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Are Windex and other commercial window cleaners better at cleaning windows than vinegar and water (and other household chemicals)?

For example care2.com suggests the following is the best window cleaner:

Make a great all-purpose window cleaner by combining 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap or detergent, and 2 cups of water in a spray bottle. Shake to blend and spray on your windows!

Do commercial window cleaners offer any advantage over vinegar + water (+ dish soap), the best window cleaner suggested by some web-sites?

  • Better in what sense? Clearly dish soap can clean glass, so from that point of view they are going to be pretty much equivalent. Maybe you mean "effective in not leaving drying marks" or something similar? I know it sounds pedantic but I have no clue to what the expected beneficial qualities of a perfect window cleaner are. :-/ – Sklivvz Jun 25 '11 at 22:46
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    @Sklivvz: I thought quite a bit about selecting a metric one might use for comparison, and I wouldn't want to preclude it from categories I simply hadn't thought of. To remain open, I think we must to put the onus of choosing a metric and demonstrating superiority of a commercial offering in that metric on anyone attempting to demonstrate that commercial offerings are superior. – Brian M. Hunt Jun 25 '11 at 23:19
  • I hear you, but that keeps opening the possibility of moving goal posts. Each answerer will be open to accusations of not answering the question. "Best" could be so many things... fastest to remove heavy dirt, lowest haze, cheapest, safest around kids/pets, lowest hassle (vinegar+water you have to dry after, windex dries on it's own), etc. – Hendy Jun 26 '11 at 2:46
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    @Hendy: The question is whether commercial window cleaners offer any advantage, not whether they are the best. Shouldn't be any movement in the goal posts, so to speak. – Brian M. Hunt Jun 27 '11 at 1:37
  • I misread, but in that case -- change all my superlatives to comparatives and the question still stands. – Hendy Jun 27 '11 at 3:19
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Windex brand does make a vinegar cleaner It seems like most of the websites that are suggesting vinegar and water instead of Windex are doing so because it's a cost-cutting measure (which can make it an attractive option for reasons other than efficacy).

I think that probably the real difference between the two lies in the quality of the solvent used and ultimately the shelf life. Vinegar is acidic and a solvent. Ammonia (which, incidentally is also suggested as an additive to the vinegar home-made solution) and isopropyl alcohol are both solvents contained in windex. Here is the materials safety data sheet for windex (PDF)

Which one is "better" or not may entirely depend on your situation. If you are going to be eating off of a surface, or have small children or pets who are going to be eating off of a surface, then vinegar might be a better option. Shelf life might be another consideration.

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In 2008, a random blog, called OddThinking (ahem) tried a controlled experiment to compare glass cleaning products on a troublesome glass shower screen. White Vinegar and Windex were two of the products compared.

I concluded... err... I mean, the researcher concluded that neither did a good job, but Windex had some effect where vinegar had none at all. One of my friends... err... the peer reviewers challenged the result, arguing that the method with vinegar should have been soaking overnight, however that is outside the scope of your question.

There are limitations to this study including, but not limited to:

  • Only one type of situation/dirt.
  • Not blinded.
  • Not published in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • The author hasn't publicly declared whether he has any conflicts of interest; but he assures me isn't being paid by lobbyists from Big Creme Cleanser (private communication).

However, it does provide the single counter-example anecdote required to show that white vinegar is not universally the best window cleaner in all situations - that when it comes to my shower screen, Windex is better and that others are better still.

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  • * and then there’s the sample size of 1, and * the fact that the experiment hasn’t been independently replicated. … ;-) – Konrad Rudolph Jul 18 '11 at 12:23

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