How to clean a solar panel

PE - how to clean a solar panel - naturalturn FL resized
Photo courtesy of naturalturn at Flickr.com

Over time, solar panels will get covered with dust, grime, and even bird droppings. These obstructions block sunlight and will reduce power production. The solution is simple though – clean your solar panel when it gets dirty!

Each solar panel is different, so make sure to review the instructions from the manufacturer before cleaning the panel. Some panels are sensitive to certain chemicals, and others may have fragile components that you should be aware of. So, read those manuals first.

If your panel is a standard design, then cleaning a solar panel is just like cleaning a window. The “live” electrical components are isolated behind glass or plastic shielding, and all that needs to be cleaned is the outside. Before washing the glass, make sure that there aren’t any cracks or loose wiring. If there are, it might be a good idea to call a technician instead!

Here are the supplies you’ll need:

  • *A bucket full of water
  • *A soft sponge or towel
  • *A drying cloth that wont scratch the panels
  • *Cleaning soap (optional)
  • Green cleaning supplies do a great job on glass and solar panels. There are several varieties of streak free glass cleaner available commercially. You can also cook up non-toxic cleaning solution at home. Here’s a simple recipe for eco-friendly glass cleaner:

    Make a great all-purpose window cleaner by combining 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap or detergent, and 2 cups of water in a spray bottle.

    Use the soapy water to wash the surface of the solar panels, and brush away any visible dust or streaks. Gentle scrubbing may be necessary. After wiping away dirt, it’s a good idea to dry the panels off. Dissolved grime has a tendency to move around rather than wash away. Wiping up the wet areas does a thorough job of removing all of the silt and it also prevents water spots.

    That’s it! Compare the output of your solar panels before and after cleaning. When output starts to fall again, it’s probably time for another quick rinse.

    PE - how to clean a solar panel - bkusler FL resized
    Photo courtesy of bkusler at Flickr.com

    For solar panels in hard to reach areas (ie; on the roof of an isolated lighthouse or attached to a satellite in space) automatic cleaning systems are a popular option. Most of these automatic systems work like windshield wipers, brushing dust away from the solar panels with a spray hose and mechanical arm. Automatic cleaning devices add a little bit of cost to a solar panel system, but they may be worthwhile in dirty or hazardous settings.

    Just a side note – roof mounted solar panels are sometimes laid out to be self cleaning. There’s less need to clean a solar panel if it isn’t dirty!

    Interested in building your own solar panels to save money? Check this out.

    Andy August 4, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Great information. Developing a plan for cleaning your solar panels is a key part of your solar energy plan. That picture of dirty solar panels is fantastic. Nice find.

    Dirk Johnson October 27, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Cleaning your solar panels should be the least of your worries. When i bought my solar panels I also purchased an automated cleaning system for them. These guys were cheap,

    http://www.simplesolarcleaning.com

    Anonymous November 23, 2009 at 10:34 am

    Thanks men
    It worked like magic

    Anonymous January 24, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    Very good. Small note – panels in space probably wont get dusty?

    Jenny March 12, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Solar panel cleaning was recently voted the #1 new service business for 2010. With solar installations expected to exceed 50% growth over the next 15 years and the fact that our company has grown to over thirty operators nationwide in just the last two years, I would have to agree.

    Eric Lagunas September 27, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    I just graduated from a small solar thermal class and have had no luck in finding a job. I decided to start up a SOLAR panel cleaning business, and have cleaned a few arrays in Sacramento. These panels were thick with black silt. My customers found that a clean panel equals more power produced.

    lars September 28, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    @Eric

    That’s awesome! I hope your business is very successful. I’m sure it has to make a big difference when someone hasn’t cleaned their solar panels in a while.

    Andrew SolarPanelCleaningCA.com October 2, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    I have to agree, some of our customers have seen as much as 40-50% increase in power after we finished.
    The only problem with using any king of detergents is it leaves a sticky layer on the solar panels. Our company uses super purified water so the solar panels can stay clean up to 10x longer. You also no do run the risk of damaging the solar panels with the chemicals/detergents.
    Visit our website for more information about the advantages of using super purified water.

    Gregory October 21, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    You mentioned automated solar cleaning, which is a great option for just about anybody with PV. I recently purchased a setup from Simple Solar Cleaning Systems. It was way cheaper than any of the other systems out there, and it works great! I step out of my house every morning and my panels are clean. They are set to rinse my panels for three minutes every night, and so far they’ve worked great without a hitch. I bought the system from a guy named Dirk (559)519-6198. The system I bought was about $500. Not bad.

    Chaitanya Patankar October 29, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    These are wonderful ideas, is it a standard mixture for making the eco -friendly cleaner.

    Yes cleaner panels do give more power output…

    steve santiago December 12, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    I have solar on my home and kept mine clean myself,i did some neighbors and some of my familys,so i decided to start my own solar panel cleaning service in fresno,ca. So if ur in fresno county give me a call at 559-681-9765 ask for steve.POWER UP SOLAR PANEL CLEANING

    Michcael Davis May 1, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    My company has clean solor panel for 1year and getting better thank you for your web site. Pleasse don’t stop sending info to other like me Columbia S.C

    albert bones May 6, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    I am concerned about anyone putting water onto a solar generator. Not even the fire fighters do this in some countries. The problem is you cant turn off the high voltage DC and it only takes a pinhole crack, a little bit of sun, some water and you could be electrocuted. I saw a new safety device called “the remote solar isolator” which allows anyone including fire fighters, maintenance personnel and just people accessing the roof a safe work environment. http://www.remotesolarisolator.com.au
    sounds like a great investment!

    Carl May 22, 2011 at 7:36 am

    I have also set up a company here in Perth Wa cleaning solar panels.So far have had a great response and feed back from customers.All have commented on an improvement since I cleaned them.Saves them having to go on the roofs themselves too.

    Sage Lopez, PE June 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Solar Frame Works has a product called PowerBoost® that is a simple as spray on, wait 5 minutes, and spray off. It is formulated to leave a biodegradable sheen that resists future soiling as well.

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