but can be effective if your traditional window cleaner solution doesn’t work.
If the glass on your car has more stubborn staining like water spots, over spray, or etched-on residue, you may need something more aggressive involving cleaning the glass with an abrasive either in the form of an abrasive polish/compound, or by an abrasive material like steel wool or scotch pad.
Polishing with an Abrasive Product
I’ve written an article in the past about how to use a plastic scratch remover from Meguiar’s called PlastX to remove hard-to-remove water spots off glass. PlastX is essentially an abrasive polish (a mild one at that) and can be used to polish out the etched-in water spots.
I would place a couple more products within the same category that are typically used as household cleaners: Barkeeper’s Friend and Weiman Glass Cooktop Cleaner & Polish. I feel that these products, as well as PlastX and even paint polishes/compounds will work similarly. These products use abrasive formulas that help to abrade the stained glass, leaving you with a cleaner glass surface.
These two products do a good job at doing a deeper clean on your car windows. However, I would only use them if you already had these products at home. Many folks already have these household products to clean their stoves or sinks, so it’ll save you money to just use what you already have to clean your car’s window glass.
From my personal experience, abrasives will work fine with window glass, but it’s more effective to use abrasive materials like a white scotch pad or 0000 steel wool instead. You just want to make sure you’re using the correct color/grade of scotch pad or steel wool, otherwise you may create scratches in your glass.
Deep Cleaning with an Abrasive Material
0000 Steel Wool
If you’ve watched some reguar home/business window glass cleaning videos online, you may have come across window washers who use 0000 steel wool to clean windows. As you may already know, steel wool are indeed thin steel fibers that can essentially scratch or sand the material you’re rubbing it against. With steel wool, there are different grades ranging from the most coarse (#4) up to the finest (#0000). The range goes: #4 (coarsest), #3, #2, #1, #0, #00, #000, and then #0000 (finest).
0000 steel wool is used for fine finishing and is one of the most effective ways to deep clean your window glass. It will not leave scratches behind if you use it along with some glass cleaner. There may be concerns of some of the steel fibers being left behind after you’re finished, but if you are using it along with glass cleaner, it stays damp and unlikely to leave those steel strands behind. You can also rinse down the vehicle afterwards for extra assurance, but I’ve found that using 0000 steel wool with glass cleaner doesn’t leave anything behind.
White Scotch Pad
Another method of using an abrasive material to deep clean window glass is to use a scotch pad. Now, again just like the steel wool, you have to pay attention to the grade of the scotch pad. Scotch pads typically have three primary ones that are used for automotive use. Typically these are the maroon scotch pad, grey scotch pad, and white scotch pad.
Each of these scotch pads have a different equivalent sanding grit to them. According to 3M, these are the equivalent scotch pad colors and approximate scratch/equivalent grit:
|Color 3M Scotch Pad||Approximate Scratch/Equivalent Grit|
Please take all of the equivalent grits with a grain of salt because there are many factors that can contribute to different results when using these abrasive products on your glass such as the manufacturer of the scotch pad and the glass of your vehicle. Furthermore, 0000 steel wool is known to have an equivalent grit of about 400-600 grit, yet it will not scratch your glass like an equivalent-grit scotch pad will. However, you just can’t compare solely the equivalent grit between steel wool and sandpaper because they are completely different abrasives with differing finishing quality.
From my experience, using a white scotch pad with glass cleaner is generally safe to use on window glass and will offer a mild abrasive material that can do minor cleaning. I feel like the white scotch pad is slightly less aggressive than 0000 steel wool (i.e. will scrub the glass but not scratch it.) I still think 0000 steel wool is a more effective product.
Grey Scotch Pad for Heavy Cleaning?
Now, if you go with a grey scotch pad, you will probably scratch the glass. I’ve tried this and it actually leaves scratches behind in the glass; it’s too aggressive for glass. I did have some paint overspray that the white scotch pad was not aggressive enough to remove. For this, I used the grey scotch pad with glass cleaner and it ended up removing the paint overspray, at the expensive of leaving small permanent scratches behind.
Now for extreme cases like paint overspray (or similar situations), you may justify the use of a grey scotch pad knowing that you ‘d rather have small scratches in the glass rather than an ugly smudge of paint overspray (or other major stain) left behind. But before going this route, I recommend sticking with the 0000 steel wool and glass cleaner and putting in a bit of elbow grease to work the area in order to hopefully remove the blemish.
White Scotch Pad v. 0000 Steel Wool
Here is a comparison of the effectiveness of 0000 steel wool over the white scotch pad. As you can see below, there is some etched on residue left behind from the rubber molding on the moonroof. The white scotch pad did remove some of the residue, but it did not completely clean it off. The 0000 steel wool made quick work of the residue and left a pristine-looking edge behind.
And finally, here are some before and after photos which show the dramatic difference between simply cleaning the windows with glass cleaner (left) and after cleaning with an abrasive (right).
What I Recommend for Deep Cleaning Car Window Glass
This article is probably a bit longer than I intended, but I wanted to show that there is more than one way to do a deep clean on your car’s windows. There’s the method of using an abrasive like a polish such as Bar Keeper’s Friend or Weiman Cooktop Cleaner if you already own these household items. However, my preference for cleaning windows is to use either 0000 steel wool or a white scotch pad along with glass cleaner.
If my car windows and windshield aren’t super dirty, I would probably go over it with a white scotch pad and glass cleaner. The white scotch pad is easy to handle and has a nice square shape that I feel makes it easy to see your progress. If my car’s glass is in worse shape, I would go over it with the 0000 steel wool and glass cleaner. This in my opinion give you the most effective deep clean, yet is safe enough to not scratch the glass.
And finally, if you’re dealing with some extreme staining or etching into the glass, you may consider using a grey scotch pad or just some repetitive-use of the 0000 steel wool to clean the area along with glass cleaner. With these more coarse abrasives, you risk leaving scratches in the glass in order to remove those possibly more unsightly stains on the glass.