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Tested: The Best Automotive Glass Cleaners for 2023
We tested 10 different glass cleaners to find out which one is the best for your automotive needs.
Cleaning your car windows might seem like an afterthought—after all, that's what wiper blades are for, right? Sort of. While keeping the outside of your windshield clean and clear is essential, you shouldn't forget about the side windows, the rear window, and the inside of the glass all around the car.
Cleaning your vehicle's glass will greatly improve visibility; you might be surprised to see the difference after one good wipe-down. And of course, clear vision has safety benefits too. But there are a ton of glass cleaners on the market, so which one works best?
Our Top Picks
Best Overall3M Glass Cleaner Read More
A Close SecondMeguiar's Perfect Clarity Glass Cleaner Read More
Best CeramicRain-X Cerami-X Read More
Best BudgetRain-X Glass Cleaner + Rain Repellent Read More
Honorable MentionGriot's Garage Ceramic Glass Cleaner Read More
Considerations on Car Glass Cleaners
Right off the bat, we'll tell you this: Using an ammonia-free glass cleaner is a must. Ammonia can break down window tint—especially the cheaper stuff—so if you're not a fan of the fishbowl look, stay away from ammonia. Most automotive glass cleaners are ammonia free and say so right on the bottle, but it's always a good idea to verify.
You'll also see ceramic glass cleaners pop up when searching around. These leave a hydrophobic film on your windshield that allows water droplets to slide right off, even to the degree where you don't need to use your wipers. While that sounds great, we found that it takes a bit more effort to properly apply, and there's no sense in using it on your other windows.
To find which product best cleans windows, we assembled 10 different cleaners and got to work. As we ran them through the Gear Team testing gauntlet, we determined which ones work best.
Our Test Vehicles
Glass can be a fickle thing. All it takes is a bit of rain or a dust-bunny-induced sneeze, and it's due for a cleaning. While this is frustrating, it made it easy for us to find properly grubby windows among the usually sparklingly clean Car and Driver fleet. We decided to use Eric Stafford's 1997 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, with its massive tinted rear glass, for our side-by-side test. Austin Irwin's Honda Civic Si also lent some windows.
How We Evaluated Glass Cleaners
We taped off 10 sections of the Camaro's large, dark rear glass and set to work. Our testing process was simple: liberally spray the section and wipe for 15 seconds with a clean microfiber towel. This gave us the opportunity to check each car glass cleaner for:
- Cleaning power
- Cleaning speed
- Spray pattern
- Leftover residue
- Dry feel
Comparing our detailed notes on these parameters allowed us to choose which glass cleaners were best and which fell short. Here are our top picks for the best automotive glass cleaners.
Tested: Best Car Interior Cleaners
We loved this stuff so much we cleaned the entire rear window with it after our testing was done.
The cleaning power of this stuff is obvious.
There's still a bit of haze on the left side of our test area—which would inevitably come up with more wiping—but our test parameters were kept equal across all products.
A little bit of haze is visible toward the bottom; it went away after a second cleaning cycle.
Some smudges remained after our first cleaning pass.
It removed nearly all of the grime from the window, but the grippy dry feel was concerning.
Seemed to leave behind some grime that other cleaners would take off with ease.
Some undesirable faint spots remained after cleaning.
You can easily see spots and grime on the bottom left after use—not worth the risk.
It's like a giant snail left a trail of yuck along the rear window.
We wanted to find a vehicle with a large, dark window—so we settled on a Car and Driver staffer's 1997 Camaro Z/28. The rear glass of the car was noticeably dirty with typical dust and road grime. Once we threw on a blanket to protect the fenders from our belts, we got to work.
We taped off 10 sections equally, which proved to be a slight challenge thanks to the curvature of the window. Unless the bottle instructed us otherwise, we liberally sprayed the respective cleaner onto its section. We then wiped it with a clean microfiber cloth for 15 seconds.
Why 15 seconds? Any piece of glass will sparkle if scrubbed and buffed for minutes—but we wanted to test for cleaning power and ease of use, so we set a standard and left it at that.
In total, we noted each product's:
- Cleaning effectiveness and speed
- Streaking, if applicable
- Sprayer and bottle ergonomics
- Leftover residue
- Dry feel
Why is ammonia bad for car windows?
Ammonia isn't bad for car windows—it's bad for tint. The tint can bubble, lighten, and disintegrate after prolonged cleaning with ammonia-based cleaners. For this reason, nearly all automotive glass cleaners are ammonia-free.
How do I clean the inside of my car windows?
Just like you would the outside. Ideally, you want to get as much heavy grime off the window as you can before buffing it to a sparkle. Use a clean, lint-free microfiber cloth to wipe your cleaner in slow, circular motions. Avoid using paper towels, as these can actually leave small scratches in your window. Make sure to roll your window down a bit to clean the very top too.
What is ceramic glass cleaner?
Ceramic glass cleaner seems to be gaining traction in the automotive-detailing world. This stuff features a combination of cleaner and ceramic coating to remove contaminants while leaving behind a water-repelling residue. Some ceramic glass cleaners boast that you won't need to use your windshield wipers, as the water beads right off as you drive.
We found that ceramic glass cleaners take a bit more effort to properly apply. You may need to perform additional spray-and-wipe cycles to get it truly crystal clear—and we had to use extra elbow grease to remove some pesky streaks and haze. The longevity of ceramic glass coatings varies between products, but using your wipers will decrease the lifespan of the coating.
Why trust us?
This test was conducted in an environment that provided equal testing procedures for each product: the Car and Driver garage. We tested each glass cleaner on an equally dirty section of a large rear window, taking detailed notes on each cleaner's performance, streaking, dry feel, and residue. Upon tallying up our findings, we agreed that our test provided enough information to recommend picks to our readers.
Hearst Autos combines the talent, resources, and expertise of three of the largest, most influential automotive publications in the world. We don't need to scramble for traffic or promote lousy products to make a sale. We're concerned with our legacy, our reputation, and the trust that our readers have in Autoweek, Car and Driver, and Road & Track to deliver honest evaluations and expert opinions.
Read more about our product testing and evaluation process here.
From: Car and Driver