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Top 10 tips for washing your motorcycle

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I’d rather be riding my motorcycle than washing it, but after a long weekend of riding, it can be fun bringing it back to showroom quality and a great way to while away a couple of hours in the company of your best friend – your bike.

We have updated our popular tips with some from readers. Do you have more tips? Please add them in the “Leave a reply” section at the end of the article.

1: Preparation is key

Remove tank bags, luggage and any accessories you don’t want to get wet such as a GPS. Also, get all your washing and cleaning products ready. You’ll need a bucket, soap or liquid detergent, bug and tar remover, degreaser and/or engine cleaner, a toothbrush, WD40, a brush for wheel cleaning, tyre cleaner, paint polish, metal polish, at least two micro fibre rags, 100% cotton sponges, a variety of soft cotton or microfibre towels, abrasive rags and a chamois for drying.

2 Where and when you wash the bike is also important

Stay away from commercial washing facilities and do it yourself. Don’t do it on the street or in a unit driveway as it’s dangerous. Also, never wash straight after a long ride. Give the bike time to cool down, because you don’t want to spray cold water on a hot engine. Also, avoid washing in the middle of the day or in direct sun as it can dry detergents on the bike’s surface before you can rinse them off, leaving streaks. Contaminants in water, such as mineral deposits, also become much more aggressive when warm and, if water is sprayed on a hot bike, those water spots are more difficult to remove. If you are a bit of a greenie, wash on your lawn to water your grass and prevent precious water, harmful detergents and pollutant grease from running into storm water drains.

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3: Wash frequently, but don’t overdo it

This is a bit of a balancing act. Frequent washing will alert you early to any developing problems such as oil or fluid leaks, loose or damaged parts etc. Leaving squashed bugs on your paintwork makes them difficult to remove later and can leave behind a blemish. Also, squashed bugs in your radiator can cause overheating problems. However, if you wash too often, you can displace lubricants from cables and exposed grease points on old engines. If you’ve come back from the bush and your adventure bike is caked in mud, you will need a full wash straight away. If you’ve just had a short jaunt up to your favorite mountain cafe, then your bike might just need a gentle wipe over with some windscreen or bodywork spray and a soft cloth.

4: Wash with water and suitable cleaning agents

Don’t use a lot of water. Use the right cleaning product for the job. There is a product for every use. But be careful of abrasive cleaners or general-purpose household cleaning products as these can damage paint or chrome. Detergents should have a pH balance between six and eight, so it’s neither too acidic nor too alkaline as either could damage your paint. Check it’s safe to use on all paint types. Don’t use vinyl cleaners on the seat as it may look shiny but it will be slippery. If you are using any harsh compounds to tackle tough jobs you should probably think about wearing rubber gloves.

5: High-pressure cleaning

Pressure cleaners can be effective in removing caked-on mud and tough grime, but it can also force water into electrics and crevices where it can pool and cause corrosion or, at least, degreasing of vital parts. If using a high-pressure cleaner, keep it away from the instruments, electronics, chain, brakes and vinyl seats which can be ripped by pressurised water. Concentrate on wheels and bodywork. Pressure cleaners will do a good job of cleaning mud off a chain, but you will have to re-grease the chain afterwards. (When applying chain lube use only enough to do the job. Excess lube flings off on to your wheels.) If you do use a pressure cleaner, use a domestic unit like the Karcher K2.180 (read my review here) that isn’t too powerful. Nothing over 2000psi. It can also be environmental as they often use less water.

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6: Make sure you have the right sponges, rags, chamois, brushes etc

Have separate cleaning rags and sponges for different areas. Don’t use a sponge to clean grease off the wheels then attack the seat with the same sponge as you will leave grease on your seat. There is a wide variety of modern cleaning equipment available. Microfibre cloths are particularly effective while also protecting surfaces. However, don’t dismiss the effectiveness of an old toothbrush for getting grit and grime out of hard-to reach areas such as radiators or for cleaning laced wheels. You can also use finest-grade steel wool to remove burnt-on grease and grime from chrome exhaust pipes. Test it first underneath the pipe where it can’t be seen to check whether it leaves fine swirls as some pipes are not well chromed. You can also use plastic scourer as used on kitchen pots, or a brass wire brush as brass is softer metal and won’t scratch, Follow up with metal polish.

7: Attention to detail

This makes the difference between a clean bike and concours standard. When you’ve finished washing and polishing, spend time going over the bike one more time with a micro fibre cloth. Wipe the cables, clean the engine casings, rub the wheel hubs and lie down on the ground to see if you’ve missed any areas. If you are entering a concours, judges will often wipe their fingers under the bike looking for grease and grime. You could also get an air compressor to blow any excess water out of hard to reach areas. Only you use tyre shine on the tyre walls if you are entering a show and shine and not riding, otherwise overspray can reach the tread area and adversely affect grip.

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8: Waxing can make or break a bike

Don’t use cutting compounds as they leave permanent swirls in the paintwork. If you use car wax, make sure it is a soft wax that adds a layer, rather than takes a layer off. Check this for advice on selecting the best car wax. Some modern bikes are actually covered in a layer of plastic or lacquer that can easily be damaged. Trial the product on a discrete area first then look at it in direct sunlight to see if it leaves swirls. Good quality wax will act as a sunscreen, leaving a UV barrier to protect your paint. Wax needs to be reapplied regularly to provide this protection. Put the polish on a clean rag, not directly on the bodywork. When dry, buff off the wax with a lint-free cloth.  Good quality wax will act as a sunscreen, leaving a UV barrier to protect your paint.

9: Lube

WD40 is great for getting rid of excess water as well as gently removing built-up grease. Therefore, you shouldn’t spray it where there is essential grease such as around the wheel axles as it will dilute the grease. WD stands for water displacement which is what it does. However, it’s not a great lubricant, so buy some silicon or oil and spray the cables, hinges and levers that might have lost some lubrication in the wash. Use wax spray or dedicated chain lube to coat the chain and always follow the instructions on the can.

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10: Drying off is the final step

Use a well-rinsed and squeezed micro-fibre cloth or chamois to thoroughly dry off your bike. NEVER allow any cloth, chamois or sponge to drop on the ground as it can pick up small pieces of grit that can scratch your bike. When you’re finished drying your bike, ride it slowly around the block, squeezing the brakes to pump out excess water. Then go for a longer and faster ride on a highway to blow water out of deep nooks and crannies. If water is allowed to stay there it can cause corrosion. You can also use a leaf blower to do the same job, but isn’t it nicer to go for a ride and show off your sparkling bike? When you get home, give you pride and joy another wipe down with a microfibre cloth to get rid of streaks on the windscreen and bodywork caused by excess water running out of crevasses.

  1. An air compressor with blower attachment can also be useful for blowing water etc out of hard to get to areas. Same advice as with the pressure cleaner – take care not to use it where it might cause damage

  2. My bike cleaning consists of Meguiars or TurtleWax products.

    Spray Detailer, Spray Wax, Kerosene, Maxima Chain Wax.

    I usually clean my bike once per week. Use the spray detailer, and a microfiber cloth to clean the bike, then use the spray wax and microfiber cloth to wax/buff it.

    Every 800-1000km thoroughly clean the chain with kerosene/toothbrush (I also remove the front sprocket cover to clean any gunk/dirt), then take it for a quick ride, and then spray on the chain wax.

    I’ve never washed my bikes with water / soap / car wash e.t.c. The spray detailers always suffice.

  3. NEVER use a pressure washer on brakes as it can cause water to slip past the piston seals and either cause fluid to leak out or water to get in. (Water turns to steam when the brakes are hot and steam is a compressible gas = spongy brakes with less stopping power)

    Same goes for the chain, each linkage has a small O-Ring or X-Ring on it that holds lubricant after you’ve brushed or sprayed some on, pressure washers can damage these rings and cause premature chain wear.

  4. Do not use fine or any steel wool to clean exhaust pipes, as it will leave a finely scratched, swirl-like, pattern on the metal surface. better to use a fresh plastic scourer – as used in the kitchen sink for pots, or a brass wire brush – as brass is a softer metal and won’t scratch, Follow up with metal polish.
    Also, a well rinsed and squeezed micro-fibre cloth works as well as a chamois for drying off a bike.

  5. Common misconception about WD-40 is, it’s a lubricant. It’s really not a very good lubricant at all. Like RB says, it displaces water. That’s actually what “WD” stands for…..water displacement.

    1. Actually it’s fish oil it was designed to protect rocket parts from corrosion and to a far lesser extent lubricate

  6. While washing your motorcycle there are things that needs to be consider like washing it with suitable cleaning agents. Thanks for the tips on how to wash motorcycle.

  7. Keep the pressure cleaner jet away from the axels as you could force water past the seal.

  8. I had no idea that overwashing your bike could lead to needing to replace parts more frequently. I could see how getting rid of important lubricants could cause that kind of problem though, but it’s good to know that you can just wipe it off a lot of time. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Remove tank bags, luggage and any accessories you don’t want to get wet such as a GPS. Also, get all you’re washing and cleaning products ready. You’ll need a bucket, soap or liquid detergent, bug and tar remover, degreaser and/or engine cleaner, a toothbrush, WD40, a brush for wheel cleaning, tyre cleaner, paint polish, metal polish, at least two micro fibre rags, 100% cotton sponges, a variety of soft cotton or microfibre towels, abrasive rags and a chamois for drying.

  10. Wife always gives my bike a gentle rinse (water only) to soften dirt insects etc, then washes it. No scratches.

  11. I have just shifted into a 5 pack Townhouse block and have no idea how to clean my bike here, I’ve done the chain a few weeks ago when everyone was away with degreaser. I don’t want my neighbours complaining about the smell of chemicals. All done by hand, used oil tray as drip zone for the degreaser Any tips from other Townhouse dwellers?

  12. These are great tips! I will try these on my motorcycle for the next it needs cleaning! Thanks for sharing!

  13. Thanks for the tips.

    Good call on making sure to be extra careful when waxing your bike. Hate to say that I made that exact mistake early on. Cutting compounds as can most defintiely leave permanent swirls.

  14. Hello Mark! Marek here, just found your website.

    Great article, it’s important to know these things. I made some novice mistakes too when I was washing my bike for the first time few years ago, definitely don’t wash your motorcycle straight after a long ride, those hot parts getting cooled with water like that take damage that later on makes them less durable.

    Also it’s a good idea to not spray water (when using presure washer) from too close, especially on sport type bikes it can ruin the paint on the plastic elements so watch out.

    I will definitely be back here Mark, awesome site!
    If you ever want to chat about motorcycles, email me and I will be happy to talk with fellow motorcyclist.

    1. Hi I know this was a while ago, but regarding paint what’s is the best order from clean to gleam to protection. I’m not experienced enough to yet know and remember to treat paint, when acf is greasy is it shampoo before? What order would you do and should I only use chamois cloths with shampoo? Are microfiber cloths best to apply ACF? Any links would be helpful with best cloth to chemical match too. I’ve been commuting 50m a day on my speed triple and I’ve finally got time to give it some proper TLC. Done me good near 2 n half years now. I want to do it properly. Hope to hear back soon. Even some links will be fine if ur busy. Many thanks, sam

      1. Hi Sam,
        I think you are over-thinking the cloths.
        Most important thing is to NEVER let your cloth or chamois drop on the ground as it can pick up tiny bits of grime that can ruin your paintwork.
        Use a sponge to apply the shampoo, a chamois after rinsing and a micofribre cloth to apply any polish.
        Don’t use any polish with a cutting compound unless the paint is old and oxidised.

  15. If you have white wall tyres, the best cleaner bar none is bi carb soda and a stiff bristled brush. This costs a tiny fraction of the pressure pack solutions, and is far more effective

  16. Thank you for sharing the useful information!
    This post has given me so much knowledge and helped me so much when cleaning my motocross after the trip through jungle.
    I really wish this post will be more popular to come to many other people.

  17. I am glad you talked about how using pre4ssure washers to wash your motorcycle can really help get all the mud and dirt caked on your bike. We took our bike out and drove through a lot of dirt and mud. Thanks for the information on how to wash a motorcycle well.

  18. I use baby shampoo, white vinegar, finish rinse aid it will leave your bike looking good

  19. Thank you for sharing the useful information!
    This post has given me so much knowledge and While washing your motorcycle there are things that need to be considered like washing it with suitable cleaning agents

  20. Every motorcycle owners have to clean them bikes for not only remove corrosive substances from important parts and finishes but for them, it is also a good opportunity to look over the bike carefully for any connection or structural issues. In order to get the mirror-like shine, they can polish it with a premium hard wax coat that not only clean and gives the shine to the bike but also protects it.

  21. Hi Mark, I appreciate every bit of your efforts to let us know about washing a motorcycle. In fact, we’re going to study and research it as part of a half-yearly initiative supported by our website- Sandersreview and group of partners.

  22. I really liked that you mentioned that you should wipe the cables, clean the engine casings, rub the wheel hubs. One of my friends likes motorcycles a lot, and he is thinking of getting a Ducati to fix it up and ride it. I will make sure he puts these tips into action when he gets his bike and finds replacements for parts of it.

  23. I like that you said that some motorcycles models are made with layers of plastic or lacquer that can easily be damaged. My friend told me that he was looking to buy a motorcycle to save on gas. I’m going to let him know about looking for a good brand to avoid issues.

  24. Give the bicycle time to chill off, on the grounds that you would prefer not to shower cold water on a hot motor. Likewise, abstain from washing in the day or in direct sun as it can dry cleansers on the bicycle’s surface before you can flush them off, leaving streaks. Contaminants in water, for example, mineral stores, likewise become substantially more forceful when warm and, if water is showered on a hot bicycle, those water spots are increasingly hard to evacuate.

  25. Our uncle has recently lent us a motorbike to use during vacation and I was excited to try it out but to make sure it stays clean and usable for when I return it to him I wanted to know what I can do to maintain it. The mud seemed to be one of my biggest concerns because there’s a lot of muddy parts around our lot, and so it really helped when you listed the best frequencies for washing mud off tires. I had previously assumed that washing it whenever and at high velocities of water would handle it well. Along with following your tips, I’ll see if I can also do my uncle a favor and have some mudguards attached to the bike. I’m sure he’ll appreciate that.

  26. Useful information shared. I got good information to read this article, thanks for giving us nice info. Fantastic walk-through. I appreciate this post.

  27. Washing motorcycle with pressure washer is a good choice. This can also reduce the consumption of water. I usually use pressure washer for washing my car and motor bike..

  28. Hey, am here to share one of my personal experiences. My brother is a great bike lover, so whenever it comes to bikes he never takes a risk. He went to a restaurant with his friends, recently. He parked his bike in the parking lot. After spending a gala time, they came to see that the bike was nowhere. The CCTV footage revealed that a masked person stealing it. However, when he tried to connect with his bike GPS through his mobile it showed that it wasn’t updated. Well, real thanks to the Garmin Express Updater. I must say that it software updater works like wonders. He quickly updated his bike GPS navigator and was able to trace his bike.

  29. If special nozzles are used to spray high pressure water, is there a big difference between different types of car wash pumps? Is it important, for example, to use a centrifugal pump or a positive displacement?

  30. I am grateful for the knowledge in this post, because there are things to consider while washing your motorcycle, such as using the right cleaning agent.

  31. Many websites explain those ways, yet people don’t understand that and implement that in the wrong way. How to avoid such mistakes is mentioned in this blog written nicely. I want to catch up with it as well.

  32. I am a motorcycle enthusiast, and I can tell you that this is the most useful post about washing your bike. Wash off all the dirt and grime before applying a coat of wax to preserve your bike’s finish.

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