While solar panels are a relatively low-maintenance investment for your home, you do want to ensure you’re cleaning and maintaining them properly over the years. Here are our best practices on how to clean solar panels for your home in safe and sustainable ways.
Avoid using detergents, alcohol, abrasive powders, and rough, hard-bristled brushes on your home’s solar panels, as these can easily damage the glass and the solar components themselves.
High-quality solar panels are very durable and meant to withstand storms, falling branches, high winds, hail, and other hazards, but these panels are not indestructible! The wrong cleaning tools and improper cleaning methods can scratch these panels, or make the glass cloudy and streaky. Improper cleaning methods can also damage their wiring, and the connectors that hold the panels to the home’s roof or siding.
To better understand how to clean and maintain solar panels properly, first note some basic information about how these panels work, along with some tips for how to get the most use out of them, and how to ensure they’re always in good repair.
How do Solar Panels Work?
In very simple terms, solar panels allow particles of light, called photons, to “knock” electrons free from atoms, which then creates electricity. Metal plates in the panels capture this electricity and allow it to run along wiring, and then through an inverter. This inverter converts the electricity created by the panels into the type of electricity that is used by your home.
This basic explanation might explain why you need to ensure the glass of the solar panels is not cloudy, scratched, or obscured. The more light the panels can absorb, the more electricity they will produce, whereas any obstruction or cloudiness will keep the panels from absorbing sunlight and functioning properly.
How to Clean Solar Panels
First note a few things to avoid so that you don’t damage solar panels during the cleaning process:
- Never use detergent, including household dish detergent, as this can make the glass used for solar panels cloudy and streaky. Dishwashing detergent and other household soaps that are not properly rinsed away might also stay a bit sticky, so that they hold dirt and dust on the top of the panels.
- Avoid using standard glass cleaners, as these can dry in the sun before you rinse them away, and then cause streaks.
- Avoid abrasive and “scratchy” brushes, including sponges and household brooms, as these easily damage solar panels. You especially want to avoid using the type of brush you might use to clean your home’s roof or deck, as these are usually very sharp and are meant to remove heavy dirt, mold, and mildew from wood and stone surfaces.
Now that you know what to avoid when cleaning solar panels, consider what you can do to keep those panels clean and streak-free.
A leaf blower can be sufficient for removing leaves, twigs, and other debris that may have settled onto the panels. This can also allow you to clear the panels while staying safe on the ground!
Household string mops and cloths used for buffing cars can be soft enough for cleaning solar panels, but for a professional-quality cleaning, invest in a squeegee meant for solar panels in particular. These will have a soft, nonabrasive cloth on one side, and a rubber lip or edge on the other.
Start the cleaning by using the rubber side of this brush to gently remove any debris missed with the leaf blower. Next, give the panels a rinse with your garden hose, using a soft spray, to soak their surface. This will soften any caked-on dirt, mud, bird droppings, and the like.
Using the cloth side of the cleaning brush, gently wipe down the panel, without applying too much pressure. You might need to repeat this process, getting the panel wet and then wiping it down again, to remove thicker dirt and grime.
If rinsing and wiping the panels with this soft cloth doesn’t remove all the dirt, add some biodegradable soap to the water. Be sure you rinse the panels thoroughly so that you remove all traces of this soap after cleaning.
Use the rubber side of the squeegee to remove all traces of water and soap from the panels after you’ve rinsed them off. Wipe the squeegee with a thick, absorbent cloth between each use so that you remove all water and debris from the rubber.
If you live near an airport, you might notice oily stains on the panels, as plane engines will often drip oil and other fluids. Use a bit of rubbing alcohol on these stains, and then wipe the area down with plenty of water so that the alcohol doesn’t dry on the panel’s surface.
Simple Tips for Easy Cleaning of Solar Panels
While cleaning your home’s solar panels is typically a very quick and easy job, note a few simple tips that might make this job even easier, and more economical!
- Clean the panels in the morning when they’re likely to be covered in dew, as this can mean using less fresh water.
- Avoid cleaning the panels on bright, sunny days, as hot sunlight will quickly evaporate any water you use, making it harder to wipe away built-up dirt and grime.
- If your home has hard water, collect rainwater or use water you’ve run through a filter to clean your solar panels. This will avoid having the minerals in hard water dry on the surface of your solar panels, scratching them or causing cloudiness. Rainwater is also free to collect and use!
- If you don’t purchase a long-handled squeegee for cleaning the panels, invest in a telescoping handle that you can attach to a mop head or other tool you’ll be using. This keeps you safe on the ground during cleaning, and makes it easier to reach the entire face of the panels.
- “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” applies to solar panel cleaning! Don’t assume you need to wash solar panels every day or week; avoid unnecessary cleaning so that you avoid the risk of damaging them with a brush, too much soap, and the like.
Can you Clean Solar Panels with a Pressure Washer?
A pressure washer can allow you to clean solar panels without having to climb onto the home’s roof to reach them. However, you want to use a pressure washer only for this added reach, while keeping the spray of water gentle and without actual impact. Don’t use pressure to clean dirt and grime that has dried on the front of the panels, as too strong of a water spray might break or scratch the glass.
If you cannot remove caked-on dirt with a gentle spray of water, along with a squeegee or soft cloth and biodegradable soap, call a solar panel cleaning company to tackle this job for you. This will ensure the panels are cleaned properly and without damage.
How to Get the Most Use Out of Solar Panels
While high-quality solar panels will typically collect and store all the power needed for your home, you might note some tips on how to get the most use out of those panels. This will ensure they last for years before they need repair, and also ensure you use as little city-supplied power as possible.
- Solar panels should face in a direction that will mean the most sun exposure. Don’t assume you can or should tell your solar panel installer where those panels should sit on your home or property, but let him or her find the spot that will offer the best exposure for them.
- If you have mature trees on your property, note if their branches obscure the sunlight received by your solar panels. Have those trees trimmed regularly if needed.
- While using a leaf blower can remove debris from the surface of solar panels, be careful not to blow pressurized air under the panels, as you might cause them to come loose from the home’s roof.
- Many solar panel inverters will have a light that blinks while the panels are working and collecting energy. It’s good to check this light periodically, to ensure the panels are still functioning properly. If you notice the light has gone out, call your panel manufacturer or repair person as soon as possible.
- Investing in panels with a wall-mounted display can make it even easier to monitor their power consumption and production. These displays can even tell you how much electricity you’re getting from the panels versus city-supplied power, when your home is using the most power throughout the day, and so on.
- As with all batteries, be sure you’re caring for your solar panel batteries properly. Keep them from extreme heat or cold, and from moisture buildup. Your solar panel installer will usually offer instructions on how to protect the batteries that comes with your panels, so be sure you follow those instructions carefully, to conserve the power they store.
Do Solar Panels Work at Night?
When people ask if solar panels work at night, what they’re usually asking is if their home will have electricity at night if they have solar panels installed! As said, solar panels are connected to batteries, which store the power collected by those panels. These batteries are then connected to your home’s electrical systems.
The stored electricity in those batteries is what allows your home to be fully powered at night, on cloudy days, during wintertime when there is less sunlight, and so on. However, note that the batteries connected to solar panels only hold so much power, which is why many homes that use solar panels are still connected to their city-supplied power. If you use up the power in those batteries before the solar panels can capture sunlight and recharge them again, your home’s electrical systems will then switch over to that city-supplied power, as needed.
DIY Solar Panel Installation
One thing to consider about solar panels is that their installation is not typically a DIY job. The panels need to be positioned so that they get as much sunlight as possible, as said, and connected properly to the roof so that they withstand storms.
Solar panels also need to be properly wired to their converters and then to the batteries, which need to be connected to the home’s circuit box. Unless you have years of experience in working with electrical systems and wiring, and know that you would be safe working on your home’s roof, it’s best to simply invest in the services of a professional installer for your solar panels.
Solar Panel Lease VS. Buy
In some cases, you might be able to lease solar panels versus buying them. How can you decide which is the better option?
- If you know you will eventually sell your home, talk to a real estate agent! In some cases, solar panels might improve the value of a home and attract more buyers; if not, you might choose a lease option, so you don’t pay as much for the panels upfront, and then can have them removed before you put your home on the market.
- Leasing can give you the option to upgrade to larger or better panels that will provide more power to your home. If you’re not sure the right size or type of panels, and find it difficult to determine the best choice for your home, you might start with a short-term lease. You can then track your energy savings, and have the option of upgrading to better panels, or even terminating the lease if you’re not saving you much money on the cost of your utilities.
- If you prefer owning solar panels but can’t afford the number of panels needed to power your entire home with solar, consider panels connected to the home’s hot water heater or HVAC system. These appliances are usually the largest consumers of electricity in a home, so having just one powered with solar can mean an affordable way to reduce your utility bills.
- Note if regular maintenance and cleaning is included in a lease option. If so, this can mean less cost, as well as less hassle, for keeping those panels functioning properly over the years!