Why Are My Wipers Smearing?

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Your Wipers Aren't Working, or Not Well At All. No Problem.

Wipers streaking on windshield
Wipers that are smearing, streaking and not working. Getty

If you are living with windshield wipers that aren't doing a good job cleaning the windscreen, you are a frustrated person. We tend to only think about wipers when we need them -- in the rain -- but there's nothing worse than turning on your wipers only to have them make it even harder to see.

This can be a serious bummer, but also a serious safety concern! Smearing, streaking and dead spots are all symptoms of poor wiper performance. We rely on our wipers to clear the windshield quickly and efficiently so we don't run off the road or plow into the back of a Smart car. If your wipers are old, it's time to replace them. But if you've replaced your wipers recently and they are still not efficient cleaners, here are some potential causes:

  • Worn Wipers. When wipers are truly worn out, there's not much you can do to bring them back. A dry, brittle or damaged wiper blade needs to be replaced soon. 
  • Perpetually Filthy Windshield. If your windshield is always dirty, your wipers are working harder and suffering slight damage every time you turn them on for the first time. In snowy regions, it's hard to keep things clean, but taking advantage of the windshield cleaning stations when you fill up will give you a fresh start from time to time. Even the windshield outside of the wiping area should be clean. 
  • Dirty Wipers. Believe it or not, your wipers need cleaning, too. Giving them a wipe down from time to time will make them much more efficient, and you'll get lots more useful life out of them before a costly replacement. They aren't cheap anymore!
  • Cracked or Chipped Windshield. Any damage to the smooth surface of your windscreen can wear away at the rubber wiper blades and cause poor wiper performance. Repair any chips or cracks that are possible and reasonable to fix. I don't think I'd consider replacing a windshield just because my wipers were wearing out a little more quickly than they need to!
  • Worn Windshield. A windscreen with a lot of miles behind it will lose that glasslike smoothness. Under a microscope, it can almost appear porous. Not only does a peppered windshield cause more wear to your windshield wipers, all of those tiny little divots in the glass interfere with the special squeegee action your wipers use to wipe away the water. Again, I'm not suggesting you replace it just to save wiper wear, but window treatment products like Rain-X can help out a lot in these situations. 
  • Dry Wiping. Any time your wipers slide across a dry windshield they are hating it. Water acts as a lubricant to make the wipers squeegee well and easily glide across the surface of the glass. Even almost-dry wiping, for instance when clearing mist or salt spray form the windscreen, can be damaging. Before you turn on your windshield wipers for the first time each trip, it's a good idea to use your windshield washer to pre-wet the glass and loosen up anything that you might not want your wiper blades to drag across. 
  • Snow or Ice Jams. During winter months, snow and ice can build up in every corner or crevice of your wipers. When scraping your windshield, gently rub your gloved hand across the surface of the blade to remove any frozen bits. Also be sure to check the area above the blade that gives the wiper that springy, form-fitting-to-the-windshield action. Ice loves to hang out here and can cause a huge dead spot in your wiping area.