3 Cheap and Easy Formulas for Homemade Windshield De-Icer (Plus Bonus Tips)

by Linsey Knerl on 12 January 2009 46 comments

It’s that dreaded time of year.  For those of us in the northern part of the country, the snow is falling, cars are stalling, and I start grumbling a bit more than usual.  Each trip to town requires a 10-minute pre-start on my car, and the hated task of scraping my windshield.  There are several options to help you with this chore, with some being more practical than others.  See what has worked for others, and how you can take control of a frozen windshield and limited visibility for just a few pennies. 

Cover it.  This no-brainer works the best.  By keeping your windshield protected from the elements, you can effectively prevent ice build-up, frost, or snow from ever touching the glass.  The easiest approach is to store your vehicle in a mild garage or storage area, but this isn’t an option for everyone.   

Another method is to place a lightweight tarp or double-folded old sheet directly over your windshield, and hold it down in place with bungee straps or weights of some sort.  The next time you go out to your car, you can remove the cover, and any accumulated light frost should melt shortly via the defrost function of your car.  (This won’t work well in areas with heavy snowfall, however, as the weight of the snow could make removing the cover a herculean task.) 

Prevent it.  I prefer not having to mess with tarps and straps, so I’m especially tempted by the commercial ice-prevention formulas offered on the market.  They seem so easy to use: just spray before you go to bed each night, and wake up to a frost-free windshield.  Some obvious disadvantages to this method include the cost to purchase the products (which may cost up to $13 per bottle) and the questionable contents of some brands. 

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

The readers of the Dollar Stretcher have their own recipe for a safe, non-toxic version of a ice retarding solution:  Simply mix 3 parts vinegar and 1 part water in a spray bottle.  Apply to all the car windows (including side and rear) before going to bed at night.  (Our own Paul Michael also mentions vinegar in this 254 Uses and Counting piece.) 

Remove it.  If you find yourself in the impossible situation of having to scrape very thick ice or snow from you windshield, don’t fret!  The right scraper can do wonders, but a nice homemade de-icing solution can help, too.  The Stretcher has two more recipes for you, in the event you can’t get that nasty ice to budge: 

Recipe #1: 

Mix one part water to two parts rubbing alcohol.  Apply to the window and watch it peel right off!  

Recipe #2: 

Use a bottle of 70% isopropyl alcohol (50% works, too, but not as well) with a few drops of dish soap.  Apply liberally to the glass with a spray bottle.  (Readers also recommend adding alcohol to the washer fluid container, with a 50/50 mix, to keep wiper lines from freezing up in the winter.)

Winter won’t last forever, but it can feel like an eternity.  Stop the scraping madness with a little planning and some homemade solutions designed to save time and money. (And let us know how they work for you!)

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Myscha Theriault's picture

Doesn't necessarily apply to us this year, but last year it sure would have! I'm sure a ton of people will appreciate this piece.

Guest's picture

Your vehicle does not need 10 minutes of idling. It will warm up far faster by driving it than by sitting still in your driveway. Idling uses up a not insignificant amount of fuel and releases tons of CO2 every year. Don't do it.

Guest's picture
David

So, you drive your car with ice on the windshield? Kinda hard to see isn't it?

Guest's picture
Guest

are you suggesting driving around with ice covering your windshields? Did you even read the topic?

Guest's picture
ddiamondr

If you live where it gets to 40 below you can't drive it right away. Oh, I'm not looking forward to it!

Guest's picture
jpk

hey im a mechanic, and its always best to let your engine warm up before driving as in cold weather the oil thickens up at the bottom of the engine so letting it run 5-10 mins on idle will save you a new engine in the cold weather.

Guest's picture
Guest

When you let it warm up you allow the transmission to warm up. If not you can hurt the transmission

Linsey Knerl's picture

Brian,

I'll agree that 10-minutes is way too long for most people to let their cars idle on a typical cold day.  The reason I have to do this lately, is for two reasons: 

#1:  The -30 windchill weather that requires my car to at least warm up to a temperature to be able to use my defrost function before driving off.  If I leave and it is NOT warmed up properly, my windshield will fog up.  (Letting your car warm up on the way to your destination can be dangerous if there is a risk of reduced visability.)

#2:  I have small children (an infant, specifically).  I will under no circumstances take my kids out into my van with below zero temperatures, and my vehicle not warmed up sufficiently.  If you've ever experienced a small baby gasping for air because it's super-cold, you'll know where I'm coming from.

But for most people and climates, I'll agree that 10 minutes is excessive (and I won't do it if not needed.)  Also, diesel engines won't warm up much after 2 minutes, anyway, (and can actually get colder if left to idle too long.)

Thanks for the comments!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
Guest

"Also, diesel engines won't warm up much after 2 minutes, anyway, (and can actually get colder if left to idle too long.)"

What makes you think this? A diesel not only needs alot longer than 2 minutes to get up to operating temps, but it does not get colder the longer you let it idle... Not letting them warm up properly in any conditions is never good on the motor...

Guest's picture
Balazs

Hello Linsey,

Idling your car is bad for the environment and wastes gas.
Get an electric car heater (or a simple small warm fan put inside the car at night will do) to run overnight in your car.
If this is not an option - for example there is no electric socket nearby - get an aftermarket heater built-in which works with gas, its very convenient, doesnt cost a fortune, remote-controlled so you can turn it on 10-30 minutes before you get in the car, starts to deice the windows. You will not ever want a car without it once you try.

There are tons of alternatives to idling your car (which is by the way not good for your car, it is designed to heat up while driving, idling it cold will put unnecessary strain on the engine and other parts of the drivetrain).

Greetings,
Balazs

Guest's picture
Guest

Have a block heater installed.

Guest's picture
lucille

10 minutes is not excessive when the weather in the upper prairie states is really cold. We had all sorts of plastic parts on our car that was left out last winter shatter due to the cold. When the weather is that cold it takes 10 minutes just to get the engine and transmission warm enough to function properly. You also need to have it warm enough your windshield won't frost back over after you take off. Suddenly being blinded while driving on probably icy roads is not good.

Guest's picture
Guest

Just another chime-in to say that yes some places do require 10 minutes or so! Northern Indiana temps make it longer until the windshield can be de-iced/de-fogged properly, and we aren't even the coldest place in the country (or world, of course).

Thanks for the tips on homemade de-icer, sounds easy but I never gave it a thought. I use "Heet" when it's really bad, but mostly I just scrape. That's probably pretty much the formula for that stuff though.

Guest's picture
Bucky

Unless its a particularly wet day, or it's thick ice, I tend to find filling a 2 ltr plastic bottle with warm water out of the tap is sufficient to defrost the majority of the ice on my car windows.

After you've poured it on the window, put the wipers on immediately to wipe it off otherwise it'll start to freeze again (depending on the temperature of the glass).

The added advantage of using warm water is it helps de-mist the inside of the windows too.

I can put the water on the windows/de-mist the inside using the warm water method quicker than it takes my neighbour to scrape.

Guest's picture
David

Careful with that warm water trick, you can easily crack a windshield that way. In fact, that's what when you put on your defroster, the a/c comes on too. That's to get warm air to the windshield to defrost it, but keept the air temp low enough that the glass isn't cracked by the difference in temperature.

Guest's picture
Guest

I usually use steaming hot water, even on the coldest days in Wisconsin, on windshields that already have cracks, and have never even had an already existing crack spread further by doing this. If an already existing crack that goes halfway across the windshield doesn't go further by pouring steaming water on it, I seriously doubt you could crack a good windshield using this method.

Fred Lee's picture
Fred Lee

Hey Linsey,

Great piece, when are you going to have your own advice show on TV? It's cold here in Vermont, and good de-icing tips can save time and money. And I agree, when it's this cold outside and you have children, you have to bring the temp up to a liveable temp, or get an earful for the first ten minutes of the drive.

Besides, and mind you, I'm a newbie when it comes to cold climates having grown up in So Callifornia, but I can't for the life of me scrape the ice off our windows sometimes. I have to warm it up, and then it peels right off.

I love when that happens. Thanks for once again enlightening us in the ways of getting by.

 

Guest's picture
kav122

this morning (I work night shift) I ran to my car in the parking lot of the hospital. Since it was -16 (without the windchill) and there were only a few scattered flakes on the wind shield, I took off. Before I was even out of the parking lot the blowing snow had made my windshield impossible to see out of. So I had to sit and wait for the car to heat up as usual. Probably not 10 minutes, but I would certainly wait 10 before I brought my kid out to the car!!! Also I heard a tip that if you turn your key (about a half a turn, just until the radio comes on) for about 5 seconds before you start the car in sub sub freezing temps, it is easier on the car somehow.

Anyway, thanks for the article!!!

Guest's picture
Guest

Yes turning the key but not start the engine makes some electricity flow, this internally heats the battery chemicals a bit so the battery gets a bit more power to do the challenging task of a cold-weather start. You might even put the lights on for 20 seconds before starting, ofcourse you need to make sure you don't drain the battery.

Guest's picture
Guest

I just always make sure that my windshield washer container is filled with Rain-X De-Icer. It doesn't freeze when you use your windshield washers!!

For lots of snow, this obviously won't work. But after a few minutes of (the dreaded and controversial) idling, and you just want to get in and get going, but there's that last little bit left, or, just a thin coating from the night, or your entire window is a solid but thin block of ice due to an ice storm....
just use your windshield cleaner and wipers, and in seconds, you can see fine.

The Rain-X stuff comes in a container just like regular windshield cleaner, but it's orange, not blue.
And it's not overly expensive. Regular stuff is around a dollar, and this is double. No biggie, especially for a great convenience.

It also helps great when you're driving, and your windshield is icing up as you go.

Oh, and it works fine for just plain washing your windshield, too. I usually have it in my car all summer too, by default.

Guest's picture
Guest

Living in northern Canada for the majority of my life, I can tell you I've seen winters most of you can't even imagine.

That said: they don't sell cheap methyl-alcohol based window de-icer down those parts? Works pretty well.

As for warming up the vehicle. I guess block heaters must be optional down there. If so, install one, and if you really like, an oil pan heater as well.

Cover the grill of your vehicle. Some cardboard and zip ties does it on the ghetto budget, but they make nice ones as well. This can really help, especially when combined with block + oil heaters.

I know, this is a website about being thrifty, so getting those heaters installed is probably to be balked at, but it's just part of owning a vehicle -- they're not cheap!

Guest's picture

@ bucky

Depending on how cold it is, hot water may not be a good idea. The glass may actually crack from the quick temperature change! I have used hot water myself. Someone told me about the this and I have not used it since.

Guest's picture
Dave

Warm water might be OK if your windshield is in good shape. It will likely crack at any weak points, such as stone chips or scratches.

Guest's picture
Guest

You should be running synthetic oil and transmission fluid anyway (and in your transfer case and differentials if applicable too) if you're REALLY serious about saving money -> your vehicle's mechanicals will last longer. Yes, it is fact. Those that don't usually have something to sell you or suffered part failure due to poor part design in the first place. I have 3 vehicle (all over 300,000). My newest is 18 years old (vw diesel). No, you should not be letting your cars idle to warm up. Drive prudently and it will warm up nicely. Don't try to merge on a freeway with a cold engine.
Also, spare me the diatribe on young kids and cold cars. Unless they are chronic bronchial asthmatics, the only one suffering is the hypochondriac parent.

Guest's picture
Guest

Where are you people from that say it is unnecessary to let your car idle for ten minutes? On Thursday and Friday we had overnight temperatures here of -29 without the windchill. I have been an automechanic for the last 17 years and trust me, you don't want to just jump in your car, start it up, and go when it is that cold. Try this - stick a rubberband in your freezer tonight, and then in the morning try to stretch it out and you'll see how many pieces it shatters into. Now think about all of the RUBBER belts in your car, essentially giant rubberbands. Think about your serpentine belt, which goes around every major component under your hood, including that engine which is going at anywhere from 2000 - 4500 rounds per minute depending on the engine. You would not believe how many people get towed in this time of year because their belts snap due to not being warmed up.

Guest's picture
Anne

I googled that all last week wondering if I was deluding myself or if the warming up was helpful. Thank you for confirming it :)

I've got a 13 year old Toyota with 82k miles on it. I want the car to stay as happy as possible for as long as possible. So during the sub, sub zero temps with even subber-zero wind chills I actually went out and warmed it up over my lunch hour in addition to morning and evening. Thankfully my parents have a garage so with a little bit of planning I was able to keep it out of the wind for the worst nights.

Guest's picture
David

Yes, it's usually a good idea to warm up the engine a bit before you drive on very cold mornings, and not just due to the windshild icing issues. I lost an engine due to starting it cold in the winter and just zipping off to work w/out warming it up first. The oil was too thick to flow proprly at that temperature, and i ruined the bearings and threw a rod due to insufficient oil flow during the first few minuits of driving each morning (i did that for 2 weeks). Ever since, i've let my engine have a LEAST 5 minuites to warm up before i take off (more if i can hear the lifters faintly just from barely raising the engine idle while parked).

Guest's picture
Guest

Vinegar freezes faster than water: how can it effectively de-ice a windshield, or prevent ice from forming?

Guest's picture
Henry Johnson

quote from the post by the environmental policeman that started all this "10 minute idling" discussion:

"Idling uses up a not insignificant amount of fuel and releases tons of CO2 every year. Don't do it."

Hey, genius. The primary emission of an automobile is WATER VAPOR - which also happens to be the primary ingredient in the atmosphere. Oh, and CO2 is the chemical sign for carbon DIOXIDE, whereas the dangerous carbon-based gas produced by an automobile is carbon MONOXIDE.

Tomorrow, I'm gonna let my car idle an extra five minutes just for you and your "climate change" buddies....

Guest's picture
Laura D

I had a friend crack his windshield by putting warm water on it, and where I live its is crazy to think that someone could just jump in their car/suv and take off without warming it up. Ice heavy on the windows and snow everywhere else, what do they do stick their heads out the window to see, even if you manage to scrape it off you still have windows that you cant see through. And why would you voluntarily put children or yourself in a car that is 29 below 0 when with a little planning and thought you can remove the ice, check that all defrosters are working, and warm the inside of the car? Last week when the sub degree temperatures hit where I live several people at my job had to call tow trucks because their cars would either not start or run, while others just left them broken in the parking lot. Wonder why?

Guest's picture
Guest

There are some great comments here, all if it caused me to reminisce.

When I was a kid my Dad and I would run a paper route in the mornings in Indiana. I use to hate going out in the cold to scrape the van windows and get the papers. One night by dad had an idea, he put an old drop light with a 100watt bulb on a plug in timer. He sat it to 3am and it hung it from the rear view mirror. When I came out the next morning, most of the frost was gone from the windows.

I know, this may not be the most economical and I can not attest to the safety of it all and it surely did not warm the engine but it sure kept me from scraping windows.

A side not about warming engines. As a helicopter pilot the operators manuals of most aircraft specify a requirement to run the engine for a given time to a certain temperature. Of course there are differences in power but there also concerns about blowing seals and the like. That thick oil is too much for the pumps and seals even though it is synthetic.

Guest's picture
Guest

Visit www.FrostShield.com for an excellent product to protect your vehicles windshield from frost, ice or snow. Check it out!

Guest's picture
Guest

For the last twenty years, I just filled up a gallon of water in a used milk jug when I get home from work. Let it come to room temp overnight, pour on windshield and set wipers full speed. I keep the gallon container in the car until I get home to save time. I haven't owned a scraper or cracked a windshield (even with chips) all those years up here at the Canadian border... Works for me.

Guest's picture
Guest

The reason ur car seems to warm up faster when you drive it ,is because your increasing the rpm's in the engine and it makes the motor warm up faster, so rev up the car a few time after you start it NOT when you first start it though. Oh when driving the car when its cold or freezing out will make your radiator alot colder(in front of the car) so driving the car wont make it warm up faster,you just think it does because your doing something other than just sitting there in a cold car. If your worried about wasting gas while the car is at idle(.007 of a gal.) or the environment maybe you should complain about Mr GlobalWarming(Al Gore) flying around the world in his gas hog 747 jet what a hypocrite. Brrr its freezing this morning in Georgia lol( opps is that now called "Climate Change" which cover everything. Wow i wondered off subject here ........oh well

Guest's picture
Guest

I know this comment is old but I couldn't let this go uncorrected. Your radiator's temperature doesn't matter, the water in your car bypasses the radiator until the thermostat (basically a little temperature sensitive "valve" set to a specific temp by the manufacturer) springs open at operating temperature, letting the coolant circulate in the radiator.

By driving the car you're putting it under load, which is more than just running high RPMs while in park/neutral, and causes more heat to build up in the engine, which is captured by the coolant, etc. Most modern cars need less than 1-2 minutes (30 seconds, even) of idling in 0F conditions for the oil to circulate and coat the necessary parts.

Once your windows are clear and you've let the car idle for about 30-60 seconds, you're perfectly ready to go unless you plan on hauling ass (like immediately entering a freeway at speeds).

Guest's picture
marc

ever think of keeping it in the GARAGE? the CAR?

Guest's picture
Guest

For those of us not as fortunate as you, Marc, we may not have garages. Don't make assumptions, it makes you look stupid.

Guest's picture
Guest

Oh thank you! If you hadn't put it in CAPS I would never have understood you. Idiot!

Guest's picture
Guest

This is interesting discussion but we ICE and SNOW Belt people know we need to do this.

1. Clear off all ICE and FROST off our windshield, side windows and back window for safety reason.

2. Clear off all SNOW accumulation from the roof, hood and back of the car. Again, safety reason. IF and when top layer freezes, it is a hazardous sheet of ice that can fly off the car and hit the car behind you. It has caused fatal accidents, resulting in death in some cases or serious injuries. In some states, IT IS the LAW.

3. Warm up the car for mechanical reason, at least 5 minutes, then drive in moderation for the next few miles until the engine is warmed up properly, engine temp gauge and how your car drives will tell you that. Regular oil or synthetic lubricants, it does not matter, circulating it is what is important. We also warm up the car for our comfort.

Not to get off topic with how to keep frost off the windshield, there is a product made by Rxxxxx that you apply to your windows and windshield that makes water practically slide off. I apply this once a month on clean glass. I also keep regular windshield washer on spray bottle, spray mist the windshield before scraping the frost off, works conveniently for me. I don't need to go out to my car at night to spray that vinegar and water mix.

Guest's picture
Mattie

I have a different problem...I drive a Toyota Landcruiser and live where we get negative 35-40. I have a garage and no problems with the windshield even in sleet or snow. However, on foggy mornings I can drive 2 miles and have to pull over to scrape the ice off my windshield. This is a huge problem. Just getting to work within 7 miles, I stop 2 to 3 times to scrape just to see the road. Inside no problem, outside it's like I've left it out all night and didn't scrape to drive.

Guest's picture
Patty

Just wondering if the dis soap should be the in your dish tube by hand washing liquid or electric dishwasher liquid. Thanks. Patty

Guest's picture
Howard

Here in the UK we actually have some makes of car that have electrically heated front windscreens as standard! To me this is as important as a spare tire or a rear view mirror...(and these come as standard)!!

The last car that I had with this function was a ford (I wonder if they have the patent?) and the difference was amazing, start the engine switch on the car heater and both front and rear screen heaters, wait for the window wipers to clear the melted ice...and drive away. Heaven!

Guest's picture
Enowil

What about putting a small electric radiator type heater in the passenger compartment of your vehicle via an extension cord to heat the passenger compartment just enough to keep it above freezing so frost, ice, sleet, or snow won't accumulate overnight. The heaters have no moving parts and use internal heating coils suspended in mineral oil to produce heat, so they should be safe. Eh?

Guest's picture
Guest

Again, some of us live in a city where street parking is the only option. That would be a hell of an extension cord, believe me if I had a garage to park in, I would.

Guest's picture
guest

For thick ice 70% of WHAT with alcohol? what is the other 30%???? I know a couple of drops of dishwashing liquid, but 70% alcohol makes no sense without the other 30%...is it water???

Guest's picture

My solution was to get a 2 way viper remote start. I let my car run for 5-10 minutes and it's nice and heated for when I get out to it. Thanks for the tips though sounds like it might be worth a try.