How to clean Solar Panels

A man cleaning solar panels

There are no moving parts in solar panels, which is why there is not a whole lot of maintenance to take care of. Cleaning, however, is one part of the maintenance of solar panels that should not be taken lightly. Let’s understand through this article about the necessary tips on cleaning the solar panels effectively.

Although solar panels might appear to be sensitive, fragile in nature but unlike their appearances, they are immune to bear all weather conditions and are durable with less maintenance requirement. It’s usually advised by manufacturers to keep the panels clean, dust-free and to avoid the accumulation of leaves and impurities but in reality, all these concerns can naturally be taken care of by rain. A simple recommendation would be adding manual cleaning and maintenance of the panels besides the rain to ensure the functioning of the solar panels with the maximum potential.


When do you decide it is time to clean your panels?

You can decide whenever if there’s even a need to start the cleaning. You have to manually check the solar panels to see if there is any dirt, bird droppings, waste, etc. But you can do that too if you have a monitoring system that will warn you if your panels are not running and working well enough. You should know, however, that the alarm might point to some mechanical or electrical issues, not just the need for cleaning.

A piece of advice that is usually passed around, is to let the rain take care of the cleaning of your solar panels. Track the functionality of your device by paying attention to your month-to-month energy bills and use. Perhaps it’s time to think about cleaning or some other form of maintenance if you start to see changes in your energy bill.


What precautions should you take before starting the clean-up?

In the sunlight, solar panels can become extremely hot due to their heat absorption abilities. Either clean your solar panels during the morning/afternoon, or select a reasonably cool day. Also, see if there is some possibility to do this without having to climb up to the panels.

Keep your ladders ready if it is required for you to climb up the roof and be prepared with all the necessary equipment and proper training to not cause any fatal injuries.You can always consider calling a professional cleaner to clean the solar panels to be on the safer side.


What can you use to clean up?

Checking with your solar panel manufacturer is the first thing you want to do. They may have unique cleaning recommendations.

The basics are water and soap, and a hose – that makes the whole thing so much simpler. Keep in mind that when washing off your solar panels, you should not use any form of high-pressure water sprayer. Water quality is also something that should be noted. If the water supplied is hard (mineral-rich) and rainwater is available, use that as a final rinse to avoid deposits from hard water.

The solar panels themselves can be affected by a high-pressure connection. Sponges are excellent tools with which to clean solar panels, because they will not cause any damage. Use something you would clean your dishes with, if you plan to use a little bit of soap on your sponge.

However, if you have collected a lot of dust and dirt, you might need to give them a more thorough cleaning. You can turn on the water at the beginning and wash the panels with a garden hose. And you will see if any dirt is still left. You don’t have to disinfect the underlying wiring. They are strictly prohibited – because they can only do harm. Do not use any chemicals and abrasive materials.

Bird droppings are more harmful than a film of dust on your solar power panels. One point to check is whether a string or micro inverter is a part of your system. This is critical, because systems with microinverters (with an inverter attached to each separate panel) will display where one component has been covered with droppings. The inverter will avoid displaying current flow during these instances.

In some cases, the panels can get oily stains on their surfaces if they are located in areas which are near to airports, flight paths or are subjected to prominent roads frequented by trucks. In this case, you may prefer to use isopropyl alcohol as a spot cleaning chemical, which is also found in daily household items as aftershave lotions, sanitiser, etc.


What do the experts say about cleaning solar panels?

It seems that experts cannot come to a consensus on this one. One side claims that this initiative will not pay off if you plan to recruit professionals. They argue that dirty solar panels can operate with just five percent less power, which is negligible. This hypothesis is based on the fact that solar panels are still impeded by these small particles, and that they have not been found to work at a reduced capacity. As the solar panels are tilted at an angle for making the solar panels effective in receiving maximum solar heat, the tilt usually allows the dirt to settle down at the bottom of the construction.

Some believe that the solar panel system will lose 15 to 20 percent of their strength, if the solar panels are not cleaned properly which will eventually cause less electricity generation.

landmark experiment was performed by Google at their 1.6 MW solar farm in Mountain View, California. They found that the number one way to optimise the energy they generate was to clean the solar panels. Cleaning solar panels that had been in service for 15 months doubled their electricity production.

Experts are leaning towards ‘no’ for cleaning solar panels in spite of a lot of research, and particularly if you want to hire a professional company instead of cleaning them on your own, the return on this type of investment is way less than what you are putting in.

The best possible advice when it comes to this subject, is to track your solar energy system, to see if and when the power output changes. If you think changes in your energy bill might be because you need to clean the solar panel, see if after a good rain, the quality returns to normal. If so, that’s the end of it, perhaps. If you think the functionality is still askew, instead of just washing, it may be something electrical that needs repairing.

It also depends on where you live. If you live in an area where it snows, you will have to manually shake off all the snow from the panels.  During the winter, solar panels usually become the most soiled. When it is time for leaves to shed in autumn, you can certainly strip leaves from the panels.

All those who think solar panel cleaning makes a difference, are advised to take some time to do the job once or twice a year. This should continuously hold solar panels at their full capacity.

But you can do this more frequently if your house is located close to a highway, airport, plant, or some other source of pollution. Your solar energy system would be subjected to more debris collection.

It’s important for you to at least periodically rinse off your panels, depending on your weather conditions, dust, and other pollutants that may collect on your solar panels. Engage in safe cleaning practises and avail professional help if you deem it necessary. The solar panel company would also be able to decide if cleaning is necessary and when to do it along with tips on how to carry the operation out. Carry out a thorough visual inspection and assessment before the cleanup. This would help in upkeep and maintenance while helping you save energy costs.

Samarth Gara
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