Is it Dangerous to Use Water Instead of Windshield Wiper Fluid?

Windshield wiper fluid is helpful when the pollen film gets so thick we can barely see out of our windshields. When some friendly local birds leave us all sorts of yucky presents on the glass, it’s not a good time to be out of washer fluid. Keeping a car clean is part of regular maintenance, but the need still arises that we need to wash the glass while in transit.

the word dust spelled out by rubbing a finger on a dirty windshield
Dirty Windshield | Geography Photos/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

But not everyone keeps a jug of it on hand. Tap water is easy to come by in modern U.S. society. Is it dangerous to use water instead of windshield wiper fluid? 

Can water replace windshield wiper fluid?

A view of the black front seats, steering wheel, dashboard, and touchscreen of a 2022 Toyota Sienna Woodland Special Edition minivan
2022 Toyota Sienna Woodland Special Edition interior | Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Some drivers may want to use water instead of windshield washer fluid because of the harsh chemicals that put people, animals, and the environment at risk. According to Cars.com, the majority of windshield washer fluid products are made with potentially toxic ingredients.

This includes methanol or “other alcohols like ethylene glycol.” In addition, these products can also contain ethanol or antifreeze composed of methylated spirits. Manufacturers add these in order to avoid freezing at low temperatures.

Due to the existence of these chemicals, some may opt to use water instead. But does it work well enough to do the job? Ultimately, water won’t clean a windshield as well as wiper fluid because it lacks the cleaning elements that make windshield wiper fluid so effective. 

Plus, it can actually create a potentially dangerous situation or damage the reservoir and other components if the water freezes. So water is really only a suitable substitute if you live somewhere that temperatures don’t ever freeze. While water can replace washer fluid products, it’s best as a temporary substitute unless you don’t mind having some streaks or otherwise imperfectly cleared grime on the windshield

Are there safer alternatives to windshield wiper fluid that work well? 

windshield wiper fluid on display at a gas station
windshield wiper cleaning fluid | Michael S.Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

If you are on the hunt for the best windshield wiper fluid, Auto Guide recommends Prestone products. The all-season and winter Prestone washer fluid products are some of the best windshield wiper fluid options out there for those that want a sparkling clean and a product that won’t freeze. However, there are some options that contain fewer chemicals as well. 

For example, Nextzett Kristall Klar Washer Fluid is a concentrate option. Auto Guide points out that the pros for this product are that it’s ammonia-free and does not contain methanol. Water softeners also add to the effectiveness of this windshield wiper fluid. 

Wemk Windshield Washer tablets are another option. These are added to four liters of water before putting the resulting liquid into your washer fluid reservoir. This product isn’t chemical free, but it does also provide the option for use in a spray bottle during regular cleaning. Wemk is advertised as a fluid that’s effective for eliminating tree sap and road grime from the windshield. 

Note: both of these options are not suitable for use in freezing temperatures and should only be used in warmer climates where freezing is not a risk factor. 

Is water a suitable alternative to windshield wiper fluid? 

a dirty windshield streaked with grime in need of windshield wiper fluid
Dirty Windshield | Hendrik Schmidt/dpa-Zentralbild/ZB via Getty Images

At the end of the day, plenty of people do it. It’s not necessarily dangerous. Additionally, it can eliminate the dangers of toxic chemicals that are found in most mainstream windshield wiper fluid products. However, this won’t provide the same level of squeaky clean that many drivers desire when they are behind the wheel. 

Ultimately, it’s up to the driver to decide the best windshield wiper fluid option. The choice depends on their particular vehicle and the typical climate in their local driving area. Water can be used, but it’s not as effective. It’s also at risk of freezing in cold weather.

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