In freezing temperatures it's not uncommon for some people's windshield washer fluid to freeze. If this hasn't happened to you before, consider yourself lucky. Not being able to see out of your front window is extremely dangerous.
Choosing the Best Fluid for Prevention
Of course, prevention is always the best option. To prevent your windshield wiper fluid from freezing make sure you buy a good quality windshield wiper fluid that is appropriate for the weather.
There are many different kinds of windshield washer fluid, from “all-season” to “de-icer,” but if you live anywhere that gets extremely cold, you're going to want to pick up a winter solution, rather than a summer one. The ratio in a winter solution is typically 1:1—1 part anti-freeze and 1 part water—whereas a summer blend is usually 1:10—1 part antifreeze and 10 parts water.
You do not want to use a summer blend in the winter, because it will have more water in it than a winter blend. You can also buy an anti-freeze windshield wiper fluid, which is typically alcohol-based; this solution will not only prevent freezing, but also melt frost and ice on your windshield.
Sometimes even the “right” fluid gets old and the methylated spirits evaporate, making your washer fluid mostly water, and we all know that water freezes rather quickly in freezing temperatures. Not to mention, cheaper washer fluids already have more water mixed in than the more expensive ones.
If your washer fluid freezes, you have to thaw it out. The important thing to remember is that if it freezes once it will freeze again. After you manage to thaw it out, you have to drain it completely and put in a better washer fluid, or you're not really fixing the problem.
Methods for Thawing Windshield Washer Fluid
In case you didn’t think about this beforehand and you’re already experiencing a frozen solution, here are a few tips to help you thaw it out.
Warning: No matter what option you choose to thaw out your windshield wiper fluid, do not pour hot water over the nozzles to try and thaw any ice buildup. The hot water mixed with the cold air can crack your glass window.
The easiest way to get your window washer fluid back to a liquid state is to park your car in a warm garage. Although this is the simplest solution, it can take a bit of time for your windshield wiper fluid to thaw, but at least it doesn't require much work.
Once the fluid is back to a liquid state, you have to drain it from the system and put in the proper fluid, preferably a good quality anti-freeze windshield wiper fluid.
If you don't have a garage you can park your car in, or you don't have time to wait, there are a few other options.
With this option you'll need to either get your car parked close to an outlet or use an extension cord. If you’re able to safely get your hairdryer close enough to your car, plug in the hairdryer; turn it on; and point it at the windshield washer reservoir and hoses. The hot air will circulate around the frozen fluid and it will eventually thaw.
Now you can clear the system of the no-good washer fluid and replace it with a better solution.
If you find yourself struggling to think of what else to do, the next best option is to use heating pads. All you have to do is stuff a few heating pads in and around the reservoir bottle, preferably lower to allow the heat to rise upward. This will eventually warm up the fluid enough for you to at least use your windshield washer and work the warm fluid up through the lines and out the nozzles.
Finally, the last option is to remove the reservoir bottle from the vehicle and take it inside to warm up near a heater vent. Just remember to place it in either a bucket or pan to prevent liquid from getting all over your floor as it thaws out.
Or, you can flush it in hot water. Once removed, the reservoir can be filled with extremely hot water to flush the fluid out of the lines and nozzle. After it's been fully drained, you can fill with a stronger windshield wiper anti-freeze and put it back in your car.
The problem with this option is that removing the reservoir is not always an easy task, and certainly isn't recommended unless you know what you're doing.
The bottom line is, the more anti-freeze in the solution, the lower the freezing point, which is what you want in a colder climate. If you're still having trouble deciding on which windshield wiper fluid is best, don't be afraid to ask your mechanic or a professional at an auto store.