Using distilled water to wash exterior windows and avoid hard water spots

Episode #571 of how being a homeowner makes a person stupid and boring…

Our area of Florida is plagued with moderately hard tap water that is packed with dissolved solids. There are professional window washing services that charge about $700 to come over with a hose-fed flow-through reverse osmosis machine (around $4,000) and wash/rinse the windows with pure water that can be allowed to air dry without risk of deposits. The pros don’t like to use squeegees due to the risk of scratching the glass (replacing a hurricane-proof impact window is not simple or cheap!).

Nearly all of the windows and glass doors on our 5,400-square-foot house are readily accessible from the ground or a balcony. A Hungarian au pair across the street wanted to earn some cash for her end-of-year travels. We decided to see how many windows she could wash using distilled water.

The odyssey began at 9 pm in Walmart. Nearly all of the customers were speaking Spanish to each other. A prerecorded announcement in English urged shoppers to buy products from “Black-owned” companies. Distilled water was just $1.26 per gallon in the baby section (and, curiously, $1.34 in the bottled water section). I purchased 8 gallons. Our smaller Walmart doesn’t sell window-cleaning gear, so I stopped next at Home Depot and got a 14″ Unger microfiber scrubber and a dual-compartment Rubbermaid bucket wide enough for the scrubber.

Using a formula that I know is correct because I got it from the Internet (Floridian Bob Vila’s site, actually, so it is also approved by state-sponsored PBS), I mixed a gallon of distilled water with 2 cups of distilled vinegar and one tablespoon of Dawn dishwashing liquid. I filled the other side of the bucket with two gallons of distilled water for rinsing. It takes almost no time to wipe a glass door or big window with the scrubber, first with the cleaning solution and then after the scrubber is dipped in the rinse water (it might be smarter to have two scrubbers, one for each phase). The scrubber holds so much cleaning solution that you can wipe two or three glass doors before dipping into the rinse.

The pros certainly use a lot more water and do a much better job cleaning the dirt around the frames (they also have screen-cleaning brushes), but we were able to get all of the glass acceptably clean using only 6 gallons of distilled water total, without making any serious attempt to conserve (and this is for a 5,400′ house with a lot of glass!). If you don’t feel the need to get every last spot, this can be done in about 3 minutes per window or door.

It’s probably still worth having the professionals come periodically to clean the surrounding frames and screens thoroughly and/or having the “soft wash” people clean the entire house (they don’t use RO water, however, so probably it would make sense to then rinse with distilled water).

(We also cleaned the interior using microfiber cloths and ammonia-free Windex. That actually took longer than the exterior. The Hungarian gal was meticulous and noticed a fair number of places where the windows still had sticker residue left over from their 2021 installation. I removed these with a razor blade and, in some stubborn cases, Goo Gone.)

I’m writing this up because I’m still shocked at how little water was required!

Example machine that the pros use (1.5 gallons per minute):

12 thoughts on “Using distilled water to wash exterior windows and avoid hard water spots

  1. Photo of a woman cleaning windows on a 5 story megamansion or it didn’t happen. Maybe lions will clean windows when they can’t afford to have a job any more.

    • What 5-story? My Austin house is also around 5000sf. It’s a single level. My g/f has office on the opposite side of the house from mine, so we ended up using Zoom if she wants something from me:)

  2. I have not watched it, but this guy is often interesting:
    “Why is There an Epidemic of Bad Refrigerators?”

  3. Bad look for the neighborhood – 5400 sq ft house (why so large, for 4 people?!) in what most of the nation would call an expensive area, and you’re out there trying to save $700 by buying distilled water? 🙂 Isn’t he a famous, in demand, software patent consultant and well known purveyor of common man wisdom?

    They may scoot you right out of the neighborhood, or at least equip your house the the requisite 1970s Monte Carlo up on blocks, and a couple of dead refrigerators. “Oh Martha, there’s always one in every neighborhood!” Or, kindly request that you volunteer as the neighborhood Collyers Mansion.

    That said, us swamp Yankees in the Northeast still do our own work, unabashedly, so I’m definitely pulling a Greenspun in a few weeks when we clean the windows. Thanks for running the experiment!

    Off to the store for distilled water and contractor strength ammonia.

    • Trip: I never asked her about Orban. I was surprised that she was a supporter of lockdowns and other coercing measures aimed at human domination of SARS-CoV-2. I would have expected her to be angry that her life was restricted so that elderly people didn’t have to hide in bunkers (though, of course, the restrictions were ineffective and any old person who ventured out of his/her/zir/their bunker in reliance on the scientific public health measures put in place was infected by SARS-CoV-2).

      Is she hot? I’ve reached the age where there is no difference between young and good-looking!

    • “ Is she hot? I’ve reached the age where there is no difference between young and good-looking!”

      Me too!

    • I guess if you don’t mind the tall, long-haired, fit, slender 24-year-old Hungarian look she wasn’t an actual eyesore or threat to property values while wandering the neighborhood for the past year in shorts.

  4. You have inspired me to embark on this window washing crusade. Now, if only I were not scared of ladders and falling off, I might complete this task in my “Rockville Area” townhouse.

  5. The first person to corporatize Floridian home care services is going to be a billionaire. ($700 window washings, $2500 holiday light setup, gazillion dollar HVAC adjustments, etc.)

    • SuperMike: Holiday light setup is $5,000 minimum! Window washing is over $1,000 if you include both interior and exterior. One of our young neighbors gets $1,000 per day to house-/dog-sit in Palm Beach.

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