Turning Water into Windshield Washer Fluid

Good or bad idea?

Lots of people have done it. You run out of windshield washer fluid, forget to buy more, and fill up the reservoir with water to use in the meantime. Then maybe you asked yourself, “Is it bad to use plain water in place of windshield washer fluid? Does it really matter?” To be honest, there are pros and cons to both water and windshield washer fluid. Read on and decide what you think is best for you and your car.

What is windshield washer fluid, anyway?

Windshield washer fluid is generally a mixture of solvent, antifreeze, and detergent. Some advanced formulas may include methylated spirits, which prevent the fluid from freezing in the tubing or reservoir during the wintertime. Other windshield washer fluids are specifically formulated to remove bugs, tar, or other forms of grime.

So, is windshield washer fluid necessary?

Ok, so now we know what windshield washer fluid is made of. But how does plain old water compare? In fact, water is already a main staple for cleaning, cooling, and powering your car. That’s why vehicles have a water pump for keeping the engine cool. Some car batteries also require distilled water to replenish electrolyte levels. When it comes to your windshield, water can wash away regular dirt and dust. However, it may not be sufficiently powerful to clean certain splatters, like bird droppings and bug parts. And in colder months, water can quickly freeze on the windshield surface, creating a potentially dangerous situation. For this reason, water alone is inadequate for winter use. In the summer, however, water may work well enough if you don’t mind cleaning windshield debris that won’t come off with just H2O.


Ok, got it, but windshield washer fluid is relatively cheap. Any benefits, besides cost, to using water?

While windshield washer fluid is superior to water from a performance standpoint, it does have a major drawback—the ethanol and methanol in the fluid are poisonous and toxic for the environment. Windshield washer fluid can also erode paint finishes and damage rubber and plastic parts. Bottomline: water won’t hurt your car or the environment in any way, but it’s simply not as effective or efficient as windshield washer fluid.

When you come to Aardvark Automotive for vehicle maintenance, we’ll check all your fluids and make sure they’re in good condition. Now that winter is upon us, we recommend sticking with quality windshield washer fluid to keep your windshield clear during bad weather.

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