How, Why, And When To Clean Your Solar Panels

How, Why and When to clean your solar panels

Buying solar panels is a great idea for any homeowner who wants to reduce their carbon footprint, especially when you factor in the tax writeoffs you can get for them. They can help reduce energy costs, for sure, but only if they work well and are properly maintained. 

Cleanliness matters. How, why, and when should you clean your solar panels? Cleaning your solar panels will help you maximize their lifespan and energy output. Experts suggest cleaning them at least once a season by doing the following:

  1. Brushing away debris on the panels. 
  2. Rinsing them off with water.
  3. And scrubbing any additional grime, you see with a slightly coarse sponge. 

The care and keeping of solar panels shouldn’t be a total nightmare for homeowners. This quick and easy guide will give you a good idea of what you should do with your solar panel upkeep in terms of cleaning. 

How, Why, And When Should You Clean Your Solar Panels?

This is a pretty loaded question, don’t you think? Thankfully, the answer can be broken down fairly easily — at least on a superficial level. Solar panels should be cleaned on a regular basis with water, and it should be done to preserve your panels’ ability to make energy. 

Of course, there’s a lot more to panel upkeep than just trying to rinse stuff down. Here’s what you need to know as a homeowner with solar panels in terms of cleaning them. 

Why Do You Need To Clean Your Solar Panels?

Solar panels are a massive investment that can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars, and it makes sense to protect your investment. Like with any other standard tool or home upgrade, solar panels have a set amount of time that they remain functional. 

Maintaining your home’s solar panels is one of the easiest ways to increase their lifespan and increase output. The easiest way to maintain your panels is to clean them. Cleaning your panels can also help prevent them from breaking prematurely or showing signs of wear and tear. 

How Does Cleaning Your Solar Panels Improve Your Solar Panels’ Lifespan?

Maintenance is a must with just about everything you own, and this includes your solar energy panels. Regularly cleaning solar panels can offer all of the following benefits to their life span:

  1. Less chance of scratching. Excess debris can cause minor scratches in panels, which in turn, contribute to wear and tear over time. 
  2. Less chemicals are eating away at panels. Bird poop and other compounds can actually eat away at the protective coating of solar panels over time. Gentle washes can help.
  3. Less chance of plants growing near or between panels. Once in a while, you might hear of plants that started to grow in peoples’ gutters. The same can happen between solar panels if you’re unlucky. Regular cleanings can prevent it from happening and keep your roof in better condition.
  4. Better overall energy output. Most people will replace their panels once they notice a significant dip in their energy output. By keeping your panels working as efficiently as possible, you can delay this issue from happening. 

Can Cleaning Your Solar Panels Improve Your Energy Output?

It depends on how much dirt and grit is currently on your panel system. Solar panels need as much access to sunlight as possible. Dirty solar panels will have a harder time accessing direct sunlight, and therefore will have lower output.

On a similar note, solar panels that are covered in leaves and debris will also struggle with their ability to keep producing energy. Keeping your solar panels clear just makes sense when you consider how much energy you could be missing. 

Can Cleaning Solar Panels Damage Your Panels?

Strangely enough, this is a common concern that does have a little root in truth. If done incorrectly, solar panel cleanings can pose a risk to the quality and lifespan of your solar panels. That’s why it’s important to know how to clean them before you start.

Can I Clean My Own Solar Panels?

Yes, you can. Many homeowners who have solar panels choose to clean their panels on their own because it’s an effective way to save money on maintenance. The entire procedure usually only takes a couple of hours at most, and the supplies required are quite cheap to obtain. 

People who are okay with doing some work in order to save money will find a DIY approach to panel cleaning to be pretty great.

What Happens If I Don’t Clean My Solar Panels?

Well, it really all depends on your area’s environment. For the most part, not cleaning your solar panels and “letting Mother Nature do the work” by just using rain won’t totally damage your panels, per se. 

However, it could potentially cause your panels to have more wear and tear than normal.

Any sort of home maintenance, including cleaning, is more about prevention than anything else. With solar panels, not cleaning them will subtly accelerate their deterioration and maybe decrease the amount of energy they put out. 

When Should You Clean Your Solar Panels?

Oh, this is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Well, there are several main moments to determine if it’s a good time to clean your solar panels:

  1. It’s the beginning of a new season. Many solar panel experts strongly suggest homeowners clean their solar panels once a season, at the very least. Doing it at the start of each season makes it easier to plan out.
  2. You recently had a major dust storm , high pollen day, or similar issue. Dust, smog, and smoke can all leave a fair amount of debris and dirt on your solar panels. Now would be a good time to clean it off before it gets too sticky.
  3. Birds have been going to the bathroom a *lot* over and around your home. It’s rare, but once in a while, there may be times when birds just “carpet bomb” homes in a particular area. If you’ve been unfortunate enough to have this happen, you might want to clean your solar panels.
  4. Fallen leaves are getting stuck on your roof on a regular basis. This is more of a nuisance than anything, but it can still be a fairly good indicator that it’s time to do a little cleaning. 
  5. It just seems like a good time to do so. Ever have one of those moments where you look at your home and just feel like everything needs a quick cleaning? Yep, it may be time to do that.
  6. You want to make sure your home’s facade looks as good as possible. Much like power washing a regular roof, cleaning your solar panels can make a difference in the overall appearance of a home. 

Can You Ever Clean Your Solar Panels Too Often?

Not really, no. In a lot of ways, cleaning your solar panels on a frequent basis is a lot like getting very involved with power washing your home. For the most part, your solar panels won’t get hurt with that extra elbow grease.

Though people might start to look at you a little funny if they see you on the roof, scrubbing away every day, being very intense about your solar panel cleaning schedule, won’t ever really harm your panels. 

Are There Ever Moments Where You Should Immediately Try To Clean Off Your Solar Panels?

For the most part, solar panels are a fairly low maintenance home upgrade. That doesn’t mean there won’t be times where you need to make a point of cleaning off your panels, though. Here are three situations where an immediate clean up might be worth your time:

  1. A major storm sent debris all over your roof. This kind of clean up is more about damage control and removing debris than scrubbing in most cases, but it’s still a must in most cases. 
  2. There was a chemical spill or similar issue that hit your solar panels. Certain chemicals can eat away your solar panels’ protective coating. If this happened around your panels, clean them as soon as possible to reduce damage.
  3. There was another random action that caused your solar panels to get dirtier than usual. Sometimes, things happen that are totally unpredictable or unforeseeable. If your panels took a hit, you might want to clean them off. 

How To Clean Your Solar Panels

So, now that you know a little bit about the why’s and how’s of cleaning solar panels let’s take a look at the actual process involved in it. After all, it’s going to be hard to clean your solar panels when you don’t know what you’ll need or how to do it. 

What Supplies Do I Need?

Before you can clean your solar panels, you’re going to have to make sure you have all the items required to do a good job. Here’s a quick list of things to grab prior to getting started:

  1. A Ladder. Hey, you’re going to have to climb up on your roof somehow, right? 
  2. A Slightly Coarse Sponge OR a Mop. You don’t want a steel wool wad, but you should have some abrasiveness to scrub away grime. Most kitchen sponges are good enough to do this. If you want to get a lot of panels at the same time, using a mop is ideal.
  3. A Hose. The water is going to need to get up on your roof, right?
  4. A Large Brush OR Broom. If you have a lot of fallen leaves, brushing them away is a good idea.
  5. A Bucket. This is for throwing away any debris that might have hit your solar panels.

Can I Use Soap?

Generally speaking, it’s not a good idea to use soap unless it’s very mild. Some homeowners who clean their solar panels tend to have decent results with dish soap that’s been diluted with lots of water. 

If you choose to use soapy water for your panel cleaning, make sure to rinse off your solar panels once the soap’s been applied. You can never be too careful when it comes to your panels’ safety. 

Can I Use Detergent?

If soap is going to be a bit of a risk, then you already should know that detergent is generally seen as a major no-no when cleaning solar panels. Detergents, especially caustic agents like bleach, can damage protective coatings and make it difficult for your solar panels to stay safe.

Unless you’re using a formula specially made for solar panel cleaning, you should avoid detergents at all cost. Even diluted detergents can pose a risk to sensitive panels. 

Should I Buy A Solar Panel Cleaning Kit?

If you’re looking to be the person who cleans your solar panels on a regular basis, there are solar panel cleaning kits available on the market. These kits give you everything you need for a more thorough cleaning and are often reusable. 

Though it’s not a mandatory part of cleaning your solar panels, having a solar panel cleaning kit can help with tougher cleaning jobs. It’s a good investment for people who are very particular about their tools, as well as people who just want to have good results on tough roofs. 

How To Clean Your Solar Panels: Step by Step

Now that you have your bunch of supplies, you’re ready to start cleaning your panels. Thankfully, this is a rather simple process. Here’s how to do it. 

  1. Get up on the ladder and clear away all the leaves from the tops of the panels. Before you can spray down your panels, you need to get all the fallen foliage off your roof. Throw away the leaves and twigs you get into the bucket. 
  2. Wet your sponge (or mop) and gently wipe down each tile. One thing you don’t want to do is actually climb on the roof, onto the solar panels. Just extend your reach as far as possible, instead. 
  3. Use your hose to spray down the roof. A quick rinse is all that you need to finish off the job.
  4. Let your solar panels air dry. There’s no need to pat them down with a towel. Mother Nature will do the rest from here. 

What To Avoid When Cleaning Your Solar Panels

Just like with any other matter of maintenance, there’s a right way to clean your panels and a wrong way. When you’re cleaning up your solar panels, make a point to avoid things that can damage them, such as these common mistakes below:

  • Walking On Them. This can cause breakage, or just worsen wear and tear.
  • Using Detergents On Them. It’s risky, to say the least. Detergents contain highly caustic materials that can eat through panels.
  • Power Washing Them. This may seem like a good idea, but trust us, it really isn’t!
  • Getting Abrasive With Scrubbing. While a little scrubbing can be a good thing, it’s very easy to get into overkill territory. 

Though solar panels are marketed as rugged, the truth is that you shouldn’t push your luck with them. They are still high tech gadgets and need to be treated with care if you want to maximize your energy efficiency. 

Can I Walk On My Solar Panels?

With how large rooftops can be, it might be a little tempting to just get on the roof to get a better reach and scrub away grime as best you can. Tempting as it may be to have a totally spotless solar roof, it’s best not to try walking on your roof to get that done. 

Most solar panels could theoretically be walked upon without issue. However, the reality is a little bit different. Most solar panels are only built to hold 175 pounds per square foot–if they can even do that. The average person weighs more than that. You do the math.

Stepping on your solar panels is generally not a good idea since you could possibly break them or strain them in the process. Though solar panels are made to withstand a lot, it’s best not to try to push their limits too much. 

How To Maneuver Around Solar Panels On Your Roof

Putting your weight on solar panels isn’t a good idea, but if you have to put weight on your solar panels, going on all fours and avoiding panels is a good idea. The more you distribute your weight, the less likely it is that you will overburden any single panel. 

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure here. A good way to avoid stepping on panels is to get an extension mop or extension sponge. This can help you reach panels that are further back, reducing the need to walk on roofs significantly. 

Why Can’t We Use Detergents On Solar Panels?

Solar panels might be created to withstand outdoor conditions, but that doesn’t mean that they can handle everything. Rugged as they may be to heat, cold, and wind, solar panels are still relatively delicate pieces of equipment in many ways. 

One of the things most people don’t realize about solar panels is how delicate the protective coating on them can be. Something caustic like bleach, or even certain window cleaners, can easily cause your solar panels to lose their protective coating. Water is generally the best (and only) thing you need. 

Why Can’t I Power Wash My Solar Panels?

Power washing may be wonderful for your home’s exterior, but it’s not such a great thing for your solar panels. A power washing treatment involves highly pressurized water, being jettisoned out into a small area. 

The amount of pressure that power washers put out is really shocking, and yes, it’s way more than 175 pounds per square foot. Using a power washer can easily break most solar panels, which makes it a pretty quick way to wreck most of your panels. 

Why Can’t I Use A Heavy Scrubber On My Solar Panels?

That clear protective coating that solar panels is meant to protect against snow and dust. It’s not meant to be scrubbed heavily by scratchy materials. Using abrasive scrubbers like steel wool can cause scratches on the surface of your solar panels. 

Can I Call A Professional To Do It?

Absolutely. In many cases, hiring a professional to clean your solar panels for you is the best option. Hiring a professional means that you:

  • Don’t Need To Do All The Work. Convenience is a factor when it comes to home upkeep. Not everyone has an hour or two to clean their solar panels. For homeowners on the go, it’s a godsend. 
  • Less Chance Of Problems. Professionals know how to clean solar panels the best way possible, and that means there’s less chance of damaging your panels as a result. 
  • Better Results. At times, companies that specialize in solar panel maintenance have different tools and tech to do the job better than what we normally can at home. 

Overall, hiring a professional is a surefire way to get good results during a solar power cleaning. It’s worth considering, for sure. 

What Kind Of Companies Offer Solar Panel Cleaning Services?

There are really two kinds of companies that offer specialized solar cleaning services: solar panel installation companies, and specialty cleaning companies. In many cases, you will get information on companies that perform upkeep when you first get your panels installed. 

If you’re not sure who to approach, going online and searching for solar panel cleaning services in your area is a safe bet. Just make sure they’re licensed and bonded before you hire them!

How Much Does It Cost To Have Your Solar Panels Professionally Cleaned?

This is a pretty tricky question to answer, simply because there are so many different factors at play. The price of a cleaning depends on a number of things, including:

  • How Big Your Roof Is. A small home with a tiny handful of solar panels will be easier to clean, and therefore cheaper to clean than a mansion that’s covered in panels. The larger the roof, the larger the price tag.
  • How Dirty Your Solar Panels Are. If your solar panels are visibly grimy, you might have to pay a little more.
  • Your Location. Different regions will have different charging costs for labor. If you live in a pricey area, your costs may be higher.
  • The Company In Question. There’s a reason why people advise others to shop around when it comes to home upkeep, cleaning, and improvement. You can have a huge price change by going from one company to another.

A good rule of thumb to follow is that most companies will charge at least $100 and a maximum of $350 to clean a house’s solar panels. On average, the typical American home will pay $150 per professional cleaning. 

How Much Does It Cost To Clean Solar Panels On Your Own?

If you’re planning on doing it yourself, you’re in luck. The only costs you’ll really incur are for the water you use, the ladder you rent (if you don’t already own one!), and the mop or sponge you’re going to use to wipe the panels down. 

Are There Any Moments Where I Should Call Professionals To Clean My Panels?

Technically, you never have to call professionals to clean your solar panels. However, there are definitely some moments where a professional’s help can be better. If any of the following things are true, call in a pro:

  • Your solar panels suddenly stopped working. Uh oh! That’s not a good sign. A professional might be able to see what’s going on, but it’s better to call your solar company to find out the scoop.
  • You suspect one or more of your panels broke. This is something only a professional should clean. You never know what an errant sweep of the sponge can do. 
  • A caustic liquid spilled on one or more of your panels, or paint got on your panels. Regular scrubbing won’t be enough to fix this issue. Call your solar panel cleaners as soon as you can, and if they can’t handle it, call your solar panel provider. 
  • An extreme storm in your area has left debris on your panels that you can’t remove with a broom. This may be a point where you need to call a professional in order to safely remove the debris and inspect the damage. Your insurance company will thank you. 
  • Your home is unusually large. Homes that are much larger than a typical house tend to be a professional cleaning job. It’s just too hard to reach all those panels on your own!

A good rule of thumb to follow is that you should hire a professional cleaning company whenever you feel a job is outside your “paygrade.” If your panels are dealing with a situation that seems a little more complex than the norm, call them up. 

Can I Clean Broken Solar Panels?

You really should avoid cleaning solar panels that are broken or look like they may be on their way out. Water may further damage solar panels, and while water exposure is not always preventable, it’s better to avoid more potential damage than it is to try to clean it.  That being said, you should always avoid trying to do anything with broken solar panels until you get the “go ahead” from your solar panel company.


Title photo by Jess Wagstaff

spgenie

Hi I'm Harris the spgenie! As an engineer, I found myself doing tons of research about solar power, the types of panels, how to store the energy and the best way to finance the project. I thought I'd start this blog to share my findings. I hope you find this useful.

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