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Is your solar panel no longer as efficient as before? Before calling for customer service, check if the cells are covered with dirt, bird droppings, leaves or grime. Often it just takes a good, thorough cleaning to get the system running again. While solar power systems are low maintenance, don’t neglect them either.
Learning how to clean portable solar panels is easy: dip a brush in soapy water and wipe the panels. if it’s not too dirty, water alone will be fine. For large solar systems, use the same method but use a larger brush or hose.
Here are the 15 tips to keep solar panels looking and running clean.
1. Buy a Solar Power Cleaning Kit
If you haven’t already, buy a cleaning kit for your solar power system. Rather than get whatever brush is at hand, it’s better to have a kit on standby. The kit should include biodegradable soap, a wiper and a brush. Some kits come with two brushes, one small and one large. To use the kit, follow these steps.
- Mix water with the soap in a container.
- Dip the brush in a container.
- Wipe the dirt from the solar cells gently.
- Use the wiper to remove excess soapy water.
- Let the solar arrays dry naturally.
These cleaning kits are best suited for small to medium sized solar panels. For large scale solar cells that cover a house roof, you may better off calling a professional cleaner. It’s one thing to clean solar cells on an RV, but a residential solar array that covers hundreds or thousands of square feet is time consuming.
2. Clean During Overcast Days
Cleaning a rooftop solar panel is difficult during hot days and dangerous when it’s raining hard. Overcast is the perfect time. Usually mornings is the best time do it as the sun is just coming up. It shouldn’t take long to clean up solar cells, so by the time the sun peaks, your panel should be ready.
It helps to plan ahead before scheduling a cleanup. If you live in a dry location this won’t be a problem. but if the weather fluctuates a lot in your area, check the reports for overcast days. Set that day aside to do a cleanup of the cells. If you have the time take the opportunity to examine the rest of the system, i.e., the batteries, inverter and charge controller.
3. Avoid Strong Soaps
Never use powerful soaps or abrasive sponges as it may scratch or break the glass. Use cleaning kit soap or if you don’t have one, a clean, soft rag. Dip the rag in water and wipe the cells clean. Do not use scented soaps either. Just stick with biodegradable soap and the solar panels will be fine.
If you’re not sure what soap to use, check the user guide that came with your manual. If there’s no information, buy the mildest, biodegradable soap you can find. Remember that while solar panels are durable, those glasses can break when exposed to harsh soaps. Always remember: use water first and if that doesn’t work, apply soap.
4. Do Not Press the Glass Too Hard
Solar panel glass is durable, but harsh wiping and scrubbing could lead to cracks. Harsh cleaning chemicals will do the same so avoid those. Whether it is a portable solar panel on you RV or a large array on your house, always clean the panels lightly. If the dirt won’t come off, add more soapy water.
You need to be patient when removing dirt off solar panels. It can be time consuming especially if you’ve got a large system installed. But don’t hurry and don’t press too hard to get that bit of dirt off. The best way to remove stubborn dirt is to use a brush or wet rag. Just use water or soapy water if you like. Wipe repeatedly until the material comes off, but don’t press hard on the surface.
5. For Frequent General Cleaning, Use a Hose
For residential or large RV solar panels, hosing with water is an option. This method works best with frequent cleaning, but don’t use too much pressure as it might damage the glass. A hose is also great for general cleanups, but for stuck dirt, a brush or rag is better.
One reason why some don’t like to use a hose is it doesn’t remove stubborn debris unless you increase pressure. Never use high pressure hoses on solar panels because the glass may shatter. If the hose cannot remove stubborn dirt, get your sleeves up and use a rag.
6. Long Handle Wipers are Best for Large Solar Panels
Experts recommend using a wiper with long handles for convenience and safety. It’s the best option if you are cleaning a large panel. There are different types of long handle brushes and you should have no problems finding one. They’re just like a regular wiper but it allows you to clean with ease.
Many say solar panels are best cleaned from the ground, and for safety reasons that’s true. But there are times when you need to get on the roof to do a more thorough cleaning. This is where long handle wipers come into play. Rather than kneeling over and wiping with rags, you can just walk on the roof and solar panel clean it with a wiper.
7. Take Care When Cleaning Solar Panels on Roof
A harness or rope is strongly recommended when cleaning rooftop solar panels. If you can have someone watch over you that’s even better. Be extra careful as the roof gets slippery when you clean. Check the harness or rope before you go up.
Some safety tips to keep in mind:
- Use a harness or rope.
- Wear a hard hat.
- Have someone watch over you and the harness.
- Do not attempt this if you’re uncomfortable going on the roof of a house or RV.
- Check for cracks in the glass. Avoid them and contact a serviceman or the manufacturer to have it repaired or replaced immediately.
8. Don’t Let Dirt Build Up
It’s easier to clean solar panels when dirt and grime buildup is minimal. Excess dirt build as well as dust, grime, bird droppings, leaves etc. takes longer to clean. Don’t wait for the debris to accumulate before you start a cleanup.
A lot of problems with solar panels can be avoided with regular cleaning and maintenance. By not allowing dirt to gather on the glass, you make it easier on yourself when cleaning time arrives. It is always easier to maintain a solar panel that doesn’t have months or years of accumulated dirt.
9. Use Automated Cleaners
Don’t have time to do a thorough cleaning? Use a sprinkler system or other types of automated cleaning systems to do the work for you. Schedule a regular cleaning session and let the system do the rest. You can also contact professional solar panel cleaning companies to do the job.
There are now robotic cleaners available that clean rooftops and solar panels. They are still somewhat expensive, but it’s an option if you prefer an automated approach to cleaning that goes beyond the regular sprinkler.
10. Record the Performance of Your Solar Panel
Start keeping a record of your solar panel’s daily performance. Note when performance is at its highest, lowest, difference during sunny and cloudy days etc. This way you’ll be able to tell if the dip in performance is normal (cloudy day, for example) or if it is something else. This information is also useful in case you contact the manufacturer for servicing or maintenance.
Some solar kits come with devices that notify you of performance changes. Use this in conjunction with your regular logs and you’ll never be caught unaware if something is amiss.
11. Install a Solar Panel Display Indicator
These monitor systems update you on the status of your solar panels. Everything from peak performance, energy production, troubleshooting and other data is presented. With this you’ll know right away if there’s a dip in the performance of your panels. If there is it’s probably time for a cleanup.
12. Pay Attention to the Indicator Lights
Pay close attention in particular to the inverter. Those lights should be green. If they’re not the solar power system isn’t working. Check for signs of dirt and give it a good wiping. If the panel still isn’t working, there could be a problem with the system and repair is needed.
13. Stay Away From Shade
Solar panels need as much sunlight as possible to work. Positioning them under shade defeats the purpose. This also forces the other components to run harder to produce energy and wear everything down faster. Bottom line, make sure your solar panels is properly oriented.
14. Solar Panel are Easier to Clean Wet
If it has stopped raining, take your kit and start cleaning. It is easier to clean solar panels when they’re wet as dirt, grime and other residues come off easier. Sure you can wet the panels with water, but if water isn’t available for a cleanup or you don’t want to waste them, just wait for some rain. Remember, use soapy water only if the dirt won’t come off.
Caution: be careful when climbing on the rooftop as the surface will be slippery. Do this only if you’re sure that there will be no more rain. Do not clean your solar panel if it’s the rainy season or you’re expecting a downpour anytime.
15. Read the Installation Manual
The process of cleaning solar panels is similar, but it never hurts to read the user guide that came with your solar kit. Take note if there are specific instructions or cleaning products that the manufacturer recommends.
If there are particular instructions, follow them to the letter. Does your solar panel need a specific product? Use it. Does it state a frequency for cleanup? Follow it. The manual is there for a reason. Too often we ignore the information, but it’s best to keep it by your side for cleaning and troubleshooting instructions.
Solar Panel Cleaning FAQ
Answers to the most common questions about cleaning and maintaining solar panels for RVs and home.
Does Cleaning Solar Panels Make a Difference?
Yes it does. The reason why some don’t clean their solar power systems is they think it’s a waste of time. After all, what difference can a few scattered leaves or dirt make?
A few debris won’t make much of a difference, but you’d be surprised how quickly dirt and grime accumulates. It again comes down to the environment your solar panels are exposed to. If your panels go through harsh conditions, regular cleaning is a necessity. Bird droppings are probably the worst. These can really obscure a solar cell and affect performance.
What is the Best Way to Clean Your Solar Panels?
Use soapy water and a hose. Run the hose on the panels as you would do with an automobile. Apply low pressure to avoid breaking the panel glass. Do not use harsh soaps or cleaning detergents. Use a brush or sponge if hose isn’t available or you want a gentler / more comprehensive approach.
In most cases, water alone is enough. Some just let rain water do the cleaning: when the rain falls it should be enough to remove dirt. Only use mild detergent if water can’t remove the dirt and stains.
How Often Should I Have My Solar Panel Cleaned?
At least every 6 months. But it really depends how exposed to the elements your solar panels are. If you take your RV through dusty, dirty roads with smoke and pollution, clean once every few weeks or every time you can. If you stay on clean, clear roads and camp at RV parks, minimal cleaning is enough.
How Much Does It Cost to Have Your Solar Panels Cleaned?
Professional cleaning services for residential solar panels cost $150 – $250. Each cell costs $5 on average to clean. This does not include the yearly inspection fee which is $150 on average.
DIY home solar panel cleaning is possible but could be more expensive. You could use your garden hose but if it has high mineral levels it could damage the cells. You’ll need to purchase a water treatment system which could cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Unless you know what you’re doing, better to let a professional handle this.
RV solar panels are cheaper. They’re small enough to clean by yourself so no need for annual checkups. All you need is a bucket, water, mild soap, brush or hose.
Can You Pressure Wash Solar Panels?
No. Do not sure pressure washers because the force might break the glass. Dot not use harsh scrubbers either. Use a brush or hose.
Can You Use Vinegar to Clean Solar Panels?
Yes, vinegar can be used safely. Get a spray bottle and fill it with two cups of water. Add half a teaspoon of mild detergent and 1/4 cup vinegar. Close the bottle and shake well. Spray the bottle on the solar panels. After cleaning, hose the panels to remove any remaining dirt or smell.
Solar panel maintenance and cleaning are essential and should be a priority of every one who owns a solar power system. You just need to set aside some time for the job and you’ll be rewarded with an efficient, reliable solar panel that will serve you for many years to come.