Do Store-Bought Cleaners and Paper Towels Make the Grade For Window Cleaning?

Just Spray and Wipe!- Is it Really That Easy?

We know from the marketer’s way of presenting glass cleaners such as Windex, Zep, and Sprayway, it should be a piece of cake to make your glass shiny and virtually invisible with a quick spray and a handful of paper towels. All too often, the results of spraying and wiping are not as amazing as advertisements imply they will be. In fairness, there are times when it is that simple. Having spent the last 38 years cleaning literally hundreds of thousands of windows, I can promise that the spray and wipe method works, but only with favorable conditions and a lot of patience. In short- spray cleaners and paper towels are only as effective as the user makes them. The quality of the items being used also has a bearing on how easy or difficult it will be to get amazing results.

Factors That Affect the Quality of the ‘Spray and Wipe’ Method

To reiterate, high quality paper towels and a good quality cleaner will make it more probable that you will get good results with the same effort as compared to  lower quality materials. Full disclosure here: I can’t tell you if glass cleaners distributed by Windex and Zep are better than those offered by Members Mark or Great Valu, as I don’t use them. Sprayway aerosol glass cleaner is actually something we use extensively to clean french panes and it is one of the few ready-to-use cleaning products we have on hand in quantity. Way back when, we’re talking late 80’s into the early 90’s, when I strictly used paper towels to wipe and detail my work, I determined that Scottowel was the best overall product. Since we don’t use paper towels at all now for window cleaning operations I can’t recommend a specific brand as being high quality.

As should be expected, practice and technique, which are 100% based on the user, will greatly affect the final quality of spray and wipe window cleaning. You can’t simply flood a glass pane with Brand A and do a quick swish with some rag and get a miracle.

Also a  major factor is how dirty the glass is and what exactly is on the glass that needs to be removed. Not all contaminants are easily removed. Some gifts that insects leave behind are very hard to remove with a token process. Soap scum that often is heavy on windows near the kitchen sink, grease on glass that is near a grill or stove, and other contaminants can be quite difficult to remove. Have you ever seen those weird black dots on the outside of some windows? That is shotgun fungus  and it is not an easy thing to remove- not with professional tools and certainly not with glass cleaner and a rag. How about parts of windows or full windows that are out of standing reach? A pole or ladder will now be necessary. Can a spritz of cleaner and a wipe with a good rag do the trick in these circumstances? Clearly, the more difficult the access, the less ideal the cleaning will be. And by extension, it will be less likely that a simple wetting of the glass and wiping afterward with a rag will yield acceptable results.

This post won’t go into the details of how to use paper towels and spray liquid to make very dirty and very tall and wide panes of glass look awesome. It is possible to make all types of windows high and low amazingly clean with spray and towels , but will take much more time and effort as compared to the tools used by virtually all professionals. However, the theme is indeed a discussion of whether spray and wipe is the best way. Next I’ll discuss the overriding reason why professional window cleaners don’t rely on store-bought glass cleaners and disposable wiping material.

Energy, Effort, and Safety Factors Influence Decisions

Starting a business, running a business, and making it sustainable require many elements. The business owner needs to understand how each part contributes to the end result for the customers and the benefits to him/herself as well. Quality work is is essentially in the control of the technician. Unless the window cleaning products are downright horrible, quality work can be produced no matter how long it takes. Better products will likely help the technician produce quality results with less time and effort. Efficiency inevitably enters into the formula when productivity and profitability are ongoing goals. What contributes to efficiency? For a certainty, high quality and durable materials when it comes to window cleaning are large contributing factors. The proper and logical use of these materials, performed consistently and with ever-increasing speed leads to increased productivity. Now and then, new products, new technology, and new ideas make a significant impact on the potential for greater productivity. I am a veteran window cleaner, having begun and not stopped since 1986. A handful of these innovations have truly been game changers. I see on social media threads how many contractors resist innovations for their own reasons. Window squeegees have been widely used since one brand hit the market in 1936. Paper towels, newspaper, and other types of wiping materials have not gone away. Pure water technology and a few other innovations have become big in the last couple decades and replace squeegee usage for those who embrace it.

I don’t know, maybe there is a certain romantic or classic sense to envisioning a man in coveralls high up on a wobbly wooden ladder, managing a metal bucket of soapy water with a sponge and rags. It took a strong, brave, and hard-working individual with dedication and know-how to clean 2nd and 3rd floor windows in that type of scene. Chances are, the real people that fit that old scene did a fantastic job on windows. The reality is, with a willingness to discover and employ the most effective mix of material, equipment, and technique, the modern window cleaner is going to be the most productive for home and business owners and the most profitable for himself and all those who depend on him to keep them gainfully employed.

What is comes down to is modern tools and methods are almost always a better choice than a simple spray cleaner and paper towel. 

How to Spray and Wipe Windows

Here are a few helpful tips if you prefer using spray cleaner and wiping rags:

1. It is better not to clean glass in direct sunlight

2. Use plenty of lint-free paper towels or a lint-free rag such as a huck or scrim towel. Work the liquid on the glass around in order to absorb all loose dirt and grime. Afterward, use a slightly wet portion of your wiping material to buff the window clean, starting with each corner and moving to center of glass.

3. If stubborn spots cannot be agitated enough to be removed with towels, use a mildly abrasive pad such as a Dobie pad with some liquid. For more stubborn spots, try  a new piece of #0000 steel wool. 

4. Examine what you have cleaned from different angles and in different light. If smears are evident, repeat step 2. 

With practice and common sense, it is possible to make your windows clean and shiny with spray cleaner and towels. It may well be more worth it, all things considered, to pay a professional to do it more quickly and reach all your windows, if time and convenience are more important than expense.


Dan Wagner Window Cleaning has been serving Northeastern PA and Sullivan and Delaware Counties of NY since 1986.