What’s the best way to clean an outdoor antenna?

In this panel antenna, the X's should be closer to the towers than the horizontal bars.

It’s a trick question, actually. The best way to clean an outdoor antenna, for the most part, is not to clean it at all. Here’s the real story.

Large yagi-style antennas

Even though there are a lot of smaller alternatives, many people still prefer the large, traditional antenna. Maybe the antenna was there when you got into the house. It could be that you’re more than 50 miles from the towers. Maybe you just like the look of big, classic, American aluminum.

No matter what the reason, you chose this antenna and I applaud you for having some pride in it. It’s natural for you to want it to look nice and flashy. The only thing is, that’s actually kind of bad for it.

Over time, aluminum gets a black dust covering it. This is aluminum oxide and it’s caused by exposure to the air. Think of it as rust, but for aluminum. There’s a difference though: rust is not as good as bare iron. Aluminum oxide is just as good as bare aluminum when it comes to antennas. Also, aluminum oxide forms a fine coating over the antenna. If you clean the antenna, you’re removing the outer layer of metal and then another layer of aluminum oxide will form. Over time, if you do this enough, you’ll actually weaken the antenna.

The best thing to do is leave the antenna in its black, dusty glory. I know that doesn’t sound right, but it is.

Plastic-clad antennas

Plastic-clad antennas aren’t immune from getting dirty. They can get sap or dust on them, and they can be “visited” by birds who leave an unpleasant deposit. As long as it’s not too unsightly, the thing to do in most cases is to leave the antenna alone. However, if you really do need to clean the antenna, use a commercial cleaner like Simple Green. Don’t use anything harsher as some cleaners can actually harm the plastic. I like Simple Green because you can just soak the antenna (or anything else) with it and after about half an hour there’s practically nothing that won’t just wash away with a gentle sponge or even a bit of water.

Anything that won’t come off with a gentle scrubbing should probably be left there. You don’t want to risk permanent damage to the antenna. An antenna with a plastic sheath can become somewhat brittle after years of sun exposure and sometimes it’s best left alone.

Should you worry about electrocution?

In general I don’t worry about any risk of electrocution with outdoor antennas. After all they are outside in the rain right? Unamplified antennas carry only the tiniest amount of current, about 1/10,000th as much as a night-light bulb. Amplified ones can carry much more but a properly installed antenna has the amplifier shielded and insulated. If you’re really worried, unplug the power injector until you’re done cleaning anywhere near the antenna. That’s an easy and quick fix.

Time for a new antenna?

If the antenna is just plain done, and it’s time for a new one, check out the great selection available now at Solid Signal.