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Can You Clean Solar Panels Using Steam?

steam cleaning with stick extension
Image source: steambuddy.in

Many individuals want to know if it is safe to steam-clean their solar panels in order to preserve them for as long as possible.

The answer is Yes! Solar panels can be cleaned using steam. Because it provides pressurized water in the form of a gas and allows for deep cleaning without the use of harsh chemicals, or risking water to drip into the electrical components of a solar panel.

However, the decision as to whether or not it is safe to clean your solar panels with steam will depend on the type of glass covering, quality of anti-reflective coating (ARC), insulation level between panel and frame, the applied steam pressure, application time and distance, and utilized solar panel manufacturing technology.

There are so many different types of solar panels, and steaming technologies, it is hard to give a single answer and assume it will be safe for all types.

Most solar panel manufacturers will discourage you to clean their solar panels using water, steam, or any kind of chemical cleaning agent. This is a safe path for the manufacturer to deal with fewer warranty claims.

Therefore, if your solar equipment manufacturer specifically discourages you from steam cleaning your panels, you should definitely avoid it. Because the last thing you want is to damage your panels or void the warranty.

That said, steam-cleaning is an effective and generally safe way to clean solar panels as long as you follow proper procedures and precautions.

You just need the right equipment and know-how, which is what this article will help you with!

How To Steam Clean Solar Panels?

Safety First

The first step before you begin cleaning solar panels is to make sure your solar panels have been turned off for at least a few hours to give them ample time to cool.

Make sure you are wearing protective gear for your eyes and face. Steam can cause serious damage if it comes in contact with the eyes or skin. Also, wear gloves and clothes that cover your entire body.

If you will be working on your rooftop you will probably need a ladder to climb your roof or to reach the upper parts of your solar panels that you couldn’t reach otherwise. Make sure to be extra careful when on a ladder.

Prepare Steaming Equipment & Needed Attachments

Before you start cleaning your panels, make sure that you have everything ready to go so that the process goes smoothly and without interruption.

You’ll want to gather together:

  • Steam cleaning machine
  • Brush
  • Distilled water
  • Towels or rags
  • Squeegee
  • Microfiber cleaning cloth

Adjust Steaming Equipment For The Application

First, get the steam cleaner ready. Check the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you’re familiar with the model, and then fill the machine with fresh water as directed.

Most steam equipment manufacturer recommends using distilled water in your steamer and to never use tap water. Tap water contains minerals that may leave deposits on the surface of your panels, effectively blocking sunlight from entering into them.

Almost all steaming equipment will have more than a single steaming setting for light and heavy cleaning. Depending on how dirty your panels are, and the type of your installation you may want to adjust the steaming power accordingly.

Apply Steam On The Surface

Turn on the steam cleaner and wait for it to warm up. While it heats up, make sure you have towels or rags to protect your frames from potential water runoff.

Once the machine is ready, use long passes of steam to clean the panels from top to bottom or side to side.

Your steaming equipment instruction handbook should specify how far away from the panels you should hold the steam wand. As you go, make sure to coat the entire area with steam vapor.

Some steam cleaners include a squeegee attachment, allowing you to steam and squeegee the water away in the same pass. Some people like to steam first, then squeegee out any leftover moisture.

It is important to note that, steam should never be used on any solar PV system component other than the solar panels. Because it will almost certainly damage any of the system’s wiring or electronics.

Apply Your Cleaning Materials – (Optional)

After you have steamed the panels, it is also possible to use a cleaning solution on them. You can use a dedicated glass cleaning product like Windex or use Vinegar since it is a more environmentally friendly alternative.

This step is optional, though. You will get decent results without it too.

If you opt for this step, then just spray the product on each panel and let the product sit for at least 15 minutes.

Wipe down the panel

As the steam around the glass surface condenses, some moisture will stay on the panel.

After you’ve completed steaming, use a clean microfiber cloth to wipe down the panel. This should result in a clean, streak-free glass surface. Wipe any remaining water off the frames with towels or rags.

If you can still see stubborn stains, you can use a soft brush to soften them by applying light pressure on the surface. Then you will need to reapply the steam to remove these stains.

Once this step has been completed go ahead and squeegee off all of the excess water before allowing it to dry and/or use a microfiber cloth to remove any remaining water spots.

When is the best time to steam solar panels?

The best time to steam clean solar panels is usually a few hours after sunrise but before the sun gets too high in the sky and starts to heat up your panels. But there is no one time that is universally the best.

The time you are able to steam clean your panels will depend on where in the country or world you live and what temperature it is outside.

Solar panels are designed to be weatherproof to stay unaffected from daily temperature changes and thermal shocks. However, it is not wise to steam clean your panels while it is freezing outside.

The high temperature difference on the outside and inside of the glass might cause it to crack or shatter.

If the weather is cold, make a few passes with the steam cleaner at a distance to gradually warm up the panel before starting it with the heat of direct steam.

Never use excessively high heat or pressure when cleaning your solar panels as this may damage the panel’s anti-reflective coating (ARC).

High heat and/or pressure combination will almost surely crack or peel the ARC which will diminish the amount of light absorbed into the cell over time.

Which type of steam cleaning equipment is available to clean solar panels?

There are dedicated steam cleaning equipment specifically designed to clean solar panels. The most common ones are the hand-held steamers extended with a stick to comfortably steam panels, and these ones are usually equipped with a squeegee.

There is also steaming equipment in the shape of floor cleaning robots that can be programmed to clean panels without any human intervention.

Can you steam clean solar panels without steaming equipment?

You can steam solar panels without steaming equipment. If you have an air-powered pressure washer, you can use it to create steam-like pressure without splashback and any water intrusion issues.

This equipment allows mixing air with water to create high-pressure jets of steam, and they are perfect for the job.

Regular pressure waters with the appropriate nozzles may not provide the same effect since there will be chances for water intrusion which may damage the panels.

Using an air-powered pressure washer with an appropriate PSI rating and GPM flow rate you can create powerful jets of water that mix with air for steam-like pressures without any splashing and intrusion.

Can steam cleaning equipment designed for windows be used to clean solar panels?

Even though there is special steam cleaning equipment designed for solar panels, you can still use your window steam cleaner to clean solar panels.

Set the steam cleaner to a lower temperature or “no heat” mode if you want to avoid exposing the solar panels to high heat or pressure.

Because a crack in a kitchen window is less of a headache than a crack in a solar panel, we advise you to exercise caution if you intend to use steam cleaning equipment designed to clean windows.

Proceed with a few passes at a distance with the steam cleaner to gradually warm up the panel before starting it with the heat of direct steam. By doing so, you will drastically reduce the chance of cracking your solar panels.

Can steam cleaners designed for carpets or rugs be used to clean solar panels?

Don’t use steam-cleaners that are specifically designed for cleaning carpets or rugs to clean solar panels. These equipment are not designed to clean glass surfaces and the heat they emit may be more intense than that of a window cleaner.

If you believe your equipment would do the job still proceed with caution and use them at your own risk, but we strongly advise against it.