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my main question is what is the correct verb to precede the noun "windows" to indicate removal of dirt, etc.

The reason I ask is that despite being an English teacher I'm also Dutch, and sometimes I can't tell for certain if something "sounds right" because of my Dutch or because of my English.

I had "to wash the windows" in a test, and a pupil asked if it shouldn't be "to clean the windows". I couldn't explain and really have no idea where to look for these kinds of usages.

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After reading the other answers/comments, it seems like the preferred verb is a regional thing. J. Taylor commented that it's "do windows" in American English - but, where I've lived in America, I've never heard that phrase. (For what it's worth, it's usually "wash" in the western US.)

Either "wash" or "clean" is valid as a verb here, and, for all intents and purposes, they mean the same thing. So, this might not be the best question for an English test. (;


For true window-washing enthusiasts, image searching on US-based Google reveals the most common uses of these phrases:

"window washer" -> a profession

"window cleaner" -> a cleaning product

"window wiper" -> a squeegee

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I had "to wash the windows" in a test, and a pupil asked if it shouldn't be "to clean the windows". I couldn't explain and really have no idea where to look for these kinds of usages.

Sorry but I think the kid is right :)

I think this is probably the right place to look. In England we have a profession called "window cleaners". Therefore clean the windows is used. We also use "wipe" the windows due to the action of wiping or windscreen wipers. Wash is usually used in a more encompassing sense. I wash the dog, I wash the car. But I don't hose down the windows, I make them clean. When I shop I look for a window cleaning brush or a squeegee (like a hand held wiper blade). And yes, oddly, squeegee is used too.

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As a native speaker of American English either sounds fine to me, although there is a subtle difference in meaning: washing implies cleaning with water.

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