Using the Soapy String Trick to Install a Windshield

The string and bubbles help make the gasket fit

The soapy string trick is a classic way to install an auto windshield. "Soapy string" isn't a euphemism—it's actually a string drenched in a soapy solution. And it works.

Most modern windshields are held in place using a very strong adhesive, but they formerly were installed with no adhesive; only the rubber gasket held the windshield in place. And that worked well.

If your windshield is cracked or otherwise damaged and you're in the market for a replacement, you can buy a used windshield at the junk yard for $45, but installation will cost far more than that. You can save money by doing it yourself. The hardest part is getting the rubber gasket to pop over the lip of the car body, where it will hold the windshield firmly in place. That's where the soapy string trick comes in.

Having a helper or two for this project is highly recommended. Here's how it's done:

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Start With a Clean, Dry Windshield

soapy string
This string plus soap equals an easy windshield install. photo by Matt Wright, 2009

Begin with the old windshield, gasket, adhesive, and other debris already removed. Removing your wipers will make it easier to access the whole windshield area without getting hung up on something. Make sure the new windshield is clean and dry before you install the rubber gasket.

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Choose a String

Pull the soapy string and the windshield rubber through.
Gently pull the soapy string. photo by Matt Wright, 2009

Strong cotton string is a good choice. If you can find the string from a set of Venetian blinds, use it; it even has a handy handle to pull on. Kite string is another good option. Stay away from nylon string, because it can be sharp enough to slightly cut the rubber gasket—not to mention your fingers.

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Add Soap

Soap up everything. Make sure the string, rubber, and appropriate parts of the car body are nice and soapy using regular dish soap mixed with water. You can apply it with a spray bottle, sponge, rag, or whatever works. You can't use too much soap. Cover the interior with plastic to avoid creating an interior car wash.

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Wrap the String

With your rubber gasket installed on the edges of the windshield, starting at the top center, wrap the soapy string tightly into the channel that will meet the car body. Wrap it all the way around until you're back at the top. Leave 6 inches or so of string hanging from both ends; these will be your pull handles.

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Install the Windshield

Press the windshield into place, using your hands to push the rubber as far into the space as possible. The rubber should be right against the body, ready to pop into place. Make sure the string ends hang inside the car. Have your helper put slight pressure on the outside top of the windshield. From inside the car, pull one end of the string through until you see the rubber popping through to your side. Gently coax the rubber through, and as you pull the string the rubber will follow. Move all the way around the windshield and by the time you get to the top again, it's in.