How To Clean, Prep, & Frost An Exterior Window

We’re back to share a quick and easy window-frosting tutorial as promised last week. We knew our basement windows were completely devoid of privacy and therefore could use a bit of cover, but we didn’t want to hang heavy blinds that we kept perpetually closed since that would definitely rob the room of tons of light. Enter the idea of window film. We actually used it to frost the original master bathroom window after we moved in. Then we later replaced all of our windows and realized our private backyard didn’t provide a good view of the bathroom since it’s up so high, so we opted not to redo the frosting treatment afterwards. But the basement is certainly a lot easier to peer into than the bathroom, so out came the idea of window frosting film again.

We snagged a roll of it at Home Depot for $18.98 (we needed just one to do both windows and the large pane of glass in the door). Oh and the brand was called Gila if that helps anyone. We also grabbed a spray bottle of film adhesive along with a a tool kit complete with a squeegie-ish device and a knife to help with the application for seven more bucks. So for $26 we added privacy without blocking all the light that filters into the room and makes it feel less cave-like and dungeon-esque.

But before we got to the frosting fun we had some seriously dirty windows to deal with. Not only were they coated with dust and grime, they actually had Drylok spatters all over them (both inside and out- go figure!) so first we had to get them cleaned up and ready for their close up.

All the splatters were no match for a straight edge razor, which we always recommend using with extreme caution. Fingers are kind of important when you’re as obsessed with painting and projects as we are, so we guard ours with our life. Grippy gloves can help as long as they’re tight enough to feel snug and not cumbersome, and the best approach is always slow and steady. Of course you can grab a utility knife holder for even more control (which we recommend for your safety- this photo is just a pic of our process, not our suggested approach for others). So be extra safe, take a deep breath, channel the tortoise (as opposed to the hare), and watch that paint come peeling off!

You should be left with pretty darn clean windows, and following your little razor session with a glass cleaner wipedown should be all the prep you need. Basically you know you’re ready to frost your windows when they look so sparkly that it almost seems wrong to cover them up with anything. They’ll gleam like diamonds I tell ya.

But frost them you must (well you don’t have to, but in our case it was definitely the way to go). So the next step is to carefully measure each pane of glass that you want to frost. This is important because you’re not measuring the entire window if it’s made up of two side by side panes (like ours is above), so be sure to measure each glass pane individually, no matter how many there are in each window.

Then add an inch on each side of those measurements, so if your window is 15″ wide by 20″ tall you will write down 17″ by 22″ (an inch on each side means adding two inches to each measurement). Then it’s time to whip out the roll of frosting film from the box. It’ll look like a long roll of white wrapping paper with a shiny clear side and a more matte frosted side. Now’s the cutting and measuring part. Grab a ruler (or a t-square if you have one on hand) and measure and cut boxes out of the film that meet the measurements that you recorded (the ones with extra inches on each side, not the exact measurements of the windows). You can either use a pencil to trace each box out onto the matte frosted side and then cut them out OR just cut without drawing anything out (being sure you end up with a box that’s pretty close to the larger measurements you recorded).

After you cut out a slightly oversized square of window film for each pane you’re ready to separate the film from the glossy plastic backing, which can easily be done by placing a piece of tape on each side of a corner (being careful not to let the tops touch or they’ll just stick together completely). They should each adhere to their respective side so you’ll be able to use them to separate the frosting film (seen below on the left) from the clear plastic protective backing (seen on the right) which won’t be applied to the window in the end.

So go ahead and pull those two layers apart about halfway down the square until it looks a little something like this:

It definitely helps to have two people for this job by the way. That way one person can hold the half-peeled film up while the other sprays the window and then both sides of the frosted part of the film with the application solution (ours was called Gila Window Film Application Solution by the way). Note: we’ve heard you can forgo buying the application spray and just fill a spray bottle with water and a drop of dishwashing liquid, but since we didn’t have an empty spray bottle and use eco-detergent (which we weren’t sure would work since it’s plant based) we opted to just buy the Glia solution for $3.50 since it was cheaper than buying a spray bottle and more mainstream dish detergent). We have also heard that some frosting films only require water to adhere them, so be sure to read the directions included with yours.

Once the window and half of the back side of the frosting film (as shown in the image above) is adequately misted (along with the entire front part) it’s time to apply it to the window pane. Thanks to the inch of leeway on each side of the film there’s no worry about placing it perfectly and you can easily trim things down to a perfectly snug fit once you get them more securely in place.

The film should stick pretty well to your window, but won’t look seamless at all at this point. Oh and you can pull off the other half of the clear plastic film (while someone else holds the frosted piece in place from the top two corners of the window). Now the only layer on the window is the frosted film with about an inch of overlap on each side. You’ll see tons of bubbles and streaks but fret not.

Here’s where the fun plastic squeegie-thing comes in handy. Just glide it across the window film to push all those dastardly bubbles out to the edges of the film (where they’ll magically disappear). Do this for as long as it takes to remove all the bubbles for a near-perfect and seamless look (except for that extra inch of film around the edge of the pane). It’s worth noting that the edges of the film might look a bit bubbled and won’t form a tight seal on the window until they’re trimmed down to fit, so don’t worry about a little imperfections around the perimeter of the pane, just get the rest of the window looking great.

Then take an exacto knife and carefully place it firmly between the edge of the window pane and the window trim (our exacto came in the kit with the plastic squeegie thing that we grabbed for $4- so worth it just for that yellow squeegie thing). Hug the window frame tightly as you slowly pull the knife, using the edge as a guide for a perfectly trimmed piece of frosted film that ends right where the window frame begins.

And that my friends is how it’s done. Really, it’s easy! As long as you have an extra person on hand (and aren’t trying to cut your frosted film exactly to the size of your windows- the inch overlap and trimming method really results in the best fit) it should be relatively straightforward.

It probably took us less than eight minutes per pane, so we did the entire basement in under 40 minutes. And for $26 we were left with a soft frosted look that gives us privacy without blocking all that pretty daylight that comes in handy when we’re down there looking for something (or, let’s be honest, just standing there admiring our new room).

Oh and it bears mentioning that the frosted film is 100% privacy effective. As in, no matter the time of day or the light level inside or outside, you can’t see through it. Which is definitely nice (how annoying would all that work be if it was only semi-effective?). But as you can see from the photo below, the light still streams into the room right through the film.

Which is really quite amazing since we worried that it might get dark and spooky down there with the addition of the frosted film. Not the case! So we can still easily admire all the other projects that we’ve completed along with our new “privacy please” windows. Like the paint storage station, the vertical bike rack, the carpet square area rug

… the new overhead light fixture, the DIY screen, the see-through armoires that we obscured with wrapping paper, and all the other undertakings we’ve slowly accomplished over the last one and a half months.

So that closes the door (har-har) on the window-frosting tutorial and the room’s overhaul as a whole.

All that’s left is a little basement roundup post full of photos from start to finish and an always-fun budget breakdown that details the entire cost of our latest major makeover. So as we say so often around here, stay tuned…

Oh and we’d love to hear what window-related projects you guys have recently taken on or put on your to-do list. Any fellow frosting film fans out there? Do tell.

Psst- Want to look back on our big basement makeover from start to almost-finished? Here’s the first post, the second post, the third post, the forth post, the fifth post, the sixth post, and the seventh post and the eigth post. Good times.


  1. Hilary says

    We got the same kind of film from home depot to frost our Victorian doors without harming the old glass. The instructions on our film specifically said to only use water. We’ve had it up for 2 years now, without any issues.

  2. says

    That is so exciting that you are DONE with your basement! Quick side note though – I saw your tweet that your West Elm store is closing – ours in Kansas City is closing too and I am totally distraught about it! What will I ever do????

  3. says

    This is a great tutorial! I’ve often thought about doing this in our bathroom since it just seems so dark with blinds, so I’ll have to use this as ammunition for the hubs.

    Good stuff!

  4. Jana says

    Oooh, I have been waiting for this post. I need to frost a window in my closet (??) but I wonder if this would work.

    It’s a circular, port-hole type window, but it is broken up by grids, so the remaining glass pieces are pretty small. Do you think that would be too time intensive to do a whole bunch of oddly-shaped pieces? I wondered if the spray frost might be easier.

    Also, does it come off easily? Thanks!! Great work!

  5. Rosie says

    Great idea with the window coverings guys!
    I think it makes everything look more streamlined and still lets the light come on in.
    I have used this type of window film also….on an entertainment center. It was made out of wood and had two glass doors. I didn’t really like the idea of having all the videos, games, etc. being seen and didn’t want to put some type of curtain. So, the window film came to the rescue. It looks great, you can’t tell it’s not textured glass and everything is out of sight.
    Keep up the good work. Can’t wait to see what comes up next!

    • says

      Rosie- We love the idea of using frosted window film on entertainment doors to obscure video games and consoles. I bet it looks just like true frosted or textured glass!

      Jana- If you were diligent we bet you could still do a circular window with lots of panes since you follow along the edge of each pane with the knife so once you cut your frosting pieces down to size they should look seamless- no matter how many there are. As for how long it lasts- basically as long as you want it to. Even in a moist basement or bathroom you’re talking about decades if you’d like it there. Since you push out all the air bubbles and the film has some self-adhesive qualities, there’s no reason for it to peel off unless you scrape at the corners and tug on it when you want to remove it. Hope it helps!

      Kim- Yeah I blame my art school days. We used all sorts of razors and exactos (we even used them to sharpen our pencils) so I’m a bit less traditional when it comes to all those holders since back in school we were actually taught how to use them with our hands. Crazy artists! But we definitely recommend following any and all extra precautions (and picking up a razor holder) for anyone who wants that added control and security.

      Emily- I know we’re so sad! We hope it doesn’t mean bad things for the company as a whole (we’ll die if they fold) so we’re crossing our fingers that they’re just cutting back locations but will still have online ordering and other further-away stores for us to rely on.

      Hilary- It’s great to hear that your film is still holding strong years later! It really is super durable stuff. It’s also interesting that the directions on your film kit expressly said to use water to apply it. We definitely recommend that everyone read the instructions on the specific film they buy before following our tutorial to the letter- just in case there are a few alterations they should make (like substituting the adhesive spray for water). Thanks for the tip!


  6. Leigh says

    This is a great idea for keeping privacy AND light. I have a guest bathroom with a small, high window that allows our neighbors to see right in from their second story. I was thinking of using some kind of semi-opaque paint in the window, but this might be a solution instead.

  7. says

    I used this film on our bathroom windows and it looks so much better than mini blinds!

    My parents used the spray window frost on one of their windows and it does not look as even. You can see frostier parts of the window where they sprayed more and less frosty parts where they sprayed less. I’d say the film is definitely better than the spray!

  8. says

    Great post – completely relevant to me as we have some plans to frost some french doors around the house. (the previous owner was french door crazy). Just wondering why you picked the film. I’ve heard about some other methods for frosting, like a cream sort of substance you rub on the glass. I was just wondering if you’d looked into other methods, and why you picked the film? Your insight could be helpful when we finally move forward with our frosting project! Thanks! :)

  9. Carly says

    We put window tinting on our bedroom window. The huge arch let in so much heat in the summer. It really make a difference. It cuts down on the temperature almost immediately and helps our electric bill!

    • says

      Hey Amanda and Kerry,

      Thanks for your comments! Amanda’s comment actually explains the answer to Kerry’s question (the reason we go with the film over the spray or the etching cream is because the film is guaranteed to look 100% even while the cream or the spray can get splotchy looking if you don’t apply exactly the same amount to the entire pane). Hope it helps!


    • says

      Erin- Yup, we’ll have to get our before and after pics up on our House Tour page after we publish our last little basement round-up post (with the full budget and timeline so we can link to that from the House Tour page for all the basement details in one fell swoop). Stay tuned…

      Carly- Wow! We never thought about the fact that window film could cut down on heat in the summer and save you money on your electric bill! Frosted windows just got even more awesome. Thanks for sharing!


  10. Anna S. says

    It’s great to see this room completed! You and John are also relieved I’m sure. I know how big of an undertaking our basement fix-up has been, so kudos to you!

    BTW, do you have special plans for use of this room now? With the 2 person desk and storage areas, it looks almost like an office/ consultation room… so I wonder if you thought about using it as such.

    • says

      Hey Anna,

      Good question! We thought long and hard about the function-factor in the basement and since it’s full of bins and boxes we knew if we were going through them for something we wouldn’t want to have to squat on the floor to sift through things. By adding the desk area we can place things up at counter height and go through them more comfortably. Plus down the line we picture the room transforming into a messy arts and craft room for our future bambinos (since everything is so wipeable it’s the perfect place for finger painting!) so the desk will also come in handy then. And as for the chairs, we’re just storing them down there, but we tucked them under the desk because they look more deliberate there. We probably won’t use them much until our kids use the room as an art area, but chair storage never looked so good. Haha. Hope it helps!


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