Washing your bike can be a motorcycle maintenance task as simple or as complicated as you want, but there is something to be said for the soothing ritual of taking care of a machine that brings you so much pleasure and fun. Our recommendation? A comfortable summer evening with everything you need already prepped, a few beers while the katydids and crickets sing, and the satisfaction of a perfect shine at the end. Here's everything you need to know about how to clean a motorcycle.
Get Your Supplies
- Old Paintbrushes, toothbrushes or you can splurge on a brush set like this one.
- Chamois or microfiber cloth for the gentle wash and dry your bike deserves.
- Spray cleaner like this one for painted surfaces to get any bugs or debris off pre-wash, so nothing gets ground into the paint.
- WD-40 (or straight kerosene) for removing tar, bugs and tar, wax, and road grime (do not use on painted surfaces).
- A gentle soap that has a pH balance between six and eight for the wash process. This blog post is a fantastic comparison of a huge variety of motorcycle cleaning products.
- Compound for any scuffs or scratches.
- Wheel Cleaner—make sure you get a degreaser, not a shine spray.
- Optional: leaf blower or wet/dry vac for the drying process, otherwise use the microfiber cloths.
- Carnauba Wax for a protective finish.
- 2 buckets- one for clean water and one for rinse (dirty) water. This helps ensure you aren’t using water with grease or debris back on the bike.
- Hose and a spray attachment with a few options.
- Chain grease.
What Not to Use
- Car detergents—these are terrible for the finishes on your bike, plus can be extremely corrosive to any chips or exposed metal.
- Dish soap- see above but worse.
- Brushes on painted surfaces- for the best wash you need more than one tool.
- Pressure washer- don’t even think about it.
- Rubber finish spray for tires- Unlike cars, when turning you use the sides of your tires. The last thing you need is a slip on those tire walls.
The best time to embark on any cleaning process is when the bike is completely cool and parked away from direct sun. You also probably want it to be cooler, rather than heat of day, even if you are in the shade. Heat can make the soap dry too quickly. Evenings are the perfect time to get started.
Empty any cargo compartments you have to ensure nothing gets wet.
Don’t forget to remove your key!
Make sure you start by putting a rag into the exhaust opening. This isn’t as common as you’d think, but it is important for keeping water out of your exhaust. If you are worried about your electronics, you can also use dielectric (silicone) grease to help keep water out and prevent any corrosion.
Prep all your painted surfaces with a quick wipe down using spray cleaner to remove obvious debris. It's best to do this as a sort of pre-wash before getting started so that you aren’t accidentally grinding dirt into your sensitive surfaces.
Use the WD-40 (or straight kerosene) to dissolve any tar, wax, or road grime that is not on painted surfaces.
If you have scratches or scuff marks on the paint, use compound designed for modern paint finishes to take them off. (Do not use on matte)
Now you are ready to wash!
Start by doing a soft rinse on the entire bike. Once everything is wet and starting to soften, you can switch to a harder spray for the tires or engine but be sure to keep any direct, harsh spray away from paint or chrome surfaces.
Get your wash buckets, soap, chamois cloth and brushes to begin washing. You want to move from top to bottom (cleanest to dirtiest). Use the variety of brushes to get into the nooks and crannies of the engine until all the debris and grease has been loosened. Don’t wash the chain (if it needs to be said).
Rinse with another round of a soft wash, again moving from top to bottom.
Dry with the leaf blower or a wet/dry vac reversed. If you don’t have those available or would rather not, a simple wipe down by hand with a bundle of clean microfiber cloths will do the same.
A lot of people like to take their bike for a ride at this point to finish the drying process and make sure any pockets of moisture in the engine can get dried up. However, remember that your brakes being wet will make them squirrely for a bit so take it easy. You will need to take the bike out long enough for the engine to heat up and you still want to wipe down the bike after just to make sure there are no trapped pockets of moisture or any new bugs.
Once the bike has cooled back down, relube the chain.
Now that your bike is clean and dry, it’s a great time to apply a wax finish to your painted surfaces to ensure a layer of protection from the elements between washes.
Even though we've laid out the ultimate comprehensive process for how to wash your motorcycle, it's not always feasible due to time or location constraints. An easy solution for this is a type of "waterless wash" option like this one. These specially formulated cleaners are created for motorcycle cleaning options where water isn't available but you don't want to let dirt or grime sit on your bike. Just make sure you select a product specifically intended for use on motorcycles and the paint finish your bike has, and follow the directions.
Whenever you're riding, don't forget to make EARPEACE motorcycle earplugs a part of your essential motorcycle gear. Our hearing protection reduces wind noise without interfering with your comms.