How to Defrost Car Windows and Other Winter Conundrums

Learn how to defrost car windows as quickly as possible and safely rid your vehicle of snow, ice and salt.
how to defrost car windows

Snowfall is a visual delight but a logistical nightmare if you’re trying to drive. Cold weather, snow, ice and sleet – not to mention the chemicals used to melt them – can wreak havoc on your vehicle.

But improperly ridding your vehicle of these impediments can make things worse and even cause long-lasting damage. Once winter arrives, you’ll need to know the answers to these cold weather car maintenance questions.

How to defrost car windows effectively and efficiently

Start with a properly operating heater. If the engine is not getting up to the proper operating temperature, the defroster will be much less effective. Set the climate control to full defrost rather than bi-level. This will direct the maximum airflow at the windshield.

If your car has the option, the defroster should be on the fresh air setting rather than re-circulated air.

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How can you remove snow without damaging your car?

Use a long-handle snow brush or snow broom (sometimes called a snow rake). Clean from the middle and push or pull the snow. Doing this before the snow turns into ice will prevent damaging the paint.

Clean the entire car – hood, roof, lights and license plates.

How does salt damage your car and how can you prevent it from happening?

Salt (sodium chloride) and other road chemicals (magnesium, calcium chloride and other brines) can cause accelerated rusting.

To prevent this, you should clean any accumulated salt off your vehicle as soon as practical. Flushing with clean fresh water is ideal. During winter, an occasional undercarriage wash will help wash away any built-up salt, sand or other road de-icing chemicals. If your car is covered with sticky brine, salt or other chemical substances, don’t park the car in the garage. The warmer air will speed up the corrosion process. Wash and dry the car before putting it in a garage. Touch up any paint damage (scratches) before it starts to rust.

how to defrost car windows

What’s the best way to remove ice from the car?

If you are able to open the door and get in, do so and start the car. This will allow the vehicle to warm up and begin to melt the ice.

Do not use sharp edge products – and never use a shovel. A strong plastic ice scraper will do just fine. Another option, once the car starts to heat up and lightly thaw, is banging on the ice with the snow broom to loosen the ice. You can also use an aerosol de-icer spray on the glass, but be aware this is mostly alcohol and may remove wax from the paint.

Stock up on snow and ice removal tools.

If the car door is frozen shut, what should you do?

Never pour hot water on the door. Although this may get you into the car, you have just added more water that will likely freeze again.

First, make sure to try all the doors. If it’s an SUV, even try the hatch. You may find one door that you can get in. Don’t yank on the door handles as they can break. Try banging your hand along the edge of the door, which may free up the ice. You could try to spray de-icer or even use a hair dryer to melt the snow. Or just wait until the sun comes out if that’s an option.

Once you get the door open, wipe down all the rubber gaskets to remove any moisture and then spray the gaskets with silicone. This will displace any moisture and prevent door freezing. You should ideally do this a couple of times per year.

Share your tips on how to defrost car windows in the comments below. 

Have an automotive question? Ask AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor, and check out all of our car maintenance tips.


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33 Thoughts on “How to Defrost Car Windows and Other Winter Conundrums

  1. Here’s a tip for lessening the chance of your doors icing up after a car wash on a cold winter’s day:
    As soon as the car exits the wash bay (and if someone is there to dry off windows and some of the exterior) I pull over, open all the doors, but then only shut them until the lock (partly) engages – not shut tight, but it won’t open when pulled on.
    I then drive with the heater blasting max temperature, max blowing for a little bit – to force hot air out of the spaces between the partially-shut doors and the body of the car – to dry those areas.
    After a while I get out and push all the doors fully shut.

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