Window Maintenance: Cleaning & Preventing Salt Buildup

How Linda cleans the salt buildup off of the bridge windows, and what she does to prevent salt buildup in the future. Then, Wind Horse puts her prevention steps to the test!

One thing we really like about the design of Wind Horse is her big windows. The entire saloon/bridge/galley area is like a large observation station on the cruising life. But these come with one negative: the need to be clean to get the most out of the views. And there is a lot of area to be maintained.

There is a second issue which also drives us to act. That is visibility when we are underway. If the windows are prepped correctly, sea and rain quickly sheds, so that our visibility is excellent even when there is a lot of wet flying about.

We’re anchored in Bahia Sur, at the bottom end of Cedros Island of Baja California as this is being written. We spent the last 26 hours beating up from Magdelena Bay into 15 to 30 knots of wind and sometimes very steep 8- to 12-foot (2.4 to 3.6m) seas. As it has been a couple of months and several thousand miles since we last did a full maintenance cycle, this is one of the things on the “list” before moving on towards San Diego.

As long as the windows are free of salt they will shed water quickly. With continual heavy spray the old water does not get a chance to dry. But with intermittent spray, especially during the day, eventually salt begins to accumulate. Once this occurs, the old salt acts as a magnet for additional accumulations, and visibility drops.

If we get onto the dried salt quickly, with a spray of fresh water and perhaps a quick wipe with a damp rag, it comes right off. Three minutes of work on the forward-facing windows and we’re set. However, on the last couple of passages we did not act quickly enough, so there is an accumulation to be removed.

The process we use is to first wash with soapy water, and then rinse.


Next, if there is still a build up of salt, we use a product called “Lime Away” which is made for cutting mineral deposits in showers. There are a variety of these available in most supermarkets and hardware stores. Spray it on, and then wipe it and the salt build-up right off.

This also works for heavy salt crusts on stainless (which we sometimes have after a long passage). One word of caution: Do not use this on plastic, and take care with painted surfaces. In our case, with bare aluminum and glass, there are no finish issues.


The next step after rinsing is to wipe the windows dry. And then comes the special stuff.


We’ve talked about RainX before. It provides a wetting agent and helps rain and sea water sheet off the windows. It really works well. We typically apply it to the forward windows every couple of months and the rest of the windows twice a year. The entire window is coated, and then wiped with a clean rag, before being dried off.


You can pick up RainX in most auto parts stores.

When we were doing the design work on Wind Horse we looked hard at windshield wipers and built-in spray systems. We decided to try the boat first without wipers (we made provisions to add them if needed). Now, after almost 20,000 miles, much of it in rainy and spray-filled passages, we are happy with the no-wiper decision.

The built-in rinse system would be handy in some conditions. However, this involved a lot of plumbing of pressure water in areas filled with electrical gear, and we are leery of the risk posed by a leak. A deck hose is always ready, and while it does require going forward for a minute, we find this simpler approach still to our liking.

OK, so how does this work in the real world? The passage north from Cedros Island provides some good photos of this system in action. Just past the island we had a north-flowing (favorable) current stacking up the waves, in occasionally very steep sets. Wind Horse is exceptionally dry, but in these conditions she will periodically stick her nose through a wave.

The next four photos were taken with the camera set on motor drive, shooting at a speed of five frames per second. What you are seeing is every other frame. The entire sequence covers 1.6 seconds.


First photo – scoop up the crest of a wave and it hurtles down the deck towards the windows.


Second photo – windows are partially obscured.


Third photo – sea water totally covers the forward three windows and blocks visibility.


And finally, in the fourth photo, the water sheds off the window and we have visibility again. In this process we are without forward visibility for three-quarters of a second. As this is actually a pretty rare occurrence, even on a rough passage like this one, we think this simple approach has a lot to recommend it.

Think of the fun we had going through these conditions for 500 miles, just so we could demonstrate this approach to window maintenance!

Posted by Steve Dashew  (March 11, 2007)

One Response to “Window Maintenance: Cleaning & Preventing Salt Buildup”

  1. Lorelei Mead Says:

    I would like to say thanks for the great lime away tip, I have used it here at our new fla house on the showers from the very nasty well water that is loaded with salt and just makes a mess of fixtures. I never thought to use it on the windows that I have just about wore my arm out on using 4 different cleaners and then I read that straight vinegar will work with a no scratch dish scrubie only to leave smears. I have the 10 foot sliders and so I was in and out with a single ladder for hours just on the sliders, not the regular windows yet. I will be putting more bottles in the shopping cart in the am along with the Rain X. we did learn our lesson with generic RainX as it left smears all over my moms car windows and had to call the company to find out how to get the stuff off…. a new windsheild!!