A car's windshield wipers. Automakers have engineered wipers to be able to wipe water, snow and dirt off your car's windshield effectively and efficiently. Here's how windshield wipers operate.

How Do Windshield Wipers Work With Different Types of Debris?

How do windshield wipers work to keep the glass in front of you clean when you’re dealing with more than just heavy rainfall? Wipers are designed to take care of more than just water — they are also intended to swipe, slip and slosh almost anything that might be obscuring your vision.

Snow and Ice

If you live where the winters are cold and harsh, then you know just how important it is to have a set of windshield wipers that can maintain visibility in even the deepest of blizzards. How do windshield wipers work when the temperature drops below the freezing point? The key is to use rubber compounds that remain flexible even when everything else around them is stiffening up from the extreme conditions. This is often achieved by infusing the blade itself with special materials (like silica) to keep it pliable.

Other tricks that automakers have come up with over the years include special heated spots at the base of the windshield where the wipers rest that can help the rubber break free from the ice that may be sticking them to the glass. This helps prevent tearing and cracking of the blade, prolonging their life and keeping your windshield streak-free. By the same token, heated washer fluid jets can melt through accumulated snow and ensure a clear spray onto the windshield for maximum cleaning effect.

Sand and Dirt

Windshield Wipers Dirt

Generally, it’s not a good idea to use your wipers to swipe anything grainy like sand or dirt from your windshield, due to the chance that you’ll scratch — even if only on a micro-level — the glass itself. If you do have to hit the wipers because sand is obscuring the road ahead, then you’ll need to make sure to spray copious amounts of washer fluid onto your windshield first. This will help put the particles in solution, and reduce the chance that they’ll cause any damage as they ride on a film during the wipe itself.

Mud

Mud is generally a safe-to-wipe situation, because while it might not be clear like rain, it’s mostly water and maintains the solution required to reduce the chance of scratching described above. Keep in mind, however, that mud can always contain larger, sharper objects that could do serious damage to your glass. If it’s soupy enough, you probably don’t have to worry, but thick, or caked-on, dried-on mud should be washed using soap and a sponge to reduce the chances of scratches appearing on your windshield.

Windshield wipers do more than just push water off your windshield. The components are made to ensure you have a clear view of what lies ahead regardless of what’s on your car’s windshield. Wipers can remove everything from snow, slush, mud and light debris.

Check out all the vision and safety parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how your windshield wipers work, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

about author

Benjamin Hunting

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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