exterior building cleaning drones

The best exterior building cleaning drones of 2024

Washing building exteriors can be a tedious and time-consuming task, especially for multi-story buildings or hard-to-reach areas. Some homeowners might do it themselves, while others might outsource to a pressure washing company. But even for professionals, human labor is not necessarily the most effective way to wash buildings. That’s where window and building cleaning drones come in.

Building cleaning drones can take the wash tools out of your hands and clean away dirt, grime, and mildew from even the most challenging spots. They eliminate the need for scaffolding or swing stage window washing platforms, which can be expensive and annoying to set up (and still somewhat dangerous for humans to board).

And while building cleaning drones today aren’t exactly ‘cheap,’ they’re getting cheaper. Plus, they’re saving exterior building washing businesses money in plenty of other ways. In being more efficient (no scaffolding necessary), they can get the same work done in less time than it’d take a human. From there, you could take on more jobs — or just bask in free time. Without sending humans up on scaffolding, there’s likely no need for as comprehensive an insurance policy. After all, drone insurance is a lot cheaper than human insurance.

What might normally be a cleaning job requiring eight works and, say, a cost of $150,000, could be brought down to a job requiring just one person (plus a drone). The cost would amount to the roughly $35,000 drone plus one person’s salary for the day.

So you’re intrigued to pick up your own exterior and building cleaning drone? Here’s your guide to the best power washing drones, window washing drones and overall building cleaning drones on the market today:

building cleaning drones
Skip this scenario and use a drone instead.

Best overall building cleaning drone: Lucid Sherpa drone

Lucid Sherpa drone. Photo courtesy of Lucid Bots.

There’s so much to like about the Lucid Sherpa drone. It’s relatively easy to fly. An add-on payload unlocks window cleaning on top of general building cleaning. Plus, it’s made by an American drone company.

Lucid’s Sherpa drone is a exterior building washing drone that can cover more than 300 square feet a minute. It can fly up to 19 minutes at a time. That means you could, in theory, cover more than 5,000 square feet in a single flight.

The Sherpa Drone can hook into any soft-wash system. Lucid Bots recommends using soft-wash methods of 300 psi.  Though it can fly over 400 feet above ground level (AGL) untethered, the Federal Aviation Administration restricts its height to just 140 feet AGL if tethered.

It’s also safe to fly, thanks to 6 anti-collision lights. Perhaps more importantly is the radar collision prevention system with an obstacle sensing range of 0.5-50m.

Upgrading to the Sherpa window cleaning payload

Lucid Sherpa drone with window cleaning payload. Photo courtesy of Lucid Bots.

If you want to clean not just walls but windows too, you can purchase an additional payload called the Sherpa Window Cleaning payload. With it, you’ll get an onboard chemical tank. Given its variable mix ratio, it leaves the cleaning solution to the drone, while separating it from your water supply which in theory you’d have set to a drone hookup (LucidBots recommends deionized water).

Simply mount it to your Lucid Sherpa drone and press a single button. That initiates on-demand washing, rinsing, and repetition. Its makers are so confident in its power that Lucid Bots “guarantees a flawless, streak-free brilliance on every occasion.”

Sherpa drone: is it worth it?

The Lucid Sherpa C1 Cleaning Drone starts at $35,000. Throw in the window cleaning payload, and the price increases to $45,000.

Of course, that price tag doesn’t get you just the drone. You also get four batteries, a repair kit, a case, online training, a one-year warranty and more.

For what it’s worth, Lucid estimates its Sherpa drone can net 80% cost savings compared to traditional cleaning methods. It also claims to offer 400% increased ROI for businesses that use them. In fact, despite the steep cost, Lucid claims most users see a return on their investment after just two jobs.

Lucid Bots is based in Charlotte, North Carolina. In fact, according to the Charlotte Business Journal, it’s one of the top three fastest-growing companies in the city.

Best power washing drone: Apellix Power Wash drone

Photo courtesy of Apellix

For something more powerful, check out the Apellix Power Wash drone. Their patented drone makes way for an industrial-strength system of not just any washing, but power washing.

Whereas the Sherpa drone is best for soft-wash methods of 300 psi., this drone can pressure wash at 3,500 psi (240 bar) with 8-10 gpm (30 lpm +) flow to blast away dirt, grease, and debris. 

With this drone, you can choose between either a purely battery-powered model, or one that uses both a battery while also generating ground power via tether for even more power.

The Apellix Power Wash Drones can be used for surface washing and cleaning, but that’s not all. It’s capable of removing oil, grease and other visible and non-visible contaminatio. It can also apply a surface passivator for flash rust prevention or to remove soluble salts. Or, use it to apply biological surface cleaning compounds, and more. 

And like Lucid Bots, this company is also U.S.-based. Apellix is headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida.

Apellix Power Wash drone: is it worth it?

All that extra power comes at a cost. Whereas the Lucid Sherpa C1 starts at $35,000 (and runs up to $45,000 for the window cleaning add-on), this one can run nearly double that. While there are some versions that cost roughly the same at $34,000, more upgrades and power more will inflate the price tag as high as $69,000.

That said, Apellix has had some serious endorsements. Among the biggest? The U.S. Army. Apellix is in the developmental stage of a project with the U.S. Army’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) response operations to use Apellix tether-controlled drones to decontaminate vehicles on a battlefield.

Photo courtesy of Flying Eye

Budget pick: Spraying kit for DJI Matrice 300 RTK

Here’s your best budget option — particularly if you already own the DJI Matrice 300 RTK drone anyway.

For just about $8,000, you can buy the Spraying kit for DJI Matrice 300 RTK. It comes from French drone hardware accessory maker Flying Eye. Compatible with the DJI Matrice 300 RTK, this spraying kit consists of a boom fitted with 3 standard Teejet nozzles, a pump trolley, adjustable in-pressure meters, and a 30-meter hose. The 50-liter tank has a motor pump available with either a combustion engine or a 230V electric version.

You’d likely use this for situations where you need to treat building exteriors or do light cleaning of areas like roofs or facades.

Since the Matrice 300 RTK isn’t necessarily designed as a spraying drone, it doesn’t have the power to withstand pressure spraying the way our other two picks do. That said, it’s still a pretty compelling proposition, especially given the price. Check it out in action, here.

DJI Matrice 300 RTK with spraying kit: is it worth it?

This is definitely your budget option — and the lower price means you’re making tradeoffs.

For starters, though the kit comes from French company Flying Eye, the drone you’ll fly does not. The Matrice 300 RTK comes from Chinese drone maker DJI. And there’s been quite a bit of controversy as of late around DJI drones, which might be a turnoff to you.

Secondly, the Matrice 300 RTK – though powerful — wasn’t necessarily designed as a spraying drone, so it won’t be able to compensate thrust as well as the other drones here.

But for what it’s worth, the Matrice 300 RTK is still the king of DJI’s Matrice lineup. This powerhouse offers a long flight time of up to 55 minutes (assuming no spraying kit payload) and a 15km transmission range. If you decide you want to get out of the spraying business and into other drone businesses, the Matrice 300 RTK is quite versatile too. With the ability to carry hefty payloads like LiDAR sensors and zoom cameras, you could use this drone for other applications such as search and rescue, infrastructure inspection, and precision agriculture.

And compared to the other drones in this guide, it’s not a bad deal. The drone itself costs a hair more than $10,000. Fly Eye’s spraying kit costs about $8,000, meaning you could get the whole rig for less than $20,000.

What to know about starting a drone building cleaning businesses

Do I need a drone pilot’s license to start a building cleaning business using drones?

Beyond any other business licenses you may need, the Federal Aviation Administration also requires you hold a drone pilot’s license.

Under FAA regulation Part 107, anyone using drones commercially needs a drone pilot license. Formerly referred to as a “remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating,” you earn that certificate by passing an in-person written exam. Many people refer to this as the “Part 107 test.”

Luckily, it’s not that difficult to pass the test (check out my blog post and video explaining what my test experience was like). Most people learn how to pass this test by enrolling in an online Part 107 course.

You’ll also need to register your drone and ensure it’s Remote ID compliant.

Do I need drone-specific insurance for my building cleaning business?

At least in the eyes of the FAA, no. The FAA has no legal requirements around holding drone insurance (though aviation authorities in other countries sometimes do, so check with your country’s laws if flying outside the U.S.). However, you’ll likely still need small business insurance, which can protect your company and its assets when you face property damage, injuries, lawsuits or other claims that could potentially arise from putting a drone that sprays water and chemicals into the air.

That can include liability insurance. In the case of drones, liability insurance covers you in case your drone causes injury to others, or property damage.

And you might still want to insure your drone via what’s called hull coverage. Hull Coverage covers damage to your drone itself, regardless of who is at fault.

Some of the biggest players in the drone insurance space include SkyWatch.AI, which offers both liability insurance and hull coverage. Services are offered either hourly, monthly or annually.

How precise are building cleaning drones?

Unlike, say, photogrammetry drones that rely on mapping software to generate highly precise flight paths, building cleaning drones generally fly manually. Thus, their flight paths are about as precise as the pilot allows them to be.

How do power washing drones work?

Most power washing drones are tethered drones. Demanding such high pressure can otherwise take a toll on the battery life.

All that pressure might also presumably just push the relatively small drone back as the water and cleaning solutions spray out at a powerful clip onto a building. Thus these drones picked in this guide aren’t just any drone with a hose strapped to it. They’re specifically designed to be able to counter the thrust from the power washer while in flight.

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