A “helpful hint” which has circulated online for years states that applying vinegar to your windshield is an effective way to remove ice quickly, or as a way to prevent ice from forming when left overnight. Is this suggestion a feasible alternative to more expensive de-icing solutions?
In our search for a definitive answer regarding this tip, we could not find much of a consensus, even among those who work in the auto detailing industry. Here is what we found:
Differing Claims and Opinions
There are two different schools of thought regarding the use of vinegar on a car windshield:
1. As a way to prevent ice from building up overnight
2. As a way to remove ice once it has appeared on the windshield.
Different “recipes” also exist for the vinegar-windshield defrosting solution. The most common is three parts vinegar to one part water, which is said to help dilute the vinegar. Sometimes you may find suggestions to use pure, undiluted vinegar. How the vinegar solution should be applied is another element which varies. One suggestion is to apply vinegar to the windshield the night before and immediately wipe it off, while others suggest to spray the solution on and leave it overnight.
Below are some issues debated when the discussion of applying vinegar to your windshield arises:
Can Vinegar Pit Glass?
Glass Doctor published a heavily-cited article which debunks several de-icing myths, including applying vinegar to the windshield:
Pour a mixture of vinegar and water on the windshield so that it freezes to the glass before the rain does, thereby preventing ice. Unfortunately, vinegar eats pits into the windshield glass.
There are those, however, who refute this claim by pointing out that vinegar has been used by pro and amateur detailers for years, and the fact that vinegar is typically sold and stored in glass bottles without the stated “pit” effect.
Can Vinegar Damage Paint and Other Parts?
It is argued by some that vinegar can damage your car’s paint if not removed right away. It is also suggested that aside from potentially damaging the paint, vinegar left overnight may damage seals, chrome, or metal parts of the car.
We contacted several auto detailers here in Las Vegas to ask their opinions about the use of vinegar to clean or de-ice windshields. The responses varied from “it’s safe” to “it could damage your paint.” This auto detailer at West Coast Customs, for example, promotes the use of a vinegar/water solution to prevent ice. Many detailers have said they use vinegar to remove bird droppings or hard water stains.
Some popular car forums below, all of which generally approve of the use of vinegar on autos, typically suggest the vinegar solution should be promptly removed:
- Corvette Forum
- Auto Care Forum
- FJ Cruiser Forums
- Davis Body Shop (Suggests vinegar for removal of egg off of a car)
The only consensus we were able to find is that vinegar will definitely remove the wax from your car, and most who promote the use of vinegar do state that it should be removed right away, rather than left on overnight.
The freezing point of vinegar is only a few degrees below that of water (around 28-degrees F), so it would not appear that leaving it on overnight would help prevent ice buildup, unless the outside temperature is in the narrow range between 28 and 32 degrees.
106.1 Evansville Test
In a YouTube video entitled, “Lifehack Test – Vinegar & Water Windshield De-Icer,” the common vinegar/water solution was put to the test on a windshield with a layer of frost. Although it appeared to work at first, once the windshield wipers were turned on, it became apparent that the icy buildup remained. The tester’s conclusion: “Fail!”
We could find no prevailing consensus regarding the use of vinegar to prevent or remove ice from windshields. Long-term exposure of vinegar to the exterior of your car may cause damage to the paint and other parts if the vinegar is not removed promptly. There are commercial products for sale at your local car parts store which are probably a safer solution for keeping windshields free of ice. If you do plan to try the vinegar method, it’s probably best to dilute it and keep it away from painted surfaces, seals, and chrome – and to wipe it off after application.
Have you used vinegar as a solution for windshield frost? Let us hear your experience in the comments below.
Updated November 21, 2015
Originally published November 2013