Here’s the thought: solar panels are effective because they absorb the energy from the sun. Dirty solar panels can’t soak in as many of the sun’s rays so they’ll become less effective. That means you should clean off your solar panels – or does it?

In a recent post by The Sierra Club, the much lauded and maligned progressive environmental group, this very question was answered. The University of San Diego concluded that less than 0.05% energy was likely to be lost due to dirt on your average solar array; precipitation will wash most of the dirt off for you. Cleaning your solar panels improperly can cause scratches and other problems, permanently damaging your system. They concluded that, in most cases, cleaning your solar panels wasn’t worth it.

What about rare circumstances, though, where your panels get covered in dust and grime and there’s no rain in the forecast for weeks? You’ll want to clean them yourself. The first thing to do is get in touch with the manufacturer in case they have any tips or warnings about cleaning the panels. The second thing to do is use a hose and wash off as much as you can without touching the panels. This should go without saying, but in case it doesn’t: don’t use a high power setting when you’re doing this. DEFINITELY don’t use a power washer. A gentle shower is all you need; your panels should be on an angle, and the water will run right off.

When a rinse with the hose doesn’t do it, you’ll have to gently rub the panels with a soft cloth. For those of you with solar panels on the roof, be very careful getting up there! You can use a bit of soap as well, but avoid using any detergent; the gentler the cleaner, the better. Non-abrasive sponges can work as well. Think of it kind of like cleaning your car – you wouldn’t use too much pressure or anything too abrasive because you don’t want your car getting scratched – same idea.

We’re in Canada, so let’s get the big one out of the way: snow. Most of the time, you can just leave the snow; it will melt away in time, and your solar panels should be tilted, so most of it will fall off anyway. When it doesn’t, you can get up there and start wiping off the snow yourself but be extremely careful. The brush that you use to clear off your windshield should not touch the panels. Just wipe off the top most layer of snow because that brush is abrasive. Depending on conditions, you could try using warm water, but remember that if it’s very cold, that water will quickly turn to ice and that comes with its own host of potential problems. 

Looking for tips on solar panel cleaning after the freak October storm we had in Winnipeg? You can get in touch with an experienced solar company in Manitoba; we’ll help you to better understand how to clean the solar panels and whether or not you should even bother cleaning them in the first place.