Did you know that roughly 3% of all energy in the United States comes from solar panels and solar energy systems? And that number is only going up thanks to the energy independence and massive savings generated by installing solar panels.
As more and more people build their own solar grid, it’s important that you take the proper steps to maintain your solar cells. Cleaning and caring for solar panels is crucial for their lifespan.
Luckily, cleaning solar panels doesn’t have to be overly difficult.
Why Is Solar Panel Maintenance Important?
The short answer: cleaner panels produce more solar power. In fact, just a few weeks’ worth of dirt and debris can chip away at your solar energy output.
In fact, in one study, solar panels produced up to 50% more energy output after a simple cleaning. If you want improved energy efficiency, you have to keep those panels clean.
Additionally, solar installation is a major investment for most homeowners. Caring for these panels is a great way to protect that investment for the future.
You’ll have to clean more often if you live in a drier, dustier area or an area with plenty of wildlife. Luckily, rain and snowmelt will assist you in your cleaning efforts in most cases.
Still, things like animal droppings, dirt and dust, and even leaves or branches can all get in the way of your solar output. For most homeowners, cleaning their panels themselves is easy. Some, however, choose to hire a professional.
When Should You Clean Your Solar Panels?
You should check on your solar panels at least once a month. Do a visual inspection to look for any excessive or visible dirt build-up.
Paying close attention to your electric bill or solar monitoring system can also help you determine when it’s time to clean. If you spot any noticeable drop in output, it might be time to give those panels a wash.
In most cases, nature will take care of the cleaning for you. You shouldn’t need to clean more than once a month, maybe even less.
As a general guideline, cleaning your panels about twice a year will likely be enough. However, certain locations may have to clean more frequently.
How Geography Affects Cleaning
If you live in an area where wildfires are common, you should try to clean your panels after any nearby fires have been safely contained. This keeps them free of soot and ashy buildup that could block the sun. In some cases, you may need professional help for this type of clean-up, as it can leave behind smears and residue.
Other areas that may benefit from more frequent cleaning include:
- Heavily polluted areas
- Wooded areas
The Best Time of Year for Maintenance
In general, pollution is higher in the winter months. This is because cold air keeps pollutants trapped closer to the ground. So, once the winter has ended and spring has sprung, you should consider a spring cleaning of your solar panels.
Spring is also the perfect time for a cleaning, as solar panels become too hot to touch in the summer. If you’re following the twice-a-year cleaning guideline, spring and fall will be your best bets for cleaning.
It’s also best to clean your solar panels in the morning or early evening when the sun is lower in the sky. This will help to protect you from potential injury. It will also cause the least interruption to your solar output.
How To Clean Solar Panels
There are actually a few methods for solar panel cleaning that you could try. From hiring a professional to a simple brush-and-scrub, it’s easy to find a method that works for you.
One simple DIY way to clean your solar panels will require the following supplies:
- Fresh, soft water
- A hose connected to a water source
- Window cleaner OR a 3% soap-and-water mixture (optional)
- Soft-bristle brush (a squeegee can also be used)
Depending on the size and location of your solar panels, a simple clean can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.
The steps to clean your panels with this method are as follows:
1. Review Your Warranty
You should call your solar panel provider with any questions before you begin cleaning. You want to be careful not to do anything that may void your warranty.
Review your solar panel warranty and terms to ensure you meet the standard cleaning requirements. For some people who are leasing their solar panels, cleaning and maintenance may be an included service.
2. Note Your Accessibility
Those with roof-mounted solar panels should take extra care when it comes to cleaning. Without a secure ladder and proper fall protection equipment, cleaning roof-mounted solar panels yourself can be extremely dangerous. In most cases, it is best to hire a professional for roof-mounted cleaning.
However, if your solar panels are on the ground, they are usually able to clean on your own. The exception is if there is strange or unusual debris on your panel, such as soot from a wildfire.
3. Clean at the Right Time
You’ll want to clean your solar panels in the morning or evening. Not only can it be dangerous to clean in the high heat of midday, but it can also produce less than ideal results. High heat can leave streaks and smears across your panels as the soap and water evaporates too quickly.
4. Clean with Water
It’s easy to clean your solar panels. All you need is a bit of distilled, softened, or deionized water. You should also be sure the water is not too hot, as this can damage the panels.
Simply spray your panels with water and lightly brush with a soft-bristled brush if necessary.
In most cases, non-pressurized water will work just fine. However, you can pressure wash your panels with caution. You should only use pressurized water up to 1500 psi.
When pressure washing, it is important not to get too close to the panels, as this could end up damaging them.
5. Use a Cleaning Solution for Tough Stains
Some spots won’t come off as easily as simple dirt accumulation. Things like fingerprints, bird droppings, and clumps of mud might need a bit of extra cleaning.
To clean these areas, use either window cleaner or a 3% soap-and-water solution.
For smaller systems, use a cleaning solution to wet the panel surface. Let it stand for 5 minutes. Use a sponge or seamless microfiber cloth to wipe the glass in a circular motion, leaving it free from any streaks.
For larger or more dirty systems, you’ll once again want to wet the glass with your cleaning solution and let sit for 5 minutes. Then, use a soft squeegee or gentle pressure washer to rinse off the debris.
Repeat this process once or twice a year as needed.
Other Cleaning Methods
While the soap and water method is probably the most commonly used method for cleaning solar panels, there are other ways. These innovative cleaning solutions are a bit more specialized, but they may work for some homeowners or commercial properties.
Robots are becoming more and more commonplace in our workplaces and daily lives. Some companies are even using them to clean solar panels.
These robots, which may be automatic or semi-automatic are designed specifically for solar panel maintenance. Portable semi-automatic robots are sometimes used to clean smaller panels, such as those on sheds or garages.
Larger automatic robots are sometimes fixed on roofs and in yards for panels that require more frequent cleanings. These are especially useful for commercial properties in particularly dusty environments.
In the Middle East, specialized solar-powered robots are used to clean panels nightly with microfiber attachments or soft airflow. These robots even clean their own solar panels, so they can clean hypothetically endlessly.
Soap-Less Cleaning with Brushes and Sponges
It’s possible to get even tough messes off of solar panels without the use of soap. Some companies have found that deionized water and a rolling brush can get the job done without any cleaning solution.
The benefit of soap-less cleaning is that there is nothing to leave streaks or smears across your panels. Soap can also leave behind a residue that may darken panels and reduce energy output.
Other solutions, such as diluted vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, are also used in lieu of soap to provide a streak-free clean. For homeowners, a soft sponge and water can usually do the trick for standard cleanings.
Did you know you can even clean your solar panels without water? Scientists from Heriot-Watt University in Scottland have found a way clean solar panels using only vibrations.
This project, funded in part by NASA, found that vibrations can help to shake dust and debris loose from the panels. Essentially, a DC (direct current) motor is attached to the back of the panel. It is then tuned to create vertical vibrations.
This is still a bit of an experimental cleaning method, so it’s best to leave this one to experts and professionals to avoid any damage to your solar panels.
In another experimental cleaning method, scientists from the International ARCI (Advanced Research Center for Powder Metallurgy and New Materials) unit of India’s Department of Science and Technology have begun using a nanoparticle coating for cleaning solar panels.
This nanoparticle technology works by repelling dust. This makes dust easier to wash off with water.
The nanoparticle coating is also completely transparent, meaning it doesn’t affect solar panel efficiency. These scientists have begun production for a consumer-based nanoparticle coating, but it is not yet widely available.
What Not to Do When Cleaning
In order to keep your panels from becoming damaged or losing efficiency, there are a few things you should avoid when cleaning your panel system. These tips will help protect both your personal safety and the integrity of your system.
Things to avoid include:
- Do not use water of an extremely hot or extremely cold temperature
- Avoid abrasive brushes or scouring sponges
- Avoid the use of detergents on the solar panel surface
- Do not use hard or mineral-rich water
- Do not attempt self-cleaning of extremely high or roof-mounted solar panels
You should also utilize professional cleaning every once and a while to ensure your panels receive a proper and thorough cleaning. Roughly once every year or two, you should reach out to professional cleaners.
All About Professional Cleanings
Some homeowners may not want to go through the hassle of cleaning their solar panels themselves. Or, some solar panel owners may have large, extensive systems that require more cleaning. Enter, professional cleaners.
If you have roof-mounted solar panels, it’s best to get a professional to clean your panels. Most professionals will charge you by the hour or by the panel.
As determined by Thumbtack, the national average cost for a standard professional solar panel cleaning in 2022 was $240 to $300.
However, prices will vary depending on your location, the level of cleaning required, the accessibility of your system, and the size of your system. Your solar panel provider may be able to recommend a solar panel cleaner.
Other Maintenance Tips
Cleaning isn’t the only maintenance you’ll need to do to keep your solar panels in top shape. For the most part, though, there is not too much maintenance involved with the upkeep of solar panels. The exception, of course, is if you live in a more destructive environment.
Most panel warranties won’t cover cleaning and maintenance unless you’re leasing. However, if you discover during cleaning and maintenance that your panels aren’t working as efficiently, you’ll likely be covered under your warranty.
Some other maintenance you may have to perform includes:
Tightening Screws or Bolts
You should perform a visual inspection of your solar panel system each time you engage in regular cleaning. During this inspection, keep an eye out for any loose screws, nuts, bolts, or joints.
Your energy output monitors should also alert you to problems with your system. If you notice a dramatic drop in output, your system could be dirty or feature loose parts.
Loose or disconnected wires can also lower energy output. They’re also incredibly dangerous. They can cause electrical shock or even fires.
During visual inspection, tighten any loose parts or connect loose wires. You should also ensure that there are no cables in contact with metal pieces, as these can be a fire and shock hazard.
Dealing with Panels in Extreme Weather
All solar panels are designed with durability in mind. This allows these systems to withstand many different kinds of weather, from heavy rainfall to massive amounts of snow.
Despite their resilience, solar panels are not 100% indestructible. They can incur damage from hail, hurricanes, lightning, or tornadoes. Ideally, a warranty will protect and cover you should any damage occur.
Surprisingly, solar panels do the worst when met with extreme heat. Overheated systems will lose efficiency. That’s why it’s best to keep your panels mounted slightly above the ground, to allow for air circulation to keep them cool.
Your solar panel installer should take environmental factors into consideration when designing your solar panel system. The ideal system design will be customized for ease of use and maintenance when extreme weather arrives.
Monitoring Your Solar Accessories
Solar panels aren’t the only component of solar power systems. You’ll also need accessories such as:
- Batteries for energy storage
- Power meters
- Cables and cable covers for safety
Each of these components will also need regular care and maintenance for optimal energy output. If even one part of your system is operating inefficiently, you’ll see lower energy outputs.
It’s best to review each of these components when conducting your regular cleanings, or when you notice significant drops in energy production. Needing to replace any of these accessories can increase your panel payback period.
Caring for Inverters
Inverters are used to switch the solar power system into fault mode when any faults are present. This prevents other parts of your system from being damaged.
You should clean out inverter air inlets once a year to ensure proper cool-down for the system. Most inverters have indicator lights which you can closely monitor for signs of trouble.
Solar inverters typically have a lifespan of roughly 10 years. This means you’ll likely need to replace these before your solar panels. Keep this in mind when it comes time for necessary system upgrades.
Caring for Energy Storage Batteries
One extremely important part of your solar power system is the energy storage batteries. It’s particularly essential for those who are completely off-grid. If you want to avoid blackouts, these batteries must be fully functional.
Any lead-acid batteries will need a water topping annually. Your manufacturer should provide you with instructions for adding acid. Be sure to follow these closely to avoid damage to your batteries or your body.
You can also add a solution of baking soda and water to help clean the battery terminals. Be sure to use distilled water for this type of cleaning.
After cleaning, you should use a high-temperature grease or sealant to coat the nodes. This aids in increasing the longevity of the system.
Caring for The Other Components
Check your regulator semi-frequently to ensure it is not faulty. Unfortunately, a faulty regulator can drastically reduce energy output and may require the replacement of the part altogether.
You should ensure there are no naked wires sticking out from the cables you use. This can not only reduce energy output, but also be a major health and safety hazard for anyone in and around your home.
Power meters must also be in good condition. You’ll want to have accurate readings, so you can determine the health of your system. If readings become dramatically different, it may be a sign of a faulty meter.
Each component of your solar power system is absolutely essential. If one part is failing, the whole system suffers. Failure to keep accessories well-maintained may result in costly, long-term damage to the entire system.
Repairing or Replacing Solar Panels
Most solar panels will last about 20 to 30 years. However, extreme weather or other events may end up damaging your solar panels. You’ll find that there may come a day when you will need to replace your solar panels.
If you notice you start to lose power efficiency and no amount of maintenance can help, it’s best to call your solar panel installer. If you’re still under warranty, they’ll send someone to assess the situation. Whether they can make a simple repair or a full replacement, they’ll be there to help.
Physical damage to solar panels is often covered under a separate equipment-specific warranty. In this case, your solar panel installer will work with you to find the best way to replace your panels.
No matter what the case, you should not attempt to repair or replace solar panels on your own. You could cause serious damage to your solar panel system or be met with tremendous bodily harm.
Attempting to DIY solar panel repair or replacement is also often more costly than working with your installer, especially if you are currently under warranty.
Solar Panel Maintenance Creates Long-Lasting Power
Proper solar panel maintenance is key to maintaining the efficiency and integrity of your solar power system. And now that you know how to clean solar panels, you’ll know how to care for your system properly and finally get off the grid.
Still Thinking about the energy shift? Start your solar journey with Alpha Living!