How to Refresh Fading or Dirty Vinyl Window Frames

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Intro

kitchen sink in a fancy kitchen

It’s no secret that replacement windows are one of the smartest investments you can make as a homeowner. After all, they mean better sound-proofing, reduced energy expenses, and improved comfort. But they’re also a big financial investment, so if you haven’t had to worry about any of these issues, it may be worth trying to salvage the windows you already have, while you save up for new ones on the side. And many a dreary window has been virtually resurrected by something as simple as a good cleaning and some new paint.

However, there are some things you should know before diving right in. First, take a good look at all the windows in your home—even in the basement, guest rooms, or other rarely-used spaces. Make sure that the windows are still structurally intact and that the seals between the window panes haven’t failed. How will you know? Look for condensation on the inside of the window, which is a telltale sign of seal failure. Next, use this leak detection guide to locate leaks around the sides and interiors of the windows—if you do find small gaps, you may need to caulk these or plug them with weatherstripping. Also, check for mold, peeling paint, or puffy or discolored walls—these can be signs of water infiltration. Water leaks in your windows generally mean you need a replacement as soon as possible.

Once you’ve determined that all your windows are in relatively good condition, and that your problems are merely aesthetic, you’re ready to give your vinyl windows a good spiffing up. Here’s how.

clean windows frames

Clean Your Window Frames Really Well

Cleaning your window frames thoroughly should always be your first step. The reason? Many times, windows are covered in dust, mold, or oxidation, which makes them lose that brand-new luster. Even if you know your frames need more than a deep cleaning, you should get them squeaky clean anyhow. If you wind up repainting, you’ll need a clean surface to work with before you start, so a thorough wash won’t hurt anything. Generally, you should use this two-step process to get a sparkling clean:

  • Cleaning Around the Frame. The coloring on vinyl is delicate, so don’t use anything too harsh that could bleach or further fade the color. Instead, fill a spray bottle with one part vinegar to two parts water. Give your window frames a good dousing, and allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes. Then gently rub the surface with a soft-bristle scrub brush, and use a cloth to wipe away any remaining debris.
  • Spot-Treat Mold and Oxidation. Sometimes windows may be afflicted by heavy rust or mold, as well, which means they may need something more heavy duty than a vinegar rinse. Oxidation on vinyl frames usually appears as a chalky white substance, which can make the windows seem much older than they are. To get rid of it, use a specially-formulated house cleaner, or mix together ⅓ of a cup of laundry detergent, ⅔ of a cup of powdered household cleaner, plus one quart of bleach and one gallon of water. Use a spray bottle and a soft-bristled brush to clean the frames, as described in the section above.

Close up of a man's arm and hand holding a paint brush and painting white latex paint on an interior window frame

Consider Repainting

If that doesn’t work, you may want to think about simply painting over the stains. A couple of caveats here: first of all, painting may void your existing manufacturer’s warranty. If your windows are older or if your warranty has already run out, that may not matter to you, but otherwise, you should think twice before you run for the paintbrush. Secondly, always choose a color that matches or is lighter than the existing hue; otherwise, the result might be warped vinyl, broken seals, or even cracked glass. Lastly, the paint will not adhere to the vinyl surface without a good coat of primer, but the primer itself could soften or alter the structural integrity of the frames. All in all, if you decide to repaint, you’re taking a bit of a gamble, so only do it if you’re sure that it’s worth the risk.

Read all that and still ready to try your hand at a repaint? Here’s how to do it:

  • Choose the Right Paint. Purchase vinyl-safe reflective polyurethane enamel paint and primer rated for vinyl surfaces.
  • Wash and Dry the Frames. Give the frames a good wash, using the steps described above. Make sure to dry them well afterward.
  • Sand the Surface. Lightly sand the frames with 220 or 240-grit sandpaper to get the primer to adhere.
  • Tape Off the Windows. To ensure that you don’t paint the glass in the window frames, apply painter’s tape to the edge of every pane.
  • Prime the Frames. Apply one coat of primer to the window frames using a sponge brush. Allow it to dry fully, waiting at least six to eight hours before continuing.
  • Paint the Frames. Apply two coats of vinyl-safe paint to the surface, allowing the frames to dry completely in between coats. Make sure to paint in smooth, even strokes to prevent drips from forming. Use a razor blade to clean up any paint that may have gotten onto the glass. Then pull off the tape and you’re done!
    New efficient, three pane wooden window prepared for installation in an old wooden house, changing wasteful old windows. Home renovation, sustainable living, energy efficiency concept.

If All Else Fails, Look for Affordable Replacement Windows

Does painting sound like too much work? You can always replace the windows. New windows offer improved comfort and security, and many window sellers have financing options if you’re not able to afford them upfront. Plus, with a variety of energy-efficient models and features available on the market now, you’ll likely save money on your electricity bills, as well. Now tell me that’s not refreshing!