You don't do windows? Well, maybe you should start. With the price of energy skyrocketing and the days getting shorter, the more natural light you can bring indoors the better. Here's what you should know before you take on the task.
Need to know (if you're new to this): Some windows are easier to clean than others. If your house is of recent vintage, your windows probably tilt in for better access (one manufacturer is debuting a casement window that tilts). In older houses, windows may not work well - tough to open or so poorly maintained that repairs are needed before you can even begin to clean.
Find a buddy: Window-washing goes faster with a two-person team: One does inside, one does outside, then each points out streaks and missed spots. Clean water needed? Hand the bucket to your partner instead of climbing down the ladder.
Prewash instructions: Vacuum away dust and dirt around and inside the window frames. Check for mold and mildew, spider webs and wasp nests, leaks and places that need touch-up painting. Check for broken glazing and cracks, and repair and replace if necessary. If windows operate on weights and chains or ropes, check that they work.
Stronger than dirt: Experts seem to favor the squeegee over other tools; they're probably correct. Be sure the squeegee with the widest blade will fit your smallest window. You'll also need a tool with a razor blade to remove paint blobs from the glass. Warm water with a little soap, changed frequently, will do the job on most windows. Keep paper towels handy to remove drips of water that collect at the bottom rail of the window sash, plus a sponge to sop up water in the frame.
Rub-a-dub: Use a clean rag to remove dust, dirt and grease you can see on a window. Then start washing. Use glass cleaner on dirt that won't budge with just water. For outside surfaces, use a garden hose to spray off the worst of the grime. The operable word here is "spray,'' and do it gently, without much pressure. Do not use a power washer. If you use newspapers (another popular method), take a page and wipe the window top to bottom on the inside, left to right on the outside, so if there are streaks, you'll know exactly where.
Don't do this: Never squeegee a window in direct sunlight; you'll leave streaks. Also, don't clean on a hot, humid day or on a hot, dry day; the water will dry on the glass too quickly and leave streaks.
Be organized: This is especially important if aluminum storm windows are involved. Slide the glass and screens out of the tracks and put them to the side while the window is washed inside and out. Then wash and dry the storm-window glass and screens and reposition them. (If the screens, likely to be dusty and even pollen-caked, aren't cleaned, the first strong breeze will blow the gunk back onto your nice, clear windows.) Wear clean, dry latex gloves to keep the storm-window glass fingerprint-free.
Efficiency above all: If you have a lot of windows and they aren't easy to get to, hiring a professional may be a better alternative than washing them yourself. Make a few calls and shop for the best price.