How to Clean Ice Off A Car Without Scratching It, and Things to Avoid

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Ice scraper - window cleaning

Living in any cold climate comes with plenty of headaches around wintertime. If your car is parked outside, you’ll often wake up to an iced-over and snowed-in car. Rather than packing up and moving to sunny Florida, there are some easy tips to remove the ice from your car without scratching it. We’ll outline some of these techniques and even tell you what to avoid doing in order to preserve your car.

Why Ice Loves Cars

Let’s take a quick flashback to science class. When water gets cold it turns into ice. For people in the northern half of America, this is a big deal. It’s not uncommon to come outside to your car in January and see it all iced over.

This is due to the surface tension as well as the materials used in a car. Namely, the glass in your car is a big problem when it comes to freezing over. You probably already know this – every time you have to scrape off ice, it’s typically from your windows. 

The glass allows the water droplets to bead up and sit on the glass. From there, the glass is a poor insulator, so it gets really cold, allowing those droplets to freeze over. Heck, it doesn’t even need to snow or rain for your windows to freeze over. Sometimes, just the condensation from the great outdoors will cause your windows to freeze.

When it rains or snows, the body of your car might also ice over. In general, it’s easier to remove this ice, but you can face the same issues of scratching.

You Can Easily Scratch Your Car

Scratching your car is insanely easy to do. You can hit your watch or jewelry against the side of your car and be left with a sizeable scratch. For angry ex-girlfriends, using a simple pair of keys is enough to leave your car scratched.

Sure, cars have a topcoat that tries to help protect the vehicle, but it can’t do a ton against sharp objects. We’re willing to bet that anyone with a car that’s a few years old has at least a few scratches and they have no idea where they came from.

If you apply an object with a small surface area against your car, you’ll be left with a scratch. Something as arbitrary as a credit card can even scratch your car if it’s held the wrong way.

Ice-scraper-window-cleaning

Scratches are Bad News

What happens when your car gets scratched? It all depends on where the scratch is, where you live, and how deep it is. Spoiler alert: no matter where the scratch is, it can be really bad news.

Scratches on a Car’s Body

If the scratch is on the body of your car, it could be pretty bad news. As the scratch gathers moisture and gets worse over time, you could be left with giant rust spots on your car. This rust will eat away at the metal of your car’s body and can expose unprotected parts of your car like your framework.

Scratches in Cold Climates

A scratch anywhere on your car is even worse if you live in cold climates. Moisture will get into the crack, no matter how small it is. From there, the moisture will freeze, expanding and pressing against the crack. It will eventually thaw, puddle up in the crack, and freeze again.

This process repeats over and over again. Every cycle will expand the crack – making it deeper and wider. With enough exposure, the scratch will get to a point where rust will start to form and more damage will be done.

If this scratch is on a piece of glass, the result is a crack that cascades across the glass and can eventually break the piece. You’ll notice a tiny chip on your windshield gets worse in the winter when enough time goes by.

Ice-scraper-window-cleaning

Scratches on Your Windshield

We just alluded to this, but scratches on your windshield can eventually lead to the glass breaking. Even in warm climates, this is the case.

When you look at the physics of driving a car, there are a lot of vibrations and big forces. When there’s a little scratch on your windshield, every vibration will propagate the scratch. Propagation is when the scratch turns into a small crack, then a bigger crack, then eventually works its way across your windshield.

This is why auto glass repair companies always suggest replacing your windshield when a tiny scratch is present. You want to fix it before it shatters your windshield on the highway.

How To Clean Ice Off A Car Without Scratching It

Now that you know how scary a scratch can be, it’s important to understand how to avoid scratching your car. These tips are exactly what you should do in order to avoid scratching your car or glass. In the following section, we’ll explain some things to avoid doing in order to preserve your car.

Use Auto-Start

If your car has auto-start, it’s time to use it. As long as your car’s vents are turned to hot air and your defrosters are on, you can just run your car for some time to heat the inside of your car. As the internal temperature rises, the ice will simply melt and slide away.

If you want to save money on gas, this isn’t a great option for you since idling your car wastes gas. In our opinion, this is a much-warranted waste of money, but it’s up to you.

Car-auto-start-app
Car starting app

Grab the Right Brush

The best possible method is to use the right tool. This ice scraper and snow brush from Amazon is one that we’re in love with.

The brush is soft enough so that it won’t damage your paint or windshield as you use it. If you use the scraper on ice or snow on your car’s body, make sure you don’t come in contact with the car. The ice scraper should never touch the paint of your car because this will lead to scratches. It can be used on your windshield with no issues, though.

The goal is to not use a lot of force or slam the tool into your vehicle. If you use stiff bristles, you also risk scratching your car. Luckily, the bristles on this tool are perfect.

Ditch Your Jewelry

Jewelry is a quick way to accidentally scratch your vehicle. Rings and watches – especially ones with precious gems on the surface – need to be removed before you clean the ice from your car.

Heavy chain necklaces can also scratch your car as you lean over to remove the ice. It’s better safe than sorry. You can always put your jewelry back on after the car is de-iced.

Grab a Leaf Blower

That’s right, leaf blowers aren’t just for blowing leaves, they can also be used to get rid of ice and snow on your car. It’s primarily used for snow removal on your car, but it can help flick off the ice that’s starting to melt.

The process is pretty self-explanatory: aim the blower at the ice and snow on your car and let the magic happen.

Car-leaf-blower
Leaf blower

Can You Wait?

It might seem like an odd suggestion, but waiting it out is a viable option. The ice will naturally melt as the sun beats down on it. If you have nowhere to go, you might be better of just waiting until you absolutely need to use your car.

Use a De-Icer

There’s a magical little bottle that can help you here. It’s a special formula called a de-icer, and it’s great for people in a hurry. We suggest this one:

Prestone AS244 Windshield De-Icer – 17oz. Aerosol (TWIN PACK)Prestone AS244 Windshield De-Icer – 17oz. Aerosol (TWIN PACK)

Prestone-AS244-Windshield-De-Icer-17oz.-Aerosol-TWIN-PACK
Prestone AS244 Windshield De-Icer – 17oz. Aerosol (TWIN PACK)

LINK HERE

You spray the formula directly onto the ice or snow you’re looking to remove. A little chemical reaction goes off and the ice almost immediately melts away and disappears. Modern de-icers don’t do any damage to the bodywork or glass of your vehicle. Just avoid spraying it inside your car and anywhere near your engine or exhaust pipe.

Try a Microfiber Towel

Depending on how stubborn the ice and snow are, you might get away with using a microfiber towel. You can use a little extra elbow grease to get rid of the ice without fear of scratching the paint or glass. Please ensure the towel is a microfiber before getting started – a stiff or tough towel with the wrong material of construction WILL scratch your car.

You can find great towel options as part of the wax kit we suggest buying.

Avoid Ice In the Future

When your car is de-iced and you want to avoid this issue in the future, there are a few different methods to consider. The best option is to obviously park it in a garage or a carport. We know that this option isn’t available to everyone, but it’s worth stating the obvious.

You can also cover your car with a tarp or some towels. You can use magnets to keep the tarp on. When you’re ready to drive, just remove it and reveal your perfectly ice-free vehicle. We also suggest a windshield cover that is pretty cheap and works really well.

What NOT to Do When There’s Ice on Your Car

As promised, here’s the section all about what NOT to do. These are common problems that we hear people talk about all the time, and many people don’t realize how bad they are.

Car-frozen-in-ice.

DON’T Just Drive and Ignore the Ice

There are way too many people on the highway with iced-over windows and a tiny little submarine porthole open in their windshield for them to see through. This is a terrible idea because it’s insanely dangerous. You just turned 90% of your field of vision into blind spots.

The right thing to do is remove the ice from all of your windows, completely. Crossed fingers and silent prayers can only get you so far.

DON’T Use Your Sleeve

There are a few reasons why you want to avoid using your shirt’s or jacket’s sleeve on your windshield and car. For one, the material of the sleeve can quickly scratch the paint and glass.

Additionally, you could have micro debris like metal or hard plastics that also scratch. In addition, you might be introducing oils or dust onto these surfaces. Next thing you know, you’ll be faced with removing fog from your car’s windows.

DON’T Use Boiling Water

From time to time, a hair-brained trend makes its way across the internet. A repeat offender is the idea that you can throw boiling water on your car to quickly melt the ice and snow. Avoid this at all costs.

One possible outcome is that your windshield shatters with the introduction of such a dramatic change of temperature. A more likely outcome is that the hot water immediately freezes and makes things much worse.

To avoid boring you with the science, may it suffice to say that hot water will not help you in thawing your car at all.

DON’T Grab a Shovel

Snow and a shovel go together like peanut butter and jelly, right? In the case of removing snow or ice from your car, that’s not the case.

Some people will shovel their driveway then use the same shovel to get the snow off their car and scrape the ice. If your shovel has a metal plate, you’re going to completely ruin your car.

Even without the metal plate, there could be embedded pebbles, plastic, or stones in the shovel. What about using a brand-new shovel? The hard plastic has ridges and will scratch your car if it’s held incorrectly or pushed with too much force.

Car-Ice-Shovel-Scraping

DON’T Use Your Windshield Wipers

Finally, our favorite winter-time myth to dispel: the use of wipers to get rid of ice. Boy, isn’t it so convenient? Your wipers are filled with fluid that’s ice-proof. Some people think you can run your wipers on high and keep the fluid coming until the ice is all gone.

What you don’t realize is that wipers are made up of really flimsy rubber and plastic and a small metal blade. Rubbing these wipers against ice is a quick way to ruin the wiper blades. The next time it’s raining, you’ll notice that your blades are simply smearing the rain, not wiping it away. This is the direct result of using wipers to clear away ice.

Conclusion

At this point, you should know exactly what to do when your car is iced over. We also included some options to avoid in order to keep your car alive forever. If you want to see some more car tools and accessories we suggest, check out our “recommended” page. For more car care tips, take a look around the rest of our blog.

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Motor-Hills

Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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