Cleaning windows? Here's how to get a professional finish 

Martin O'Dwyer kept Fermoy's windows gleaming during lockdown. He shares tricks of the trade with Kya deLongchamps
Cleaning windows? Here's how to get a professional finish 
Martin O'Dwyer at Hegarty Fabrics, Fermoy. Picture: Kya deLongchamps

DURING the bleakest days of the pandemic this spring, one odd thing was noticed on the principal streets of Fermoy town. The windows of shuttered businesses and shops were gleaming. 

Martin O'Dwyer, releasing his trademark Hugh Jackman,mega-kilowatt smile, says: "It was my wife Lisa’s idea. We knew the town would be back, and we wanted to ensure it looked good in the meantime, so I had a word with the Gardai.” 

A post in the well followed FB website Fermoy Forum, confirmed what we already suspected — Martin was cleaning the windows all over town for nothing. In terms of quiet heroics — well, he’s just cleaned up — again. He was kind enough to sit on a bench poised by Fermoy Weir and give me a few tips on shining up the glazing at home.

Martin agrees, that time of day makes a considerable difference to the finish of your windows — don’t choose the heat of midday. We don’t want the windows to dry too quickly into irritating smears and chalky dribbles as we work. If you have to climb, choose a solid set of steps or step-ladder and stay off the top two rungs, saving the platform for your bucket. Martin says high work can be avoided, “I don’t go beyond the second story and with the wonder of extension poles we can largely avoid ladders. People put ladders on slippy PVCu fascias and fall, and even window cleaners fall too often. Your home insurance will offer some protection and I carry public liability insurance, but let’s just not get to that point.”

Water and vinegar are all you really need for mildly dirty windows. Keep a trigger spray solution of 1:3 vinegar to water under the sink. Picture: iStock
Water and vinegar are all you really need for mildly dirty windows. Keep a trigger spray solution of 1:3 vinegar to water under the sink. Picture: iStock

Don’t attempt to remove dry paint splatters roughly from glass as it can leave scratches. Put down the Brillo. A little WD-40 spray lubricant and a very gentle hand with a plastic glass scraper should be enough. “A soft plastic kitchen pad or proper window scraper is good for things like bird droppings with relatively safety — just don’t scrub madly” Martin adds. Soft but mildly abrasive coarse woven ‘scrim’ cloths start at €6, wipeout.ie

If the windows are lightly dirty and just need a polish a commercial or natural spray is popular for a quick swat with a lint free cloth. Most come in trigger sprays, so before deploying even in a light breeze, put your COVID mask on to spare your lungs and consider protective glasses if your eyes are sensitive. “Pros do use bleach based solutions, but it’s important to be careful. At the very least it will mark your clothes in splashes and can damage frames.”

There are multiple spray and add-to-water solutions from Karcher, HG and Windolene. Instagram sensation Mrs Hinch favours Astonish Glass Cleaner or tea bag water in a trigger spray with a swat of her infamous Minky M (see our guide). Try out a coffee filter for buffing — the corners of the cone fit nicely down the edge of the window for naughty dribbles. Soy based inks in modern newspapers are not as effective for cleaning windows — still the texture is a satisfying scrunch and I appreciate the re-purposing.

Another brilliant one-hit solution for alu-clad and plastic frames and glass (it’s actually gentle enough for some fabrics indoors) Elbow Grease Degreaser, is a staple in most commercial garages for cleaning engine parts and Mrs Hinch promotes it to her fans. If you’re living on a road-side and struggling with really filthy windows — try it out for the glass panel of your front door as well as the windows. Keep it off wooden frames and wear gloves as though solvent free, it contains 5% cationic surfactants. Around €7 a bottle — try Tesco.

Moving onto the full wash, going natural, a 1:3 solution of white vinegar and water applied with a newspaper is a classic recipe. The vinegar will neutralise alkaline substances including limescale and is an anti-fungal agent and de-greaser. Apply with a sponge or in a spray (wear gloves) and wipe off with a squeegee. A splash of lemon juice adds valuable punch. I find this a perfect day to day polish inside and out, and another reason to keep a good stock of white vinegar in your eco-friendly arsenal under the sink and made up into various solutions.

The classic reverse ‘"S" action. Keep close, consistent contact with the glass.
The classic reverse ‘"S" action. Keep close, consistent contact with the glass.

I favour Ecover Lemon & Aloe, which is not derived from crude oil, comes in a recyclable bottle and not only works well as a solution but smells fantastic as you work and won’t hurt wooden frames. Dry them off quickly with a soft lint-free cloth or old towel worked into crevices; €3.75 for 950ml.

Domestic extension poles with sponges and squeegees combined cost from €10, but individual professional-level tools are not only easier to manage but give superior results. Watching Martin work, his very cowboy style holster containing the squeegee keeps his hands free when needed. He uses a variety of swirling, balletic motions using sponge applicators under webbing, and a short squeegee. This technique is called fanning, and slices away the water without streaking, finishing with a window leather.

“Try a reverse flat, ‘S’ pattern’ Martin adds, “I start the top left-hand corner and go relatively straight across the window and turn. Ensure you cross your path on the next pass to avoid missing areas of the glass. When you move to the squeegee, keep contact with the glass as you work. Wipe the squeegee with a lint-free cloth between passes. Pick off water spots from the window edges with another lint-free cloth.”

Cheap window cleaning sets rarely last more than one summer in any household. A professional blade will have curved a superb rubber that keeps that essential contact to prevent streaks. Martin rarely needs to revisit the glass to polish after using the rubber blade. He favours Unger products, which thought a little pricier include dedicated, replaceable parts. The squeegee comes apart as a T-bar handle, a channel and replaceable blades, adding up to about €33 for the whole tool. Their Stripwasher and Ninja washer T-bars which can be matched to extension poles start at €23, cleanfast.ie. 

During your cleaning routine take a closer look at each window, inspecting the condition of the frame, and lubricating the working mechanism on any opening windows. With thanks to my technical expert, Martin O’Dwyer, working in Fermoy town, 086-1624770.

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