By Terri Perrin / Published March 2023
Contributors: James McCafferty, Awning Rejuvanation Systems; and Amy Diehl, Awnclean USA, Inc.
Note: This article is updated and revised from two previously published Power Washers’ Guidebook articles on awning cleaning, with past contributions by James McCafferty (Awning Rejuvanation Systems), Paul Diehl (Do It Right Awning Cleaning Supplies), Amy Diehl (Awnclean USA), and Dave Schnell (Industrial Fabric Association).
Awnings have been helping us keep cool and protecting us from the elements for centuries. People from the past would be amazed by the advances in fabric, retractable technology, and design! Awnings are everywhere, making this a lucrative service opportunity for those in the pressure washing industry.
In warmer regions awning cleaning is a year-round service with the awnings cleaned on site. In colder regions work can be performed on site once temperatures are above 50ºF, to ensure it’s warm enough
for cleaning chemicals to function properly. To help prevent snow load damage in colder parts of the nation, some customers—especially residential ones—may prefer to take down their awnings for the winter and have their contractor provide off-site cleaning, winter storage, and reinstallation in the spring.
Many methods are used to clean awnings, including a simple approach with a step ladder, bucket, garden hose, and sponge or soft bristle brush. Some larger jobs, especially with commercial buildings and industrial clients, may require scissor lifts and bucket trucks.
Assess the area for any windows, doors, vegetation, decorative fixtures, mechanical/motorized parts, keypads, etc. that may need to be protected from overspray.
Check the awning’s material type, and inspect it for dirtiness and staining. Remove any loose debris, such as animal nests, leaves, etc.
Always spot test cleaners on an inconspicuous corner of the awning to ensure they do not degrade the material. This is especially important with back-lit vinyl, which can easily be damaged by using the wrong chemicals. This will help you select the proper cleaner and mildew removers to be used and the correct dilution ratio.
Using a step ladder and a plastic pump-up garden sprayer, apply the chosen cleaner solution, starting at the bottom of the awning and working toward the top.
Work in small sections to prevent the chemical from drying too quickly.
Scrub in the cleaning solution with a soft-bristled brush or sponge on an extension pole.
Rinse the cleaning solution and dirt away with hose pressure water. A pressure washer, using no more than the fabric manufacturer’s recommended pressure rating (maximum of 300 psi), can be used if the operator is very experienced and knows what is to be done.
Apply the cleaning solution to underside fabric surfaces, soft scrub if needed, and rinse with low-pressure hose water.
Allow the awning to dry completely. Be aware that vinyl fabrics are comprised of several thin layers and are more like a sponge inside, meaning the awning may appear dry on the exterior when there is still water inside. Sealing before the interior is dry will result in the sealer being contaminated with water, and frosting (a hazy look) could occur when dry.
Apply the sealer with a strip washer or a lint-free towel. If there are large areas to cover, sealer can be applied with a pump-up sprayer; wipe the excess with a lint-free towel or strip washer.
Apply the sealer with a plastic pump-up sprayer, working from the top of the awning, and let capillary action and gravity bring it to the bottom. Capillary action is important for moving the sealer around. Capillary action is defined as the movement of a liquid within the spaces of a porous material due to the forces of adhesion, cohesion, and surface tension.
Ensure windows and doors below the awnings and all surrounding areas are left clean.
The maximum recommended pressure for rinsing is about 300 psi, and that is for the highest grade of fabric. The pressure washer used needs to have an output gauge so that the client can see the pressure is being kept within the manufacturer’s specifications. Either hot (105ºF maximum) or ambient temperature water may be used. Use at least a 45-degree fan nozzle to create the spray. Do not use anything less than 45-degrees as it could puncture the vinyl, open weave cloth, or erode the fabric.
Proper awning cleaning depends upon the proper choice of cleaning chemicals. Some vinyl fabrics are stress sensitive and must be handled with caution. Use a cleaning product without alcohol or other harsh solvent to avoid the risk of ruining the awning by inadvertently removing color pigment or causing other damage. Awnings colored with an eradicable pigment are particularly vulnerable to damage; most back-lit awnings are made this way. For example, one pigment being stripped away with eradicable cleaning products and replaced with another will yield two colors. Using the wrong cleaners can do serious damage to certain awning materials. So, any cleaner used should be specifically designed for vinyl or fabric and approved by the manufacturer of the awning fabric.
Recommend a regular awning cleaning schedule to your clients, and stress the importance of sealing to protect the awnings and help them last longer. Many people don’t understand the importance of sealing and may want to skip this step to save money.
Awnings high enough to require the use of scissor lifts or articulating lifts bring special requirements. Experience, appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE), and certification in the use of this kind of equipment are absolutely necessary.
The simplest equipment needed for awning cleaning is the following:
Note that pressure washers, normally in the range of 2,000 to 3,000 psi, are rarely used in awning cleaning; and if so, they are used by the most technically proficient awning cleaners. If used incorrectly, these machines can erode an awning instantly. If you get photographed cleaning an awning with a pressure washer, and you leave wash patterns marking up the fabric, you may need to replace the awning … at your own expense!
Things to consider in the price quoting and billing process:
For basic awnings, simply use a contractor’s pace (stride) or a ruled measure to get the width and the length; then, compute the square footage by multiplying width by length.
For unusually shaped awnings, subdivide the awning into its fundamental shapes—triangles, rectangles, etc.—and then estimate square footage of those forms (recalling plane geometry).
A national average for basic awning cleaning is about 40 cents per square foot. (Chemical costs of approximately 15 cents per square foot are included in this rate.)
The average fee for sealing is an additional 60 cents per square foot.
Basic awning cleaning PLUS sealing = approx. $1.00 per square foot (PLUS any additional charges re: travel, lift rental, etc.).
An experienced awning cleaning contractor should be able to look at a prospective project—noting its size, complexity, and the fabric type—and deduce how long it is going to take. Using this format, the charge can range from $150 to $175 per hour, including the cost of chemicals but NOT the cost of a scissor lift, etc. if required. These additional charges should be indicated on the invoice separately.
To keep awnings looking attractive, protected from the elements, and covered under warranty, regularly scheduled maintenance is a must. Awning cleaning is a service that can lead to many other jobs for a contract cleaner. This includes pressure cleaning of building walls, sidewalks, parking lots (flat-surface cleaning), blinds, windows, and exhaust systems. The more cleaning jobs handled by the individual cleaner while on site, the less chance of losing the job to another contractor who does offer these additional services. And it’s your best chance of increasing profits through cost-effective use of your time.
Some sealers are flammable—usually made from a plastic dissolved in a solvent resin—or toxic. Be sure to consult the Globally Harmonized Safety Data Sheet (GHSDS) for a potential sealer and ensure the composition of the sealer complies with all federal, state, and local environmental regulations that apply to the job site.
Never use products not approved by the manufacturer of the awning fabric. Doing so would void the manufacturer’s warranty, and it could bring damage claims.
Evaluate and document (with photographs if needed) the condition of the awnings prior to cleaning. Note pre-existing damage, rips, or tears at the seams, and identify them to your customer before you commence the cleaning process.
Avoid using too much pressure for rinsing. Do not let any employee use a pressure wand who is not experienced in cleaning awnings. Too much pressure can cause permanent damage, such as striping (line markings seen as v’s and w’s) on fabric awnings and tear vinyl ones.
Keep water away from light fixtures, fans, other electrical devices, and outlets, which may be encountered on patios or similar outdoor living areas. Use plastic barriers and wraps to do so.
Create reasonable expectations up front of what can be done for an awning, and do a spot test cleaning—this is the best way to ensure the customer will be happy with the outcome.
It’s best to tell the client immediately if problems are encountered during cleaning. Small tears can sometimes be patched. Pressure wand marks on awnings are permanent and will not go away. If there are permanent stains that do not come out, call the client right away and describe the steps that were taken in an attempt to remove such stains. Usually, customers will understand.
James McCafferty is the director of operations at Awning Rejuvanation Systems International (ARSI). The business was founded in 1985 and went national and international in 1995. ARSI creates and manufactures a complete line of industrial fabric aftercare products that can be found at https://awningcleaning.com. “We keep awnings looking good years longer.”
Amy Diehl is the president of Awnclean USA, Inc., located in Tampa, Florida. Since 1989 Awnclean has been providing professional awning and canopy cleaning, pressure cleaning, window cleaning, and other specialty cleaning services to commercial clients throughout the state of Florida and beyond. https://awnclean.com.