Can You Use Water Instead of Windshield Wiper Fluid? Expert Advice! 

(Last Updated On: February 27, 2024)

Windshield wiper fluid is an essential component of any vehicle, but can you use water instead of windshield wiper fluid if you run out? While it may seem like a quick and easy solution, some important factors should be considered before filling up the reservoir with water.

To answer the question you’re here for, can you use water instead of windshield wiper fluid? Yes, you can, but you shouldn’t. Water is acceptable to use in an emergency, top-up the windshield wiper fluid or dilute neat fluid, but it’s not good to have just water in the tank; read on for more details below.

What is windshield washer fluid? 

Windshield washer fluid is a combination of water, detergent, and alcohol. The water is used as a base for the liquid, while alcohol is used to lower the freezing point of the fluid, and the detergent helps break down dirt, dust, and oil on the windshield. Depending on their intended use, some windshield washer fluids contain additives such as anti-freeze, insect repellents, and lubricants.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Water

There are a few problems with using water instead of windshield wiper fluid.

First, the problem is water freezing at 0 degrees Celsius. At night for at least six months of the year, in some climates, temperatures can drop enough for the water in the tank to freeze. The problem is that it freezes inside all the water lines to feed the spray jets and causes a blockage, or it can take a long time to thaw.

The other issue with the water freezing point is when you’re driving in cold temperatures, even above freezing, the wind chill makes the windshield colder. So when you spray the windshield, the water freezes on it and instantly ruins your visibility. Now this isn’t so bad if you have a heated windshield, but that takes a minute or so to start working, which you can’t wait for if you’re driving.

Secondly, water on its own will struggle to clean the windshield properly. In the summer, bugs and oil will smear on the windscreen, failing to clean out to a point it may obstruct your ability to see through the windshield. In the winter, all the road dirt and grime that gets flung onto the windshield from the car in front doesn’t clean off properly, and that’s if the water will spray because it is probably frozen anyway.

The last problem that can occur is a blockage, so the wiper spray jets will not spray. It can be caused by a limescale build from prolonged tap water use.

Circumstances in Which Water Can Be Used

Top-up

Topping up the wiper fluid with water is fine; remember, it will dilute its strength, and depending on the time of year or the environment you’re driving in, that might cause a problem.

Wiper fluid dilution

Not all wiper fluids are ready to use pre-mix, and some require diluting with water. Where applicable, the bottle will advise you of the different dilution ratios depending on the temperatures or time of year.

Emergency

Imagine it’s quite a dusty summer day, and there is nothing in the washer tank to clean the windshield with; using bottled water is an excellent idea to keep the windshield clean. It won’t do a great job of cleaning the windscreen, but it will help.

If you pull over and find yourself at a gas station, nearly all sell some screen wash, and as indicated below, there are many different options; any screen wash at this point is better than just water. But use water if you have to. As always when in an emergency don’t forget to replace the washer fluid cap.

can you use water instead of windshield wiper fluid

Different Types of Wiper Fluid

So you chose not to fill the tank with just water and will use proper screen wash, and now there’s a range of choices. It might surprise you that different types of windshield wiper fluids have slightly other additives for their intended purpose.

  • Standard wiper fluid – Standard wiper fluid, also known as all-season screen wash, is the best windshield wiper fluid suitable for most environments and weather. Generally, standard wiper fluid is ideal for temperatures down to 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 degrees Celsius), but some go as low as -4 (-20). All while suitably being able to remove bugs and dirt from the windshield.
  • Bug repellent and remover screen wash – Exactly as the name suggests it has all the qualities of standard wiper fluid with the added bug-removing properties. It is sometimes also referred to as summer wiper fluid. It usually contains additives such as ammonia and Pyrethrin. Ammonia breaks down dead bugs on the windshield, and Pyrethrin is a commonly used bug repellent.
  • De-icer windshield washer fluid – De-icer wiper fluids or winter screen wash usually has anti-freeze as an added chemical. Its job is to melt snow and ice from the windshield while preventing the wiper fluid from freezing in the tank. It usually has operating conditions below -49 degrees Fahrenheit (-45 degrees Celsius).
  • Water beading screen wash – Water repellent or water beading screen washes are used to repel water from the windshield meaning you don’t need wipers. They clean the windshield fine but leave behind a coating on the screen similar to car wax. Water, dirt, bugs, and oil will struggle to stick to the windshield. It takes a bit of getting used to using these types of screen washes, and they aren’t for everyone. It takes a second or two of trust that the water will bead on the screen and fly off it when driving in a sudden downpour.

All windshield wiper fluids have their intended purpose and operating temperatures printed on the bottle label. Be mindful when choosing which you will need if you buy and use standard wiper fluid when it’s -10; expect it to freeze on the windshield if it does manage to spray out.

What Should You Use if You Can’t Get Wiper Fluid?

You can home-make a screen wash with some typical household products. Diluting glass cleaner and water is a good mix in the summer that will clean the windshield but will freeze in the winter. You can add some rubbing alcohol to this mix to lower the freezing point of the fluid to make it more suitable for winter use.

Final Thoughts

Using water instead of wiper fluid is ok in an emergency as long as it is outside and above-freezing temperatures. While water will work, it will not clean the screen, as well as a proper screen wash containing detergents will. If you manage to fill the wiper fluid and it is not spraying out, have a read of this next.

My name is Tom although my friends call me Tommy. Messing around with cars and bikes has always been a hobby of mine even from a young age. So I made it my day job 17 years ago. I am a fully qualified mechanic as you would expect. I've worked in all different areas of the motor trade, valeting, panel beating, engine repairs, I'm sure you get the idea. I enjoy sharing my wealth of knowledge and experience with others, which is the reason I spend a lot of time here writing for this website.

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