February 10, 2021
by Randy Tweedt
Metal panels need attention; they should not be taken for granted. True, they are a notably long-lasting and attractive choice, particularly with the myriad colors and protective finishes available, but once installed, proper care is imperative in order to maintain their durability, performance and good looks for decades.
What are the main culprits of potential damage? Dirt and residue (such as from trees or animals) left to sit on metal panels, for instance, can cause the irreversible degradation of protective coatings, thereby compromising the longevity of roof and/or wall systems. Additionally, corrosive elements, including bacteria, mold, mildew or even acid rain can damage the structural integrity of the panels. Additionally, buildup of foreign elements, such as leaves, can hide potential leak areas or places that may be rotting away. Even in terms of energy efficiency, keeping the panels clean may help a roof reflect heat as they were originally intended.
To keep panel appearance in top shape, protecting the finishes must be a priority—otherwise, you may find yourself needing to re-coat the panels. Stains from leaves and moisture, algae and lime deposits that remain on panels for extended periods can do serious harm to the finish. It should be noted, however, that re-coating should only be considered if the panels remain structurally sound and if doing so wouldn’t void the manufacturer warranty.
How often should you clean metal panels? Most experts agree that at a minimum, an annual cleaning is advisable in order to keep the panels free of common elements that can jeopardize the integrity of the finishes. If you have heavy tree overhang, you may need to clean it or remove debris a little more frequently.
Deep cleaning to remove more stubborn substances (e.g., tree sap, oxidation) can be done every 3 to 5 years, depending on the building conditions, location and weather, etc. Interim, moderate cleanings can also be performed following substantial weather events and seasonal allergen build-up. It’s a good idea, in fact, to assess roof conditions before winter hits to identify any potential issues that need to be addressed.
No matter the frequency, perhaps the most important advisory when it comes to cleaning the panels is to follow the panel manufacturer’s recommendations regarding who should perform the work and with what solutions and tools so as not to void any warranties. In some instances, it may be beneficial (or perhaps even required) to have a professional building surface cleaning company with metal panel experience do the work.
As for the maintenance and cleaning instructions, it’s always best to refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines in order to best protect specific products, for example, to determine which cleaning solutions and techniques work best for a given manufacturer’s panels. Neglect or improper care can degrade the finish, compromising not only the visual appearance and performance but, as noted, can also potentially void the panel warranty. But maintaining the panels doesn’t just entail washing them like you would a car; it also means keeping them free of harmful debris.
Here are a few general tips for the proper cleaning of metal panels (again, refer to the panel manufacturer’s specific directions):
Simple cleaning: generally, water and mild detergent will be sufficient. Do NOT use bleach, which can change the finish color or have a harmful interaction with certain finishes.
Water-soluble dirt or other deposits requiring more complete cleaning: you can use a solution of hot or cold water mixed with detergent. In a container of water, use a 5 percent solution of commonly used commercial (non-industrial, non-bleach) mild detergent. Use a cloth or a soft-bristle brush for application of the cleaning solution, followed by a clean water rinse. Alternatively, pressure-washing with a 40° tip is also an option.
Non-water-soluble deposits such as tar, grease, oil and adhesives: a solvent or alcohol-based cleaner may be required. In this case, since most organic solvents are flammable and/or toxic, they must be handled accordingly. Generally, keep them away from open flames, sparks and electrical motors; use adequate ventilation, protective clothing and goggles; and read the manufacturer’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of any solvent used for any other specific safety details.
The following are among the cleaners widely recognized by manufacturers for this type of non-water-soluble cleaning: alcohols—denatured alcohol (ethanol) and isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol); and solvents, including VM&P Naphtha, mineral spirits, kerosene, and turpentine (wood or gum spirits).
For any level of cleaning, do NOT use wire brushes, abrasives, or similar tools that will erode the surface coating and leave scratches or other finish damage that can lead to corrosion. Additionally, always test a small area before proceeding with any of the cleaning agents mentioned to ensure there is no adverse effect resulting from the product’s use.
Remember, the misuse or abuse of any of the acceptable cleaning agents will automatically void any manufacturer’s warranty for the affected surfaces, so be sure to check with the manufacturer and also follow directions on any cleaning products used.
By following the tips above, installers can keep metal panels looking great and performing well for years to come.