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Why You Shouldn't Fly With A Dirty Windshield

Swayne Martin

Flying with a dirty windshield is much more than an inconvenience. It can be downright hazardous. With rain on the way and more bugs in the air this spring and summer, here's what you need to know.

Reduced Forward Visibility

Grime, dirt, and bugs on the windshield reduce your forward visibility, which is the last thing you want when flying a few hundred miles per hour through all kinds of weather. Depending on the angle of the sun, you might even run into significant glare characteristics that make it impossible to see outside entirely.

One of your preflight checks should be to check the windshield for contamination and make a judgment about whether or not it should be cleaned. There are some more specific hazards you need to be aware of, and we'll talk about them below.

The Negative Effects Of Rain And Mist

If you're a student, instructor, or GA pilot, you probably don't fly an airplane with windshield wipers. The more contamination on the windshield, the harder it is for the surface to clear drops of rain or mist. This is exacerbated by grime, dust, or dirt. In the worst of cases, the drops of rain or mist will essentially "stick" to the windshield instead of rolling off like normal.

Swayne Martin

"Report The Traffic In-Sight"

When ATC gives you a traffic alert, having a clean windshield is critical. Spots, dirt, and bugs will make it extremely difficult to spot other small, black dots in the sky. Your eyes have a tougher time focusing on objects far away when something obstructs your vision at a close range.

Think of how a camera lens focuses on a pane of glass covered with rain. Re-focusing the lens is the only way to see detail in objects beyond the water drops. Your eyes work in a similar, more efficient way.


Nighttime Approaches

One of the absolute worst places to have a contaminated windshield is during a nighttime landing. Dark conditions result in reduced visibility, and any grime covering the windshield makes this even worse. As you approach the runway, bright approach lights and runway lights fill your windscreen.

If the windshield has any sort of grime like oil or leftover anti/de-ice fluid covering it, the light will blur across the surface, making it nearly impossible to see outside. This makes depth perception, and especially height above ground a tough challenge. Once you're down, simply turning off the runway will be equally as challenging at night, with dim taxiway lights blurring together across the windshield.


Use A Microfiber Cloth And An Approved Cleaner

Since most GA windshields are made of acrylic and will scratch easily, you should never use Windex or paper towels. Always have CLEAN microfiber cloths on-hand with an approved cleaning spray like Plexus, All Kleer, or Clear View. A hands-free wash is one of the best options for cleaning off your windshield, but that might not always be practical.

We use the Rinseless Wash from Adam's Polishes, along with microfiber cloths to clean dirt and bugs off of our windscreen. Then, we finish polishing the clean windscreen with a Double Soft Microfiber Towel. The two-step process leaves the windscreen crystal clear and damage-free.

PRO TIP: When you're cleaning bugs off the windshield, do not press down hard when wiping. Use a lot of liquid to soften up the bugs. Then, simply brush them off, and switch to a new microfiber cloth if you get a lot of bugs on the cloth. Using the same, bug-filled cloth for the entire cleaning can result in numerous scratches across the windshield from the bugs' tough outer shell scraping against the acrylic. Unfortunately, we've learned this from experience.

Adam's Polishes

How do you clean your windshield? Tell us in the comments below.

Protect your certificate with AOPA Pilot Protection Services. Learn more and get started here.

Swayne Martin

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and a First Officer on the Boeing 757/767 for a Major US Carrier. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines, and flew Embraer 145s at the beginning of his airline career. Swayne is an author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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