Prolonging The Life of Your Awning

Keep your awnings looking better, longer with regular, proper maintenance. Although awnings have been around in some form or another for hundreds of years, awning cleaning is a relatively new concept. As retailers, restaurant chains and others have spent more and more money on eye-catching, showy awnings, they have begun to realize the importance of protecting these investments. Regular cleaning and sealing not only extends life of the awnings, but it also keeps awnings looking great for the maximum amount of time. After all, what message does it send to your customer when your awning is dirty, mildewed and full of bugs?

Companies go to great expense to put up awnings for any number of reasons: signage, improving curb appeal, brand image or perhaps simply protection from the sun and rain. Regular cleaning is important in protecting that investment and making sure the awnings do what they were put up to do. Unfortunately, many awning owners stop noticing the awnings after they have been up awhile. Sometimes it takes having to go through the expense of a re-cover before their eyes are opened to the importance of awning maintenance.

It is important to educate yourself about the different fabrics and vinyl that are used for making awnings as well as the different weights of these materials. This is vital because different materials will require different types of cleaners and techniques. In general, the better the fabric or heavier weight the vinyl, the better it will hold up to environmental abuse. If possible, contact your manufacturer to find out what material was used in making your awning, and the brand name if possible, this information will help you or your service contractor to choose the right cleaners and sealers to do the job properly.

When choosing an awning cleaning service company, it is important that the vendor is professional. Experienced and knowledgeable in the different techniques and chemicals to use on different types of awnings. Awnings are very expensive and can be easily damaged if cleaned incorrectly. There are some backlit, “eradicable” vinyl that can be destroyed if exposed to the wrong chemicals. The cost to clean an awning is a small fraction of the cost to re-cover it, so regular maintenance pays for itself in the long run.

Awning cleaning can significantly extend the life span of an awning, adding years to its useful life. The average awning, if not maintained, starts looking dirty within several months and, depending upon what material it is, can develop permanent staining within one or two years. By years four and five, most awnings will look very dirty, may have sunburning along the upper surfaces, and will likely be weakening. Flat top surfaces of awnings and the stress points such as the curve from the vertical face to the horizontal top will age faster. The vertical face of an awning is usually sun-damaged, but may suffer from black lines from roof runoff, i.e. water which pours off the roof of the building and onto the awning. The most destructive elements to awnings are sun exposure, air pollution, mildew, bird droppings and roof runoff.

How often should awnings be cleaned? This depends on several factors, including geographical location, site location, type of material used and environmental factors. As a general rule, all awnings should be cleaned three or four times per year. But as with most rules, there are exceptions: awnings located around food preparation sites, awnings with high mildew growth or bad roof runoff staining may require more frequent cleaning. Awnings located near airports and highways also need more frequent cleanings. In some cities like Los Angeles, retailers are cleaning their awnings as frequently as every other month due to the air pollution. Awnings with factory – applied clear-coats like 3M or Tedlar can be cleaned less frequently. Please note that clear-coated awnings will still get dirty, they just will not get as damaged as quickly.

There is no such thing as a self- cleaning awning, no matter what a manufacturer tells you. Hot, dry areas will have fewer problems with mildew growth, but will have more problems with sun exposure and a dusty appearance.

Awnings in malls will usually just be dusty and can be damp mopped. The exception is in food courts where there will be a greasy buildup that requires heavier cleaning.
Another surprising factor in awning longevity is color. Red awnings age faster from sun damage due to the weakness of the pigmentation. Dark blue and dark green awnings are generally longer lasting. It is especially important that red, white, and yellow awnings get cleaned regularly and sealed with sealers with UV protectants. This will help protect against the sun damage and staining to which these colors are more susceptible.

Before you set up a maintenance program, you need to give yourself some guidelines. What is your budget? Get several bids to determine realistic pricing for your area of the country and make sure you are comparing “apples to apples”, using contractors who will hand clean, not pressure clean, your awnings. If you are setting up a national cleaning program, remember that pricing levels vary dramatically throughout the country. If you go with a flat rate for all your locations, this will reflect an averaged price. Do you want to set up a structured program, or are you going to clean on an as- needed basis? A structured cleaning program is preferable, since as-needed programs invariably get pushed aside for other priorities. Are you going to contract your awning maintenance out, or do you have the staff to perform this work in-house? Once you have determined these factors, you will have a better focus on what efforts will be required to maintain your stores’ awnings.

When cleaning an awning, it is important that the right chemicals and tools are used. There are four to five established, tested lines of chemicals designed specifically for awnings that are recognized in the industry as good, effective products. Top- quality awning cleaning chemicals will work on both vinyl and fabric awnings unless special restoration work is required. However, vinyl awnings and fabric awnings require specific sealers that are not interchangeable. Different awning cleaning professionals have different preferences as to what works best. What works best on one awning may not work as well on the next one. Vinyl awnings should be sealed with every cleaning. Fabric awnings can be sealed annually as the sealer lasts longer.

If you are planning to clean your awnings in-house, you will find that you use one or two products most often, and the rest are for special situations, but be prepared and carry them all. This preparation also applies towards the equipment you use. Bring sponges, brushes, extension poles and ladders. Also, bring a pressure cleaner with you. You will not pressure clean the awning, but a pressure cleaner is a great tool to get water where you need it. You will also use it for low pressure rinsing of the underside surfaces of the awnings.

Lastly, part of maintenance is repair. Most awning cleaning companies are not equipped to do major repairs such as re-sewing torn awnings, fixing damaged frames hit by freight trucks or repairing light fixtures. Major awning repair is best left to the manufacturer. Awning cleaning companies can usually patch small holes or slices if they are fairly minor. Some cleaning companies also do light bulb changes for large back-lit awnings, which in the long run saves on electrical visits and helps lower electricity costs.

Awnings are a major investment in your property, and they can make a major statement about your company. Keeping those awnings looking great is just good business.

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