Cleaning Frequency and Tips for Solar Panels

There are several questions new solar panel owners tend to have, and one of the most common is regarding cleaning and maintenance needs. Do solar panels need to be cleaned regularly? If so, how often, and how should this be done? It’s natural to wonder about these elements, both for general aesthetics and, more importantly, for ensuring that your panels stay free of dirt and able to optimize their performance – and within this realm, it’s definitely important to keep your panels clean.

At Intermountain Wind & Solar, we’re proud to not only provide a huge range of residential and commercial solar panel installations and other services, but also expertise on how to utilize and care for any of our products, including cleaning needs and recommendations. As it turns out, the answer to the question, “How often should I clean my solar panels?” isn’t a hard and fast response – it will vary based on a few factors. Here’s a primer on what these factors are, how dirt and grime build up on your solar panels and what should be done about them, and some general cleaning tips, both for day-to-day needs and deeper cleaning situations.

Cleaning Frequency Needs

When it comes to cleaning needs for solar panels, the frequency and depth will depend on some outside factors. Here are a few of these:

  • How much dust or other debris collects on your building, and therefore your solar panels, over time.
  • What kind of impact this dust or debris buildup will have on your solar panels and their ability to produce energy.
  • The potential impact of rain and snowfall, and whether these are significant enough to singularly restore panels to at least 95% of their optimal performance levels.

The Role of Precipitation

We wanted to place a specific focus on the role of rain and snow, which can often be significant. For instance, an important study conducted in Spain found that average performance reduction of solar panels due to dust buildup was only 4.4%, a number that most solar panel owners will be just fine with – but during long periods without drain, daily energy losses sometimes reached as high as 20%, a number that would be a big problem for any solar panel owner.

The translation here: If you live in a dry climate, such as in Salt Lake City or many other parts of Utah, dust buildup could be a legitimate concern for the performance of your solar panels. While rainfall does a great job rinsing away dust and maintaining at least 95% capacity for panels, there are situations where we’ll go weeks or months with very little rainfall here in Utah – and this means that cleaning and clearing the panels of dust, debris and any other items plays a role in their operational quality and power output. There may be some places in the country where solar panel owners can mostly just let rain do their cleaning for them, but Utah is not considered one of them.

Other Dirt Accumulation Factors

In addition to your simple location, there are other variables that may play a role in how much dust or debris builds up on your panels. These variables may impact how often you clean the panels or precisely how you go about doing this. They include all of the following:

  • Living near a highway, airport, farmland or another place where there are high quantities of dust in the air regularly.
  • Living in an area prone to dust pollution, wildfire smog or related factors.
  • A panel setup where your panels sit mostly flat, between zero and five degrees – these may accumulate surface soiling faster than other surfaces.
  • Living in a home surrounded by tall trees (their branches, leaves and/or bird droppings may be more common on panels).
  • Living in a highly humid climate that promotes mold growth (not common in Utah).
  • Just coming out of a season that had a high pollen count – this will sometimes leave a sticky residue on panels that stops rain from washing away dust and dirt.

If you know some of these conditions are present, whether temporarily or throughout the year, you may want to increase the frequency with which you inspect panels for buildups and also clean them regularly.

General Cleaning Tips

For general cleaning needs, there’s no need to break the bank or get too complex with your process. In fact, many solar panel dirt or dust buildups can be easily cleaned without ever getting on the roof at all – you can just spray them from the ground with your garden hose, which will wash away many of the minor buildups that might be present.

If this doesn’t quite do the trick, and there are heavier buildups still present, we’ll move to our next section for some expertise.

Heavier Buildup Tips

For more significant forms of buildup on the solar panels, you will use some basic cleaning supplies to assist you here. Firstly, you must confirm that you’re able to access the solar panel area, usually your roof, safely and without any hazard risks. Once you’ve done this, obtain a soft brush and squeegee long enough for your needs, plus a water hose long enough to reach the panels. Then find a bucket, and fill it with water and some mild soap (there are soap types made specifically for solar panels today, as well).

Here are the steps to follow:

  • Rinse solar panels with clean water to loosen any dirt.
  • Use the soft scrubber and soapy water, plus a sprayer if you have one, to wash the panel surfaces gently and carefully.
  • Rinse the panels with clean water from the hose.
  • Squeegee the panels dry completely.
  • Repeat this process on all panels until they’re as clean as you desire.

For more on how to clean solar panels, or to learn about any of our solar power solutions, speak to the staff at Intermountain Wind & Solar today.

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