Last updated on May 22nd, 2020
CAN YOU GUESS who cleans the 57 windows in this old house? Well, I do. And I’ve become fairly proficient at it, too. My technique is similar to that of professional cleaning services, in that I accomplish the job with neither newspapers nor paper towels.
Unlike modern exposures, which can be tilted inward for easy cleaning, my windows are old-fashioned, double-hung types. They open and close on a rope-and-weight system. The glass itself is 186 years old, which means it is bubbly and wavy. Yes, old-house windows are bursting with character.
Here in New York’s Hudson Valley, the best time for window work is in late September or early- to mid-October. The pollen has settled by then, meaning one’s cleaning efforts are not practiced in vain.
Let’s proceed to the western wall of the Music Room wing, where 5 tall windows await our attention. Although these exposures are at “ground level,” a step ladder is still required. For the windows are 6 feet tall, and the wing sits atop a high foundation. (Yes, I know the wing needs a paint job. Let’s save that for springtime, okay?)
In the past, I’ve used a soapy solution composed of 45% water, 45% rubbing alcohol, and 10% sudsy ammonia. I can tell you this formula works extremely well, and leaves the windows sparkling clean. Outdoors, the solution is easily applied with a common sponge mop.
This year, however, I’m testing a special mop made by Windex. The mop has an extendable handle (which is still too short to reach my tall windows without a step ladder). It features a cleaning-pad that’s impregnated with ammonia and various surfactants. One pad, according to Windex, is good for 20 windows. I assume the claim refers to “normal” windows, not extra-tall exposures like mine. Replacement pads are available at supermarkets and hardware stores. So far I’m happy with the product. You can purchase it here.
Will vinegar clean windows? Well, maybe it will clean yours, if they aren’t particularly dirty. But it certainly won’t clean mine. Speaking from experience, vinegar isn’t an effective grime-cutter.
To remove the soap, give the window another firm spray of water. The washing-solution, be it the Windex mop-version, or the homemade formula, will rinse away without leaving any streaks. Both solutions are fast-drying.
Just hold the blade flush against the glass, and it will peel off the paint without scratching your window. A razor will remove cellophane tape and its residue, too. I keep such razors in a small box in my cleaning arsenal.
Shall we tackle the inside glass?
To clean the room-side of windows, use the same water/rubbing alcohol/ammonia solution I mentioned earlier. For convenience, pour the solution into a spray bottle. In the picture above, I’m standing on a step ladder, facing the bay of three windows at the south end of the Music Room. You can see my front porch outside the window.)
Spray the window with the cleaner, and let it sit for a few seconds to break down the gunk. Then, using a squeegee, make a horizontal swipe across the top of the window. This will eliminate most drips and drops. Next, swipe vertically, until you reach the bottom of the window. In between swipes, wipe the squeegee’s rubber blade on a piece of terry cloth. If done correctly, there will be no smudges or streaks on the window, and you won’t need paper towels or newspaper to produce the shine you want.
As for for the second floor and attic windows in the back of the house, which have no landing below them, my only option is to attack them with a high-velocity power-washer. I rent the gadget from my local hardware store. A half-day’s rental is hardly expensive. These windows don’t come out as clean as the soaped-up or ammonia-ized ones, but they get clean enough.
Now, I won’t pretend that window-cleaning is my idea of a good time. But on the other hand, I refuse to go through winter with dirty windows. I want sunlight to flood my rooms unhindered, and so do my myriad houseplants.
Now, my inquiring mind would like to know: Do you clean your own windows, or do you hire the job out? You can let me know by leaving a comment.
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