Cleaning a TV screen seems easy. Windex, right? Wrong. Most modern HDTVs have special coatings on their surface that can be ruined by strong cleansers.
But at some point, every HDTV screen needs a good cleaning.
The following is a sampling of the warnings in various owner's manuals from this year's HDTVs. Double check your owner's manual, as each TV is slightly different, and may require different methods.
LG: Clean only with a dry cloth. When cleaning, unplug the power cord and wipe gently with a soft cloth to prevent scratching. Do not spray water or other liquids directly on the TV as electric shock may occur. Do not clean with chemicals such as alcohol, thinners, or benzine.
Panasonic: The front of the display panel has been specially treated. Wipe the panel surface gently using only a cleaning cloth or a soft, lint-free cloth. If the surface is particularly dirty, after cleaning up the dust, soak a soft, lint-free cloth in diluted, mild liquid dish soap (1 part mild liquid dish soap diluted by 100 times the amount of water), and then wring the cloth to remove excess liquid. Use the cloth to wipe the surface of the display panel, then wipe it evenly with a dry cloth of the same type until the surface is dry. Do not scratch or hit the surface of the display panel with fingernails or other chard objects. Furthermore, avoid contact with volatile substances such as insect sprays, solvents, and thinner; otherwise, the quality of the surface may be adversely affected.
Samsung: The exterior and screen of the product can get scratched during cleaning. Be sure to wipe the exterior and screen carefully using the cloth provided or a soft cloth to prevent scratches. Do not spray water directly onto the product. Any liquid that goes into the product may cause a failure, fire, or electric shock. Clean the product with a soft cloth dampened with a small amount of water. Do not use a flammable liquid (e.g. benzene, thinners) or a cleaning agent.
Sony: Wipe the LCD screen gently with a soft cloth. Stubborn stains may be removed with a cloth slightly moistened with a solution of mild soap and warm water. If using a chemically pretreated cloth, please follow the instruction provided on the package. Never spray the water or detergent directly on the TV set. It may drip to the bottom of the screen or exterior parts and enter the TV set, and may cause damage to the TV set.
Toshiba: Clean only with a dry cloth. Gently wipe the display panel surface (the TV screen) using a dry, soft cloth (cotton, flannel, etc.). A hard cloth may damage the surface of the panel. Avoid contact with alcohol, thinner, benzene, acidic, or alkaline solvent cleaners, abrasive cleaners, or chemical cloths, which may damage the surface.
What a surprising consensus among the major TV manufacturers. Many new TVs ship with a soft cloth to clean the screen. If you've tossed/lost this cloth, it's similar to what comes with glasses and sunglasses.
These are the strict and likely extreme views of the manufacturers. The vast majority of every owner's manual is copied from other owners manuals. For example, the delicate nature of the front of an LCD screen is very different from the glass front of a plasma. That's not to say you shouldn't take caution either way, but there are other options...
So why not Windex? Regular Windex is formulated for glass windows, plus a few other surfaces. It contains ammonia and alcohol, not the friendliest of chemicals. S. C. Johnson doesn't explicitly say not to use Windex on HDTVs, but it offers Windex Electronics wipes and cleaners, so infer what you will. The better screen cleaners will clearly state that they do not contain alcohol or ammonia.
At last count, I found eleventy-billion companies making HDTV screen cleaners. Almost all of these are something like 99 percent water, 1 stuff stuff. A few years back I tested a handful and found them, on average, to work well enough. Not sure any are worth $20, but for $10 or so, why not? You can also use it for your laptop, tablet, and cell phone screens. Plus, they come with a micro-fiber cloth. If they don't clearly state they don't contain alcohol and ammonia, skip them.
When it comes down to it, TVs screens are expensive and fragile. Why risk marring their surface by using cleaning methods the companies themselves don't advise?
My advice? Get a nice micro-fiber cloth (if your TV didn't come with one), and use that. Consumer Reports concurs. For the next step up of smudges, try just water. Don't press too hard. There's less than a millimeter between your finger and a broken TV.
If your kids/spouse really went at the screen in some sort of paste-enabled drunken rage, try a tiny bit of dish soap in water. I'd use Panasonic's recommendation of 1 part per hundred, but start with less (i.e. more diluted) and see if it works.
If you're not much of a chemist, screen cleaning kits are fine. Remember, though, like all TV accessories, the store is selling them because they probably make more profit on that $20 kit than the $1,000 TV.
Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he's written on topics like why all HDMI cables are the same, LED LCD vs. plasma, active versus passive 3D, and more. Still have a question? Send him an e-mail! He won't tell you what TV to buy, but he might use your letter in a future article. You can also send him a message on Twitter @TechWriterGeoff or Google+.