How to Clean Mirrors Without Leaving Streaks and Lint Behind

You're probably making common mirror-cleaning mistakes. We reflect on solutions to make this chore more effective.

You may think you know how to clean a mirror and what to clean mirrors with. But if you simply Windex it with a paper towel in a circular motion, you're making two critical mistakes.

The first mistake is the commercial cleaning solution. Yes, they do the job, but you can easily and much less expensively make a homemade solution that is every bit as effective. You'll also avoid introducing unnecessary (and perhaps harmful) chemicals into your home and cut down on plastics that end up in a landfill.

The second mistake is the paper towel and circular motion. So does that make three mistakes? Regardless, read on to learn a more sustainable way to clean your mirrors, as well as a few tricks for cleaning them without leaving streaks or lint residue.

Considerations Before You Get Started

Clean the Frame First

If your mirror has a frame or stand, take the time to clean it first. Perhaps that's obvious, but if you forget to clean the frame, your sparkling mirror may still look dirty. If you clean the frame after the mirror, you're likely to have to redo the mirror to rid it of residue or smudges from the frame-cleaning process, and who wants to do that?

Which Cleaner to Use

We recommend using the more economical and sustainable choice of a DIY cleaning solution using ingredients you probably have on hand, but we get that it's not for everyone. If opting for a commercial mirror cleaner, choose one specifically formulated for glass.

If you're up to it, creating a DIY vinegar-water solution at home is easy, less toxic, less expensive, and Earth-friendly. It also prevents a bathroom mirror from steaming up (after a shower) for about a week. To increase its de-fogging ability, spray the mixture directly on the mirror and let it sit for a minute before wiping it off.

Keep in mind that, while a vinegar-water mixture is an effective cleaning solution, there are several things you should never clean with vinegar. Surfaces like stone countertops and deteriorating bathroom grout are too porous for an abrasive cleaner like vinegar, which can damage the finish or seal after prolonged use.

What to Wipe With

You may be used to grabbing a newspaper or paper towel to clean a mirror, but these single-use items are not necessarily environmentally friendly. Moreover, they tend to leave lint, dust, paper debris, or ink residue on what should be your clean mirror.

Instead, use a trusty lint-free cloth or microfiber towel, which pulls up dirt and grease without leaving a trail of lint behind. When you're finished wiping, toss the cleaning cloth in the wash instead of a trash can. If you insist on using newspaper, the older it is, the less inky it's likely to be.

Consider Steam-cleaning

If you have a steam cleaner with a squeegee attachment, you may already have one of the best mirror-cleaning methods available. Steamers are effective without using harsh chemicals or extra products. With the squeegee attached to the nozzle, just guide your steamer up and down the surface and watch the steam magically do its thing.

What You Need:

Vinegar Method

  • Microfiber cloth
  • Glass cleaner (like Windex), or distilled white vinegar and water
  • Spray bottle

Baking Soda Method

  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Microfiber cloth

How to Clean a Mirror With Vinegar

Step 1: Mix a Solution

To create a DIY solution, mix 1 part vinegar with 1 part water in a spray bottle and shake well. Use distilled water if your house tends toward providing hard water. Of course, skip this step if you're using a commercial cleaner.

Step 2: Spray

Spray the vinegar mixture or glass cleaner directly on the cloth, not on the mirror directly. This way, the cleaner doesn't seep behind the silver coating, which can create black tarnish marks or rust.

Step 3: Wipe

It worked as a karate move, but Mr. Miyagi's "wax on, wax off" method isn't ideal for cleaning mirrors. That's because the circular motion re-deposits dust and debris from your cloth back onto the surface, leaving streaks.

For best results, we recommend wiping in a tight S-pattern from top to bottom, making sure to cover the entire surface area of the mirror with just one swipe.

Using a microfiber cloth, wipe in an S-pattern starting at the top of the mirror and working your way down. Try not to go backward on an area you've already wiped.

How to Clean Hard Water Stains off Mirrors

Most U.S. households are affected by hard water, which can leave unsightly chalky white stains after water droplets dry and leave mineral deposits behind. Worse, these stains can be brown or rust-colored, depending on which minerals are in the water.

Hard water spots are one of the toughest stains to remove from mirrors. While it may be tempting to let a mild stain sit until cleaning day, the longer it sits, the harder it is to remove. The best way to tackle these stains on a mirror is to create a paste that dries on the stained area and lifts off quickly. Here's how:

Step 1: Create a Paste

In a small bowl, mix equal parts baking soda and vinegar. The result should have the consistency of toothpaste.

Step 2: Smear the Paste

Apply the paste onto the hard water spots, rubbing gently with your fingers over the stain, and then let it dry.

Step 3: Wipe and Dry

Use a clean damp cloth to wipe off the paste, and, if necessary, another clean cloth to dry.

What to Do About a Hazy or Streaky Mirror

You've gone through all the motions but your mirrors are still hazy or streaky. There are several maladies that cause this, but don't despair. We have advice for overcoming each one to return your mirror to its sparkling clean condition.

Avoid Hard Water

If your house has hard water, your homemade cleaning solution may be the reason for your hazy mirror. When hard water dries, it leaves minute particles of minerals behind, which can make your mirror look hazy. Short of installing a whole-house water softening system (which isn't a bad idea), make your DIY cleaning solutions with distilled water, available by the gallon in most grocery stores.

Avoid Harmful Chemicals

Chemicals and cleaners that are effective for other household cleaning tasks can be harmful on mirrors, causing haziness, streaks, and worse:

  • If you have a tinted mirror, ammonia can cause the tint to chip and discolor, become cloudy, or even peel off completely.
  • Your grandmother may have taught you to use bleach to clean everything, but on mirrors, it can leave streaks and make them look dull over time.
  • Even multi-purpose cleaners are too strong for cleaning mirrors. They often leave a toxic residue that makes mirrors hazy.
  • Soapy cleaners also leave behind a residue that contributes to streaks, so avoid those too.

When it comes to cleaning mirrors, stick to DIY solutions that use only vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or even isopropyl alcohol; or use only commercial products formulated specifically for glass.

Clean Frequently

A regime of frequent cleaning is the best way to prevent a buildup of grime and chemicals that keep mirrors from looking their best. The more often you clean them, the easier the job will be.

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