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How to Clean Aluminum Window Frames

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Frames holding windows in place can be made of many different materials from wood to fiberglass. Aluminum is one of the most popular frame materials since it lasts a long time and has low maintenance costs. Today we will be discussing how to clean aluminum window frames, whether they are coated, bare, or oxidized.

How to Clean Aluminum Window Frames

The first step in cleaning any aluminum product is to figure out what type of coating is in place, if any. Powder coating will normally be a fairly shiny, paint like covering over the aluminum that can be made in just about any color. Non coated, or non finished aluminum, on the other hand, can be shiny when installed, but the outside will generally oxidize into a dull finish fairly quickly.

Cleaning Powder Coated Aluminum Window Frames

Powder coated aluminum is very resistant to the elements and to corrosion, so frames made out of it will normally be easy to clean. Avoid using metal or other sharp materials when cleaning because once they get scratched, the coating in that area will not protect it any longer. Stick with a soft cloth or, if necessary, a soft bristled nylon brush.

White curtains covering a white aluminum window frame
  1. Start at the top of the window, or collection of windows, and move down to the bottom. This is so you can clean up any dirty drip lines as you progress in your cleaning process.
  2. Fill a bucket with warm, soapy water. Gentle dish soap works well for this. Use a few squirts per gallon of water.
  3. Saturate a microfiber cloth, sponge, or other soft cleaning material in the soapy water.
  4. Rub the cloth along the aluminum frame, avoiding the window as much as possible. The soapy water will not hurt the window glass, but less dirty water on the window makes it easier to clean after the frame.
  5. Feel free to use a little elbow grease for areas with built up dirt and grime, which you will usually find near the bottom of window frames.
  6. Be sure to pay attention to corners, overlapping edges, and hidden areas of the frame where dirt may hide. Consider using a soft bristled nylon brush to get any dirt out of there.
  7. Rinse the aluminum window frame with clean water.
  8. Use a lint free cloth to dry the frame. You may want to dry the window pane as well at this point.
  9. Using your favorite glass cleaner, clean the window pane or panes.

Cleaning Non-Finished or Non-Coated Aluminum Window Frames

Bare aluminum window frames can provide a very stark, futuristic look to a home, but they can sometimes be challenging to keep in the same state that you purchase them in. Oxidation is the biggest factor in outside aluminum, protecting the metal from corrosion, but also looking dull and unsightly. Consider how you want your aluminum frames to perform vs. how you want them to look.

  1. The top of the window frame is again the best place to start.
  2. Use warm soapy water if the aluminum frame only has minor oxidation. It may not be enough to clean heavily oxidized aluminum, but start with it first.
  3. Wash the frame with a soft cloth and the soapy water.
  4. Rinse with water.
  5. Buff the aluminum with a soft lint free cloth until it is dry and shiny.
  6. To get even more out of a shine from the aluminum, you can polish it with mild steel wool and water. You will have to rinse well and possibly clean the frame again to ensure that no steel dust or splinters are left to rust on your window.
Living room decor with 2 windows made with aluminum frames

Cleaning Heavy Oxidation from Aluminum Window Frames

As alluded to previously, untreated aluminum window frames can oxidize fairly quickly. To be clear, oxidation is not corrosion. It may look or seem like the aluminum is corroding, but in fact the oxidation is protecting the aluminum from corrosion. It can just be unsightly vs. the way that aluminum looks when you first install it.

To clean heavy oxidation from your aluminum frames, you will need a cleaning solution a bit stronger than soap and water. Consider using the following if soapy water is not effective and always test first in an inconspicuous area.

  • Vinegar solution – Mix half vinegar and half warm water together in a bucket.
  • Citrus cleaner – Do not spray directly on the aluminum surface to be cleaned, but instead apply it to a cloth or brush first.
  • Commercial cleaners that are gentle on aluminum. Some of the best products available to the public come in the form of marine (boat) cleaners or automotive wheel cleaner.
Reading nook with a large window with white aluminum window frames

Before starting the cleaning process, scrub the surface with a dry nylon brush to clean off the surface dirt and any loose oxidation. Feel free to use a nylon brush with the cleaning solution as well for a bit more friction and elbow grease. While the additional chemical will help, you will need to put a lot of effort into getting rid of the oxidation.

With a vinegar solution, be sure to rinse with water when cleaning is complete. For the citrus and commercial cleaners, read the manufacturer’s instructions and follow all potential safety instructions like wearing gloves and goggles. Consider polishing the aluminum frame with wax to delay future oxidation.

If the oxidation gets built up to the point that the aluminum is now anodized, you may consider calling a professional who can clean the frame without damaging it. Anodic coating is very difficult to remove using household cleaners and tools.

Deep Cleaning Aluminum Window Frames

One every year or so, it is a good idea to deep clean your window frames. The instructions follow the same basic guidelines as already discussed, but instead of leaving the windows in the frames, you could remove the windows completely. 

Follow the manufacturer instructions on window removal, and clean out all the rails and hardware. In addition, you might find it useful to add grease to any moving or friction-friendly parts of the frame in order to get your windows operating smoothly.

Considerations for Aluminum Window Frames

The difference between the types of aluminum used to make window frames does not only apply to the way they look, but also to how they should be taken care of. Untreated aluminum normally takes the most cleaning and maintenance, but powder coating has its own drawbacks as well. Painted aluminum should be treated the same as powder coated aluminum.

Powder Coated Window Frame Pros and Cons

  • PRO – The process creates a hard, thick durable surface.
  • PRO – Colors added to the coating are consistent all the way through and will not dull.
  • CON – Difficult, if not impossible, to repair spots that have been damaged.
  • CON – Matching paint to cover up scratches will not look the same.

Untreated Aluminum Window Frame Pros and Cons

  • PRO – The shiny surface that it originally shows is beautiful and modern.
  • PRO – Light and durable, will last for many years.
  • PRO – If an oxidized surface is allowed to stay, it becomes even more corrosion resistant.
  • CON – Oxidized surfaces are dull and can take away from the futuristic look.
  • CON – Susceptible to corrosion when interacting with other metals such as copper, iron, or lead.

Conclusion

Cleaning aluminum window frames is a fairly simple process once you understand how the different types of materials determine the cleaning method. Powder coated aluminum is very easy to clean but should be treated gently, while untreated aluminum takes more effort but can be treated more roughly.

Allen Michael is the Founder and Editor of Home Viable, a website that he started to provide readers with tips on home efficiency and automation. He draws on his engineering background combined with his family-of-four experiences for his articles.