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Sep 28, 2022

Solar Panel Cleaning for Beginners

Solar panels are becoming more and more prevalent in the world as the primary source of generating part or all of a home’s electricity needs. Presently, solar panels are affordable, efficient, and don’t require a lot of maintenance to function properly.

The most important aspect of solar panels is the conversion of solar energy (sunlight) into usable electricity for your home. Because of this, they should be predominantly used in regions where there’s plenty of sunlight for maximum efficiency.

However, although they don’t require constant maintenance, they still need to be kept clean in order to work as they should. People that live in areas that receive plenty of intermittent rainfall usually have to do less cleaning because the rain washes away most of the dirt and dust.

Still, grime buildup cannot be easily prevented; it’s one of the main reasons for occasional solar panel cleaning. In this article, we’ll take a look at why solar panels need cleaning and what steps you should take to clean your solar panels and guarantee they work at maximum efficiency. 

Why Solar Panels Require Cleaning

Dirt, dust, and other impurities often get blown onto solar panels due to wind and other climate factors. Leaves that fall from trees can also block portions of the solar panels, ultimately reducing their efficiency. 

A tan house with solar panels on the roof

Solar panels that are obstructed cannot generate the full amount of electricity they’re rated for. You can notice this by checking the electricity output of the solar panels relatively commonly. This way, you’ll be able to notice any issues as soon as they appear. 

Solar panel cleaning generally isn’t difficult if we’re talking about simple obstructions such as grime, dirt, dust, leaves, and more. 

Some Tips Before you Start Cleaning

Solar panels aren’t ambiguous; each manufacturer creates unique solar panels that they feel are most efficient. This means that the maintenance suggestions also differ from solar panel to solar panel. 

Certain solar panels cannot be cleaned with water so it’s crucial to check the instructions before you start cleaning them. What you should also look out for is whether or not the panels are in a difficult-to-reach position. You should never endanger yourself if you aren’t experienced enough or simply think that it’s too risky. In this case, you can contact professional solar panel cleaning experts for help. 

Secondly, solar panels are a form of electricity generator. You must turn the electrical circuit off, especially considering the fact you’ll be using water. You can find the instructions on how to do this by checking the manufacturer's guidelines and specifications. 

And lastly, make sure to use safety equipment at all times. Ladder support, a hard hat, and a harness are all recommended if you want to clean the solar panels by yourself. 

So, to summarize, here’s what you should do beforehand. 

Tips for solar panel cleaning:

  • Clean solar panels on cooler days (if possible) to avoid cracking the glass due to drying water. 
  • Use only non-abrasive soap mixed with eight parts water and one part vinegar. Heavy-duty detergents can damage the panels.

Tips for safety:

  • Always turn off the solar panels and avoid touching the underside while cleaning.
  • The safest method for cleaning solar panels is to do it from the ground with gloves and extendable tools. However, if this isn’t possible, you’ll have to take extra care about safety including using proper ladders and ladder support and using a harness. 
  • If you think accessing the panels is too difficult for you, contact your local solar power experts to finish the job for you. 

Solar Panel Cleaning Guide

Step #1 - Use a Soft Brush to Remove/Dislodge Any Dirt, Dust, or Leaves

The first step in cleaning solar panels involves the use of a soft brush to get rid of any dust, dirt, bird poop, and leaves from the solar panels. Although rain is useful in doing part of the job for you, it generally leaves a greasy residue as the puddles evaporate and the water dries up. 

Using a soft brush in a gentle manner will remove some of that residue and other obstructions as part of the beginning of the cleaning process. 

If the situation allows, you can use a telescopic extension pole with the soft brush attached on top and start gently brushing the solar panels from the ground. Otherwise, you’ll need to use an extension ladder to climb on the roof - an activity where you should use safety equipment. 

The reason this step is done first is because starting with water and a brush would just smear the dirt and debris across the panels, making it difficult to remove further down the line. You can also use work gloves to keep your hands safe and clean. 

Step #2 - Spray your Panels with Clean Water Using a Garden Hose

Water is the main ‘tool’ you’ll be using to clean your solar panels properly. Using a garden hose to spray the water is recommended but you shouldn’t use water under high pressure. It might be tempting to do this to speed up the entire process but high-pressure cleaning can cause microscopic cracks on the surface of the panels which will reduce their efficiency.

On top of that, this sort of damage may void your warranty so you’d be left with damaged panels and have to pay for repairs or new panels with your own money. 

The best way to deal with this step is to use a gentle stream of water and a precise method of cleaning the panels. This involves spraying along each panel slowly to get rid of as much debris and dirt as possible. 

Step #3 - Use Water and a Soft Brush to Scrub Any Problematic Areas

Once you’re finished spraying down the panels with a gentle stream of water, it’s time to get going on cleaning problem areas. In some cases, water won’t be enough to get rid of stubborn spots such as dried-up bird poop. 

To get rid of these, you’ll need to use a combination of water and soft brushing. You can also use a squeegee, sponge, or soft cloth dunked in water. As in step 2, you’ll need to be gentle to avoid damaging the panels. 

Also, you shouldn’t fall for the trick of magical cleaning products - they can be abrasive which will just cause you to pay for repairs. Water is the best choice, especially distilled and deionized water. Distilled and deionized water is capable of attracting other chemicals which makes it more efficient at cleaning the panels.

Finally, if there are any spots that remain even after a thorough brushing, you should use the mixture we mentioned at the beginning of this guide (eight parts water, one part vinegar, and a small amount of gentle, non-abrasive dish soap). 

Don’t use too much soap; rinsing a large amount of soap may leave a residue that attracts dirt and dust in the future, ultimately compromising your cleaning process. 

Step #4 - Keep Track of your Home’s Solar Energy Output to Analyze the Cleaning’s Impact

The more sunlight your solar panels get, the more power they’ll be able to generate. There’s a reason why solar panels are highly popular in sunny areas and less so in cloudy ones. There are many other factors that contribute to how efficient a solar system is which is why it’s important to keep track of its power output.

You should take a look at your power production before you start cleaning them and after you’re finished with the cleaning process to see just how much proper maintenance means for energy production. 

In general, the energy output of your solar panels will fluctuate within the predicted range that the manufacturer defines. However, if the solar panels are dirty, they will produce less energy, which means you’ll have to rely on additional power from their energy provider, driving your energy bills up. 

The first time you decide to clean your solar panels, always measure the energy production before and after the cleaning process is complete. This way, you’ll know when it’s time to clean them again the next time they start producing less power. 

Step #5 - Contact a Professional Solar Panel Cleaning Specialist for Difficult and Complex Cleaning

The final step is technically optional because it involves unique situations that not all homeowners will experience. If the cleaning process requires you to climb to high places or are in somewhat inaccessible positions, it’s better to contact solar panel cleaning specialists for help. 

They are trained and experienced in cleaning solar panels which means they’ll be much safer doing that than you. 

Before they arrive, you can help them by turning the solar panels off or - if this is not possible, they will do it for you. Also, they’re generally helpful when it comes to telling you the problematic areas of the cleaning process so you understand what and how they’re doing something.

You should only clean solar panels that are easy to reach and generally not in a dangerous position. Otherwise, contact the professionals. 

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