Solar panels mounted on the roof of your car or RV can provide electricity when you’re off the grid and reduce your fossil fuel usage. Solar panels for cars, camper vans, and RV’s are constantly becoming more affordable, making them an attractive choice for eco-conscious travelers. However, your vehicle will get dirty at some point…Can the solar panels on your vehicle go through a car wash?
Solar panels mounted on cars, RVs, and other vehicles should not go through a car wash. The brushes in a soft-touch car wash may get caught on the solar panels, ripping them off of the vehicle. While touch-less car washes won’t rip panels off of your car, they will soak your solar panels with soap and other residues which shorten the lifespan of your panels.
But…there must be a reason why they can’t go through a car wash and some ideas on how to keep your vehicle (and solar panels) clean and absorbing all the sun they can. Well, I did some digging and asked some professionals and put it all together for you…check it out!
Why Can’t Solar Panels Go Through A Soft-Touch Car Wash?
Generally, larger vehicles with roof-mounted solar panels are too large to fit into soft-touch car washes since they have height limits of 84 inches. Most RV’s don’t fit into these car washes even without solar panels. Smaller vehicles and trailers may also be too tall once solar panels are mounted.
If your vehicle will safely fit into a soft-touch car wash, it’s still not safe for your solar panels. No matter how securely you attach the panels, you risk the machinery in the car wash getting caught underneath the panels and ripping them off. Car washes aren’t liable for damage to your vehicle or panels, so you’ll have to repair or replace them on your own dime.
Why Shouldn’t Solar Panels Go Through Touch-Free Car Washes?
Generally, going through touch-less car washes with roof mounted solar panels isn’t a great idea since the soap used in these car washes leave behind a residue that can build up and block sun rays from reaching your solar panels. Any blockage to your solar panels will reduce their energy output.
Going through touch-free car washes with your roof-mounted solar panels is significantly safer than going through a soft-touch car wash. Since solar panels are designed to withstand high winds and rainfall, you won’t have to worry about the panels coming loose.
However, power washing your solar panels still isn’t a good idea if you use soap. According to Solar Power World, soaps leave behind a residue on the solar panels. This causes the panels to have a reduced ability to absorb light, meaning they’ll produce less power.
The residue can also create a sticky substance on the surface of the solar panels, creating the perfect place for dirt to hide. Of course, this defeats the whole purpose of washing your solar panels in the first place. If you do decide to power wash your solar panel-equipped vehicle, don’t get soapy water from the power washer on the solar panels.
Alternatives To Taking Solar Panels Through A Car Wash
You’ll have to wash your vehicle at some point…thankfully, there are alternatives to taking your solar panels through a soft-touch car wash or covering them with residue-producing soap. These methods are more labor-intensive, but they’ll keep your solar panels safe and operational for years to come.
- Hand Wash – It’s safe to clean your solar panels this by hand using mild dish soap and soft cloths and brushes. This method won’t scratch the panels or leave a residue behind. While this is the most labor-intensive method of washing your vehicle, it’ll keep your panels safe and give your car an extra shine.
- Pressure Washer – Of course, it can be difficult to hand-wash larger vehicles like motor homes and RVs. In these cases, it’s fine to use a pressure washer. Just be sure to keep the nozzle pointed away from the solar panels when dispensing soap. The spray from a pressure washer can be quite intense and can damage your panels.
In fact, it’s perfectly acceptable to keep the nozzle pointed away from the solar panels through the whole wash. Unless your solar panels get extremely dirty, they’ll stay operational without being washed. When exposed to rain, any dirt and debris will be washed away.
When Do Solar Panels Need To Be Washed?
While solar panels typically stay clean enough on their own, there may be times when cleaning your panels is necessary. For example, if they are covered in mud, they’ll need a wash to operate efficiently. Likewise, if you’ve driven through a dust storm and there’s no rain in the forecast, you might need to give the panels a quick clean.
Here are some easy steps for washing your solar panels when they are extremely dirty:
- Make sure the solar panels are turned off. This will not only keep you safe, it’ll make sure no soap or water gets inside your solar panels.
- Remove any caked-on debris with a soft cloth or gentle brush. Don’t scrub vigorously, as this may scratch the surface of the solar panel.
- Gently hose off the solar panel. Avoid using a pressure washer if at all possible to avoid cracking the surface of your solar panel.
- If necessary, clean remaining debris with a mild dish soap and cotton cloth. At this point, the dirt should be easily removable.
- Let your solar panels air dry.
Even though car washes are quick and easy, they’re a bad idea if you’ve got solar panels mounted on your vehicle. To keep from damaging your solar panels, hand wash your vehicle or keep pressure washers away from the surface of the panels. When they’re really dirty, rinse your panels with a mild soap and soft cloth to keep them in great operating condition for many adventures to come.