How to Clean Solar Panels

Last update July 19, 2018
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A solar farm is a reliable source of cheap energy but just like everything else it requires regular maintenance. So dive into our guide on how to clean solar panels and learn how you can keep your panel system tidy using nothing but common household products.

Scrubbing a solar panel

Okay, so you’ve got yourself a homemade power plant made of a set of solar panels, powering your domestic appliances and maybe even your electric car. However, if you want that source of cheap energy to keep working for you, you have to invest your time and effort into keeping the panels clean and in good condition. It’s not enough to just place them on your roof and forget about them for a year. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of cleaning solutions and maintenance tips, let’s see exactly why you should spend your valuable time on the admittedly annoying cleaning process. And if you’re really adamant about never cleaning your solar energy source, consider buying solar chargers that are portable generators that require no maintenance or cleaning, but they’re obviously not as powerful.

Here’s Why Cleaning Your Solar Panels Is Necessary

Why You Need to Clean Your Solar Panels

Odds are your solar panel system is placed right on your roof or at least out in the open where each panel can get enough sunlight to produce electricity sustainably. Plus, you likely have them tilted to maximize exposure to the sun. Now, theoretically, that would mean that the panels would be more or less self-cleaning, getting rinsed every time it rains even a bit. After all, a bit of water pouring down on the panel should wash off any dust or fallen leaves that might end up stuck to the device. However, that’s not exactly the case. Sure, the panels are water-resistant so they won’t be damaged but a little drizzle won’t be enough for a deep cleaning, which is exactly what they require. After all, dirt does accumulate in the grooves and bends of the panel, leaves might just get stuck in a nook between two parts, and birds might… Well, you know what pigeons do, we’re not going to explain that particular problem. So yes, like it or not, you should clean each solar panel in your setup at least once every couple of months, maybe every six or so. There’s no need to climb up onto the roof every week just to scrub the panels, especially if you live in a state that gets plenty of rainfall.

Cleaning a Solar Panel Raises Efficiency

In case you’re going “well, so my solar panel system is a bit dirty, what of it?”, there are a couple of pretty big reasons for keeping your panels clean, aside from the aesthetic appeal. First off, dirt accumulating in the panel’s grooves might clog some of the mechanic parts and end up breaking them or, at the very least, substantially reducing the device’s service life. Solar panels are certainly not the kind of thing you want to be replacing every couple of years since they’re not exactly cheap. So make sure to scrub all dirt out to boost your system’s durability. Moreover, dirt and debris can cover up the surface of your panel, which would greatly reduce its efficiency, turning your intricate high-tech setup into little less than a dust-gathering pile of machinery. Okay, that may be an exaggeration as most of the time the dirt only robs the panel of about 5-10% of its efficiency but that’s still no way to treat your devices! What we’re trying to say is - clean your solar panels! That is unless you feel comfortable with your setup simply wasting space instead of gathering up the sunlight to create energy. By the way, everything we’ve said applies to the portable and flexible solar panels as well, though these will be quite a bit easier to clean, at least in our experience.

How to Clean Solar Panels Efficiently and Harmlessly

Cleaning Solar Panels Without Damaging Them

Okay, so hopefully we’ve convinced you on the necessity of cleaning your solar panels. However, we’re not going to just abandon you at this point and leave you to figure out the intricacies of the process yourself. First off, if you’re not feeling up to the task and worry that you might damage something during the cleaning process, you can always ask for professional help. Nowadays, solar panels are widespread enough that there are cleaning services in most major cities. They’re not exactly cheap but they will free your panels of dirt and debris quickly and efficiently. Of course, that’s only an option for those willing to spend money on such a service while others may prefer to do everything by themselves to save their precious bucks.

Use Homemade Products for Solar Panel Cleaning

Let’s say you’re a thrifty homeowner who’s sure of his skills and is ready to tackle solar panel cleaning without any professional help. That’s completely doable and you won’t even need to get any special equipment, really. Just go and open your storage shed or wherever you keep most tools. Do you have a hose? Now check to see if there’s spare soap in your kitchen or bathroom. Got that as well? Well, you’re pretty much good to go, as long as you can actually reach the panels. And that’s a pretty important part, make sure you’re steady when you’re doing the cleaning. Nobody wants to plummet into their rose bushes after slipping on a soap puddle on the roof. Oh, and do check to make sure you’re not dragging the hose up there pointlessly. Either use some software (if your panels came with it) to check how dirty the panels are or just haul yourself up there and see for yourself. Last but not least, consider talking to the dealership you bought them from and asking them whether there are any tricks to it. After all, the technology is still developing and you never know if your panel has specific instructions for cleaning.

The Top Method for Home Solar Panel Cleaning

Scrub the Dirt Off of Your Panel

First and foremost, do not, under any circumstances, use abrasive sponges or similarly tough materials to scrub your panels. You will get the dirt off but take a few layers of tech with it, which is definitely not our end-goal. Make sure to pick out a soft cloth or non-abrasive sponge for the cleaning, something that’s going to gently swipe dirt off of the panel without damaging it. After you’ve got your cleaning tool, prepare some cleaning solution. That’s pretty simple and while there are a few recipes out there, you don’t have to go fancy. Just get a bucket, fill it with lukewarm water, put some soap or basic cleaning liquid in it (the kind that you use for your windows should work best), and you’re good to go.

In case you do encounter some particularly nasty stain that won’t be defeated by simple soap, here’s a simple but effective cleaning solution recipe. Add a bit of vinegar, not more than a quarter of a cup, to the soapy water and just under a teaspoon of detergent. That’s it, now you have a special mix specifically for cleaning solar panels of oily stains and other nasty dirt.

Clean Your Solar Panel Regularly

Now, you’re all set up on the roof and ready to scrub and rinse but don’t even reach for the sponge yet. First, douse the panel in some water using the hose (remember to keep that water pressure low or moderate, the tech is delicate) and let it run down a bit, taking most of the grime with it. After the liquid’s mostly gone, take the sponge or cloth and gently run it down the panel, scrubbing off any dirt that’s left after the wash. Make sure not to press too hard as most dirt should come off right away. You’d usually only need to apply pressure to scrub off bird droppings, the rest of the dirt should be quite easy to clean without any real effort. Also, check to see if water tries to enter any grooves in the device and dry it out. If liquid is left on the panel it might end up rusting or breeding bacteria that you wouldn’t want on your device. After the panel’s clean of dirt, dry, and sparkling again, you can forget all about for 6 months or so. That wasn’t that difficult, was it now? Even if you really don’t feel like doing that again, you could always go for the professional cleaning service next time.

Sun Shining Off Clean Solar Panels

In the end, while we agree that rain is enough to keep most tilted panels free of dust and dirt, we hope you’re still going to consider our tips and do some maintenance on your solar farm once in a while. It’s especially important for those panel systems that aren’t sloped so rainwater doesn’t wash dirt off of them, pooling on the edges instead. If you’ve really hated the experience of climbing to the roof to clean off the solar panel system, you can either consider placing them in your backyard instead or try other models like flexible solar panels, which you won’t have to clean as often. But, otherwise, do take care of your energy generators and make sure to conduct regular maintenance.