Hands-On Review: Testing The Best Windshield Washer Fluids to Help You See Clearly, Now
Our top picks will help you choose the best windshield washer fluids for every season
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BY Mike Bumbeck / LAST UPDATED ON October 10, 2020
Windshield washer fluid comes in a variety of formulations for every season and driving situation. Choosing the best windshield washer fluid depends on where, when, and what you drive. We rounded up a variety of pre-mixed, ready-to-use gallons, plus concentrated liquids and dry-dissolving tablets, and put them to the test to help you make the best choice.
Checking and topping off your windshield washer fluid reservoir is a crucial part of a safe driving experience, and should be considered regular maintenance like checking your oil or tire pressure. But if you’re pouring water or even Windex in the reservoir, you’re making a mistake, and taking chances with a vital component to safe driving.
The one windshield washer fluid to rule them all. Four season formula powers off bugs, dirt, and road salt down to zero degrees.
Broad operational temperature range for year-round use. Versatile formulation is effective against summer bugs and mild winter freeze up.
More expensive than dedicated summer, bug, or winter blends. Hydrophobic polymer technology not for everybody.
The concentrated liquid formula is easy to use, effective, and safe for all surfaces. One 8.5-ounce bottle makes six gallons of washer fluid.
Measuring chamber calibrated for the average size reservoir. Anti-lime agents help prevent tap water mineral scale.
Not rated for winter temperatures. Not as effective against bugs compared to other blends. Can remove silicone window treatment.
These tablets in compact, easy-mix packaging are easy to store. Each concentrated tablet makes one gallon of full-strength washer fluid.
Concentrated formula puts 25 gallons of washer fluid in a small tube. Tablets can be mixed with water directly in the washer fluid reservoir.
Must add methanol to prevent freeze-up in winter season use. One tablet to one-gallon ratio may not be ideal for small-capacity reservoirs.
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
How We Tested the Windshield Washer Fluids
We made our best windshield washer fluid selections based on a combination of performance, value, usability, availability, and the shipping experience. Summertime testing precluded any de-icer and winter mix blends, but we have four-season experience thanks to near-eternal Vermont winters and relentless road salt. New England without snow is a world full of bugs, and we cleared plenty of bug guts and dirt road dust in our road tests. All test products were purchased with a mix of online shopping and local store pickup.
Benefits of Windshield Washer Fluid
- Safety: The most crucial benefit of windshield washer fluid. A windshield full of smeared bugs, road grime, or road salt can impair visibility and cause an accident.
- Protection: Crud-covered dry windshield wiper blades can damage your windshield. Fluid lubricates the glass and helps prevent turning your wipers into sandpaper blades.
- Convenience: A full reservoir and extra fluid can save the trouble of pulling off the road, losing time, and forking over premium prices. Plan ahead for trouble-free travel.
- Maintenance: Making a habit of checking your windshield wiper fluid reservoir, motor oil, tire pressure, and coolant level can help your vehicle perform better and last longer.
Types of Windshield Washer Fluid
The most commonly available type of windshield washer fluid comes in ready to use plastic gallon jugs. They’re available in a wide variety of formulas from summer bug melting blends to deep freeze winter de-icers.
Liquid windshield washer concentrates pack a lot into a little. They’re great if you don’t like storing gallon jugs. Concentrates can be mixed with water directly in the washer fluid reservoir.
Dry Tablet Concentrates:
Dry tablets offer the convenience and economy of just-add-water concentrate compressed into a no-spill compact package. Quick-dissolving tablets are easy to store and can be dropped directly into a water-filled reservoir for instant washer fluid.
Washer Fluid Formulations
Summer washer fluids are formulated for use in above freezing temperatures only. All of our concentrated and tablet washer fluids were developed for summer use and require the addition of methanol for use below freezing.
Winter washer fluid formulas contain methanol or ethylene glycol to prevent freeze-up in the lines, nozzles, or on your windshield. Make sure to empty any leftover summer fluid before topping up the tank with a winter blend.
All-season formulas promise it all with a year-round mix of ingredients for every situation. Year-round washer fluids are a great option for moderate winters, but keep an eye on operational temperature ranges as they vary between brand and blends.
Specialty formulas fill in the gaps with bonus capability. Bug blends put some extra power in the tank to clear grasshopper guts, de-icers can cut through deep winter freezes, and water beading hydrophobic polymers can help your windshield repel rain and snow.
Rain-X is part of the giant ITW Global Brands company umbrella and specializes in windshield treatments, wipers, and car care products. Rain-X 2-in-1 All-Season washer fluid earned our best overall and the company offers a full range of products that meet the needs of budget-friendly and high-performance drivers alike.
Prestone was established in 1927, and the American company made the familiar yellow jug of anti-freeze coolant famous. Today, Prestone manufactures a full line of automotive products from antifreeze coolants, brake fluid, power steering fluid, stop leaks, and windshield washer fluids like our winter deep freeze minus-27 degrees Prestone De-Icer pick.
Sonax company history stretches back to 1905, and today the German company manufactures a comprehensive range of specialized car care products from polishing compounds and waxes to paint sealants and wheel cleaners. Sonax Clear View windshield washer fluid earned our best pick, and the company also offers a line of products for car care professionals.
303 protectants, cleaners, and waxes have a reputation for quality and are just one of the brands in the mighty Gold Eagle car care and performance automotive products group. Gold Eagle grew from a small Chicago storefront in 1932 into the company behind trusted products like Sta-bil fuel stabilizer. Gold Eagle also sponsors the Stabil National Lawn Mower Racing Series.
SANCO was founded in 1991 by two guys with two old cars and $300. Today’s 60,000 square foot factory in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is not far from the original storefront location, and the company now distributes its products to over 25,000 retail outlets. SANCO makes everything from mosquito abatement products to our value pick Aqua Charge concentrate for consumers and professionals alike.
Best Windshield Washer Fluid Pricing
- Under $5. Five bucks will get you one or more gallons of the highest quality pre-mixed washer fluid right off the shelf. Be wary of quality with under-a-dollar gallons.
- $5-10. Some specialized products might slot into this category, but you’re more likely to encounter washer fluid in this price range on thruways, turnpikes, or gas stations.
- Over $10. Concentrates, tablets, and OEM factory fluids can crest the sawbuck mark, but some online premixed gallons carried a premium over off-the-shelf prices.
- Factory Fill: If an automaker specifies their windshield wiper fluid, then use it. Pouring a dollar store gallon in the tank now could cost you a lot more later.
- Avoid Freeze-up: Check your windshield washer fluid reservoir somewhere between Halloween and Thanksgiving to avoid freeze up.
- Plan Ahead: Keep an eye out for closeout bargains on winter blends in the spring and summer formulas in the fall. Stock up for the future and save.
- Use it: Your washer fluid system needs regular exercise to keep pumps, seals, lines, and nozzles in good condition. Run the washer occasionally even if you don’t need to.
Best Windshield Washer Fluid Reviews & Recommendations 2020
A Few Words About Concentrates
We bought all of our test washer fluids locally and online and discovered a few things about ordering windshield washer fluid online. Some pre-mixed gallons carried a significant premium over the same gallon off the local shelf, and availability was thin. Conversely, there was a large variety of concentrated and tablet washer fluid options we had never seen on any local shelf.
After watching a few trucks pull up and drop off a giant box with a single pre-mixed gallon of windshield washer fluid wrapped in plastic bags inside, we came to the conclusion that concentrates are a better economic and packaging choice when buying washer fluid on the internet. This cart full of washer fluid concentrates were all ordered online.
SONAX and 303 Instant Washer Fluid Tablets were our favorites of the bunch, but each concentrate offered a combination of performance and convenience. Formula 1 and Qwix featured measuring chambers for easy mixing on one bottle of GUNK made 1.5 gallons. Super concentrates like Aqua Charge are probably better for high-volume home mixing and offer tremendous value.
We certainly don’t know everything and had no idea there were so many different concentrated products out there. The main drawback is that liquid and dry concentrates are great in the summer but require adding methanol for winter use. Check with your state or local laws concerning methanol and concentrated washer fluids before ice season starts.
Q: Why can’t I use water?
A: You can, but you shouldn’t. Water won’t clean as well as washer fluid and will freeze up as the temperature dips. Tap water minerals can leave paint streaks and spots. Long-term mineral scale can clog up the washer fluid pump, lines, and nozzles.
Q: What’s in windshield wiper fluid?
A: It ain’t Windex. Manufacturers use proprietary ingredients depending on the product formulation. Summer blends might contain some ammonia or bug dissolving enzymes. Winter washer fluid often contains methanol and some ethylene glycol to prevent freezing.
Q: How do I add windshield fluid to my car?
A: Consult your owner’s manual for the reservoir location or look for a tank away from the engine with windshield wipers on the cap. Grab a funnel and pour away. Concentrates can be mixed with water directly in the tank. If you’re not sure, don’t pour.
Q: What should I do if the washer fluid is frozen?
A: Sprayer nozzles are usually the first thing to freeze up. Try pouring some winter-blend washer fluid over the nozzles. Household rubbing alcohol or methanol can also do the trick. Alcohol might help loosen up frozen reservoirs, but a thaw out is the safest bet.
Choosing the best windshield washer fluid depends on where you live and drive. Dry and moderate temperate zone drivers can get by on a summer or all-season blend. Got summer bugs? Go for a specialty bug battling blend. Changing out to season-specific blends in spring and fall is a good plan for continental zone drivers, and de-icers are the answer for deep freeze driving.
This article has been updated with new products and information.