How to deal with decades’-worth of grime on var­i­ous types of glass you may en­counter in an old house.

Old House Journal - - Contents - By Lynn El­liott

Glass-clean­ing so­lu­tions for hard jobs you’ll en­counter dur­ing restora­tion.

In­tractable dirt on a pressed-glass tran­som . . . panes blacked out in paint on the Queen Anne win­dow in a sky­light: just two of the glass-clean­ing dilem­mas OHJ ed­i­tors have faced in our own restora­tions. Etched glass may be filthy and yet del­i­cate, win­dow­panes may be dirt-em­bed­ded to the point of pit­ting. Or maybe you’ve just waited too long to clean the lights in the garage door. Start with a pro­pri­etary glass cleaner, but know that other meth­ods come in handy, too.


Wash glass with the vine­gar so­lu­tion, ap­plied with a soft cloth and squeegeed off. Spray on glass cleaner with a clean cloth and fol­low by rub­bing with news­pa­per. (Try Win­dex with am­mo­nia, or a com­mer­cial prepa­ra­tion.) If a stub­born haze from min­eral de­posits is left be­hind, ap­ply a glass-clean­ing com­pound such as CLR Sparkle; ap­ply vig­or­ously in a cir­cu­lar mo­tion with a new clean cloth. Let dry. Buff with a clean cloth.


If it’s just drips or smears, wipe the paint with a damp cloth to soften, and use a util­ity knife with a flat blade to scrape them off. For painted-over glass, first mask the frame and putty seal with pain­ter’s tape. Wear­ing rub­ber gloves and safety glasses, ap­ply a sol­vent such as Oil-Flo or SoSafe (graf­fiti re­mover). Scrape off re­main­ing paint. Stub­born ar­eas of stuck paint and em­bed­ded grime may come off eas­ily with an ap­pli­ca­tion of oven cleaner (lye) for­mu­lated for use on cold ovens. This is caus­tic stuff so take pre­cau­tions and work in a ven­ti­lated space. Sponge and wipe un­til clean, then neu­tral­ize with the vine­gar so­lu­tion.


The tex­tured sur­face of pressed glass col­lects grime that doesn’t sim­ply wipe off. Try a two-step process. 1. Us­ing the vine­gar so­lu­tion, ag­gres­sively wash the win­dow, or use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. 2. To get into the re­cesses and whorls, use a tooth­brush or small, soft-bris­tled brush; dip into bak­ing soda to add a gen­tle abra­sive. Wipe and as­sess. If grime re­mains in the pat­tern, use the dish-de­ter­gent so­lu­tion and re­peat the tooth­brush process. Rinse with a clean, damp cloth, and dry with a lint-free or mi­crofiber cloth.


Mix up the dish-de­ter­gent so­lu­tion and ap­ply with soft car-wash brush or sponge. Squeegee. Spray glass cleaner on any spots and wipe with soft cloth. Never use paper tow­els on etched glass as it leaves lint. For stains from min­eral de­posits, use the vine­gar so­lu­tion: wet a soft cloth and gen­tly scrub. Dip cloth in bak­ing soda if nec­es­sary for gen­tle abra­sion. Rinse and squeegee dry.


Paint on glass is easy to scratch or even re­move. Don’t use am­mo­nia or vine­gar. For stained glass, mix a gal­lon of dis­tilled wa­ter with a cou­ple of squirts of pH-neu­tral, non-abra­sive dish de­ter­gent (e.g., Sev­enth Gen­er­a­tion Nat­u­ral Dish Liq­uid). Mi­crofiber cloths work well: Wear­ing rub­ber gloves, dip cloth in so­lu­tion and wring out so it is damp, not wet. Work from the top of the win­dow down­ward. Wipe a sec­tion and dry with an­other clean cloth. Use cot­ton swabs dipped in de­ter­gent mix­ture in cor­ners. Af­ter work­ing on leaded glass, toss gloves and rags away. For painted art glass, use de-ion­ized wa­ter to clean. Make a large swab of bam­boo skew­ers wrapped in raw cot­ton. Gen­tly roll the lightly dampened swab over a sec­tion of painted glass. Let dry. Fur­ther clean­ing may re­quire a pro­fes­sional con­ser­va­tor.

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