Windshield washer fluid is usually a spur-of-the-moment purchase.
- The weather turns nasty, you realize that the bottle of fluid in your garage is empty, and you buy the first bottle you see in the drugstore.
- Or you take the car in for an oil change and ask the technician to fill up the washer fluid reservoir while he’s at it.
- Or you’re in a big box hardware store, you pass a display of snow shovels, salt and washer fluid, and think “I’d better grab a bottle of fluid while I’m here.”
In all of those cases, you’re probably not paying attention to what’s actually in the bottle (or in the concentrate tablets that let you make your own). You’re just buying “washer fluid.”
That’s the wrong way to go about it. Choosing the right fluid is one of the most important safety precautions you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones – and it’s one of the least-expensive, too.
The Windshield Washer Fluids
1. 303 Instant Windshield Washer Tablets
First and foremost, the fluid created by dropping a 303 tablet into a gallon of water is not intended to be used in freezing temperatures; it will most definitely freeze up and potentially cause damage to your fluid dispensing system. These tablets are meant to create a windshield cleaning fluid which only works in temperatures above 32° – although you can certainly add a tablet to a gallon of antifreeze washer fluid to improve its cleaning performance.
This is a non-toxic, biodegradable product designed specifically to battle the windshield mess created by bugs, sap, pollen and other natural residue. And it cleans windshields of those environmentally-created spots and splatters exceptionally well. The manufacturer says it works “three times better” than regular washer fluid; we don’t know how they came up with that measurement, but it’s certainly a ton more effective than the blue stuff you buy at the hardware store.
There are 25 tablets per tube. They’ll make 25 gallons of washer fluid, at a price lower than what you’d normally pay for four or five gallons of pre-made fluid. One extra benefit: you’ll avoid having to deal with all of those disposable gallon jugs that just clog up your garage and eventually clog up landfills.
2. Camco Xtreme Blue Windshield Washer Fluid
If you are going to be buying those big blue jugs, these are the ones we recommend. Camco’s fluid is an all-season windshield washer; it contains more than 30% methanol so it can work in temperatures down to -20° without freezing. That should be enough to deal with the climate in almost every region of the country.
The big problem with many fluids is that even if they stay liquid in cold weather, they don’t de-ice the windshield when you’re driving in a storm. Camco, however, contains a de-icing ingredient which does a very good job in that department. This fluid won’t clean sap, bugs and other nuisance dirt and grime quite as well as the 303 tablets, since it isn’t formulated just for cleaning. But it does a much better job than most of the generic washer fluids you’ll find stacked in your local store, and if you want to really make this liquid a powerhouse, a 303 tablet dropped into a reservoir filled with Camco will do amazing work in any conditions.
You’ll pay more for Camco fluid than the generic stuff, but it’s definitely worth its premium price.
3. Nextzett Kristall Klar Windshield Washer Fluid Concentrate
Like the 303 tablets, the fluid created by mixing Kristall Klar concentrate with water won’t do you any good if the temperature’s 32° or lower. In “normal” temperatures, though, this product is excellent at keeping windshields clean. In fact, it was originally created for German car manufacturers so the windshields on the cars they sold stayed crystal clear (or Kristall Klar, in German).
There are a few other ingredients in this concentrate that make it a great alternative to buying jugs off the shelf. For example, there are water softeners to counter the hard water minerals often found in tap water, which can clog the jets or leave residue in the hoses. And Kristall Klar also contains lubricants that prevent wipers from “skipping” on the glass when the going gets tough.
You can control how much washer fluid you’ll get from each container, since the amount is dependent on how concentrated you want the fluid to be. At the recommended level, though, you’ll get about 12 gallons of fluid from a small container of concentrate that costs about ten bucks. And it will do a sensational job of eliminating road grime, bug splatter and other non-winter windshield nuisances and hazards.
4. Qwix Mix Windshield Washer Fluid Concentrate
This concentrate costs twice as much as Kristall Klar, but you’ll get almost three times the amount of fluid when mixing Qwix Mix with water. So the price is right, although the quality of your windshield cleaning won’t be quite as complete as you see with the Kristall Klar. This product only contains biodegradable soap, and is designed to fight the same types of dirt, grime and bug residue. It does it very well, too. It’s just a question of slightly better performance (Kristall Klar) versus slightly lower cost (Qwix Mix).
This is yet another product intended for use in warmer temperatures; the fluid you make from the concentrate will freeze at 32° or lower. Of course, you can always add it to an all-season washer fluid like Camco, or mix methanol into the Qwix Mix/water combination if you’d like. (That’s the manufacturer’s recommendation but as we mention elsewhere in this article, methanol is somewhat dangerous and tricky to work with).
5. Rain-X Washer Fluid Additive
This isn’t actually windshield washer fluid. Instead, it’s an extremely valuable additive for any washer fluid, whether you’ve bought a big jug, mixed it from concentrate, made it from tablets or home-brewed your own. Rain-X, if you’re not familiar with the product, is a water-repellent that causes rain, sleet or snow (or water from other sources) to bead right up on glass. The rain then either flies off the glass on its own, or is easily wiped off with a quick flick of the wipers.
A bottle of this Rain-X additive costs about five dollars, and it can be used to provide water-repelling properties to four gallons of wiper fluid. It may sound like an unnecessary addition to the windshield washer fluid you’ve already purchased – but once you try it, you won’t believe what you’ve been missing.
What to Look for in Windshield Washer Fluid
Retailers and car geeks will give you a laundry list of reasons to buy the best windshield washer fluid. It’s an important contributor when detailing a car because it makes the windshield sparkle. A clean windshield lets you spot chips and cracks before they spread. The fluid increases the effective life of your wipers too.
Let’s be honest. We don’t buy washer fluid for appearances or to detect flaws in the glass. We need it for one bit reason: it’s nearly impossible to see the road through rain streaks, splashed mud or slush, tree sap or squashed bugs.
So a “sparkling clean” windshield isn’t really the goal. A clean windshield is. And that requires the right mix of ingredients.
Why Can’t You Just Use Water or Soap?
You can. But it’s a prescription for trouble.
Water isn’t enough to clean or remove serious dirt and grime. You don’t use just water to clean your body in the shower, or the dishes in your dishwasher, either. That’s what soap and detergents are for. Most of the gunk that accumulates on a windshield will laugh at your water.
And if you’re not fortunate enough to live in a perfect climate, water will freeze in cold weather. (You knew that, but we just thought it was important to remind you.) Not only will you end up pushing the button or lever with no effect, but frozen water in your car’s fluid reservoir and hoses can damage the whole system.
Household soaps and water are better than nothing for cleaning a windshield – at least, at first. The mixture will still freeze (unless you also add alcohol to the mix), and it will also create foam that can clog the system and leave a difficult-to-see-through residue on your windshield.
What you need is a mixture specifically designed to do the job, while not affecting the fluid delivery system.
What "Ingredients" Should You Look For?
Water, of course. But the majority of washer fluids also contain alcohol, primarily methanol. Methanol is what makes these fluids poisonous and sometimes corrosive, but it’s also responsible for most of the actual windshield cleaning. Other alcohols like ethylene glycol are sometimes added as well, but they’re not ideal for cold weather since ethylene glycol becomes a gel at low temperatures and can clog hoses.
The percentage of methanol is the main factor in the freezing point of windshield washer fluid. The ideal solution for warmer climates contains somewhere around 10% methanol, while fluid that won’t freeze and will de-ice a windshield in temperatures well below zero can contain more 35% methanol.
A few manufacturers add a detergent to the mixture, and some products will include chemical additives which can be invaluable in specific weather conditions.
- “Water repellent” washer fluids prevent water from “beading” on the windshield.
- “De-icing” washer fluid contain chemicals and small amounts of antifreeze. It’s designed to keep the windshield from icing up, and to prevent the mixture from freezing in temperatures approaching or below zero.
- ”Non-streak” fluids minimize the “streaking” on the windshield created when wipers push the fluid back and forth
- “Bug repellent” fluids contain – you guessed it – bug repellent.
You can easily find products which include one or several of those additives, which are a good choice if you experience any of those conditions when using regular fluid. Most washer fluids also contain artificial color (you didn’t think that mixture is naturally blue, did you?) and a few have added scents, for some reason we don’t understand.
Since the “formula” for windshield fluid is relatively simple, you might be tempted to make your own. Many people do, but methanol is a dangerous product to work with. It’s also not great for the environment, so there are many natural, alternative formulas you can find that use vinegar, rubbing alcohol, ammonia, soap or even vodka. Most will work, and some will work well – but most of those ingredients will freeze at low temperatures, and quite honestly they won’t perform as well as commercial fluids containing methanol.
Just to reinforce this point: methanol is a hazardous product. You should wear gloves when adding windshield washer fluid to your car, make sure it doesn’t drip on the car’s exterior, and always keep it away from children.
Forms of Windshield Washer Fluid
You’re probably most familiar with the ubiquitous gallon jugs of blue washer fluid that are sold in every hardware store, auto parts store, department store, gas station and drugstore. They’re certainly the easiest product to use, since you simply pour the fluid from the bottle into your car’s fluid reservoir. They’re also the most expensive way to buy windshield washer fluid (even they only cost a few bucks apiece), since you use the fluid up quickly.
You can save a good deal of money by purchasing a bottle of washer fluid concentrate instead. A small amount, mixed with water, can make a full gallon of fluid. Most containers will let you make anywhere from 10-20 gallons of windshield fluid for much less than you’d pay for ready-to-use jugs of full solution. You can also make a stronger solution if you’re experiencing a really cold spell.
A third alternative are tablets which are simply dropped into the proper amount of water (usually a gallon). As soon as they dissolve, you’ve got washer fluid that can be poured right into your car’s reservoir.
There are no statistics on exactly how many car crashes are caused each year by poorly cleaned windshields, or how often dirty windshields are contributing factors in accidents.
But everyone who’s driven more than once or twice in bad weather, parked under sap-dripping trees, or lived in an area with lots of bugs – knows how easily a driver’s visibility can be obscured.
Spending a few extra bucks on the best windshield washer fluid you can find is one of the smartest safety investments any car owner can make.