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How To Clean A Solar Panel

Cleaning solar panels can improve the energy efficiency of the solar systems in the home. Find out how to do solar panel cleaning efficiently in this article.
Solar Panels
5 minutes
Written by:
Joey Cheek
Updated on:
November 10, 2022

Solar panels are a cost-efficient and eco-friendly power source, but they do require some cleaning. Solar panel installation is used to absorb the energy from the sunlight that shines on the panel and converts the solar energy into an electrical charge. These electrical charges respond to an internal electric field in the PV cell and produce electrical power. Learn how to keep your solar power system in working order by learning how to properly clean the solar panels.

Can Cleaning Solar Panels Improve the Performance of PV Systems?

The amount of energy generated depends on the absorption of sunlight. Therefore, the solar power panels need to be clean, as dirt can reduce the efficiency of the solar panels. Therefore, cleaning solar panels is not just an activity to keep its surface looking new, but it improves the solar panel's performance.

Solar panels generally do not require regular cleaning. However, some cleaning and maintenance of the solar panels because they are exposed to dirt, dust buildup, and the elements year-round. 

Can Rainwater be Used to Clean Solar Panels?

The short answer to this question is yes. Most homeowners leave the entire solar panel cleaning process to heavy rains. However, the rain cannot be fully trusted to get all the dust, dirt and other debris off the solar panels. 

It only takes a short while for dirt to build up again. Therefore, solar panels may need cleaning more frequently depending on the climate in your region. In dry climates like the American southwest where there is little-to-no rainfall, you cannot depend on a storm to clean your solar panels for you.

What Causes Dirty Solar Panels?

Any equipment outside will inevitably be exposed to dust buildup from pollutants floating in the air. Therefore, solar panels need regular maintenance. For example, solar panels installed on homes or businesses close to industrial areas, or construction sites are more liable to have dirt and debris buildup. 

Also, solar panels on farms accumulate substances like fertilizers and other nitrogen-rich particles. These particles can lead to corrosion of the panels when they build up. Another notorious source of debris on solar panels comes from bird poop. Solar panels can attract birds due to their reflective surface.

Cleaning a Solar Panel: Tools and Materials Required

DIY solar panel cleaning is becoming an increasingly popular option for homeowners to cut costs. If you are looking to skip the involvement of professional cleaners and get your hands dirty, then here are some of the tools and materials you will need:

  • Non-abrasive sponge
  • Soft bristle brush and a soft cloth
  • Laundry detergents
  • Garden hose
  • Soapy water
  • Hard hat (if using an extension ladder)
  • Telescopic extension pole
  • A squeegee
  • Extension ladder and harness (if working on a roof)

Safety precautions before cleaning solar panels

To clean a solar panel, especially without professional services, you must follow the necessary safety precautions.

Before You Start Cleaning

  • Turn off power to the solar panel
  • Avoid making physical contact with the underside of the panel
  • As a general rule, it is safer to attach extension tools and use them to clean solar panels. However, in cases where a building has multiple stories, you may need to climb up to the roof to access the solar panel.
  • It is best to clean the panel on a cool day as this minimizes the risk of glass cracking as water dries on the solar panel

Be meticulous when cleaning your solar panels. For example, if you are using a garden hose, ensure that the pressure is set to low because a high-pressure attachment can cause water to creep into the seals of the panel. When using an extension pole, avoid hitting the solar panels and leaving marks on the PV.

What are the Best Ways to Clean Solar Panels?

If you have a residential solar energy system, and feel your solar panels could use a cleaning and your roof is not too high, hoist the solar panels off and lower them onto the ground. This is the safest method of cleaning your solar panels.

Dislodge any dust, dirt, or leaves with a soft brush

Proceed to clean off dried bird droppings, leaves, dust, muddy residue, and other substances that might be on the solar panel with a soft brush. A soft brush can also be used from the ground if the soft brush is attached to an extension pole for maintaining panels that are high up. 

After cleaning solar panels using a soft brush, rinse them down; use water from a garden hose to spray the panels clean. Using soapy water might give the panel a crystal-clear appearance. However, high-pressure spraying of water will cause scratches on the window, which could cast tiny shadows on the PV cells, depleting the energy output of the solar panel.

For Heavier Buildup

When it gets deeper than a little dust, you might need some extra energy to get the solar panel cleaning done. You will need to introduce mild soapy water, or vinegar for deep stains, a sponge, and a squeegee to get rid of water streaks after cleaning.

Joey Cheek

The Impact of Cleaning a Home's Solar Panels

One way to know how impactful your cleaning session was is to monitor the cleaned panels' efficiency. Review your energy bills before cleaning and after cleaning. Clean solar panels will have lower energy costs. The clean panels will allow a maximum amount of sunlight to gain access to the PV cells, and by maximizing sunlight absorption, the solar power system will have a higher energy output.

When the issue is complex, you should hire cleaning professional services to handle it. For example, in buildings with a high roof, you are not comfortable with climbing or power chores, you are not sure what to do, or there is a significant stain that would not go away; it is best to involve solar companies and get a professional. 

Take the SmartSolar.org quiz and learn more about the benefits of installing solar panels.

Meet the author:

Joey Cheek

Joey Cheek spent 10 years on the US National Speedskating Team where he competed in two Olympic Games, winning gold, silver, and bronze medals. He attended Princeton before diving into the startup and tech world. In 2011 he launched a livestreaming platform for sports before leading a team of engineers building next-gen news and content apps for Fortune 100 companies. He is the CEO and co-founder of SmartSolar.org, whose mission is to move the earth to cheap, abundant, carbon-free energy.

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