How to Wash a Motorcycle Properly


When the beautiful days arrive there is nothing worse than being seen riding a dirty motorcycle. It’s simply a question of dignity. You can have black nails and forget to brush your teeth, but riding on a dirty motorcycle is a whole other topic. It’s simply a question of priorities. And how many bikes face the elements and sleep outside, sometimes in the rain and in the cold like a homeless person without a shelter?

A clean motorcycle is more resistant to damage accumulated over time due to slower oxidation of elements. The application of protective products also helps to push back the deadline. Finally, a clean motorcycle allows you to better assess any leaks or failures and remedy them before it’s too late.

All of these are good reasons to keep your favorite two wheeler perfectly clean. With that in mind, here are the 10 essential tips for washing a motorcycle properly that will improve your cleaning efforts immediately:

1. Start with a degreaser

We’re not going to play pretend: if we clean this bike, we clean it completely. Now, there is a painful part to clean, these are the wheels, even more the sides if you have the secondary chain on the left. There are no miracles: start by softening, or even dissolving, all the beautiful layer of dirt found on the chain and surrounding it.

Do this with a degreaser spray like Chemical Guys, which is the one I always use. Apply it with a microfiber cloth and let it rest for a few minutes. Depending on the product, it should be left for 2 to 5 minutes in most cases, before rinsing. Rinse with soapy water. But beware, the degreaser is for the chain and should NEVER be used on the paint.

2. Avoid using a high pressure lance

A high pressure lance is not necessarily recommended for washing a motorcycle. Although it’s perfect for cleaning cement, the paint on your bike and the thin stickers may not like it. In addition, the pressure can force water to go where it shouldn’t.

Corrosion is not the only enemy of your bike: when you see how certain circuits are made, you realize that a high pressure wash will not remove the problems, but attract them. Ditto for the wheel and steering bearings, as well as the secondary chain.

Tips: Wash your bike well, not with the high-pressure nozzle

If in spite of these warnings you still want to wash at high pressure, you must at least carefully avoid the bearings and the electrical harness and even more avoid the jet on the seat. If you use it wrongly, the water can get through to clog the underlying foam which will break down faster as the result.

3. Use cold water

If you come back from an off-road trail ride, you’ll be surprised to find that the mud comes off much better with cold water than with hot water.

Similarly, it is tempting to wash the bike directly after a ride. And yet, this is not a good idea. The metal parts expand with the heat and if it is cooled suddenly, it will contract too quickly, which will first damage the surface elements, then eventually weaken them. This is even more true for the exhausts of classic motorcycles, covered with a thin layer of chrome.

4. Don’t wash a motorcycle in the sun

It might be nicer for you, but don’t wash a motorcycle in the sun. And even less a bike that has remained many hours in the sun. Simply because paint that has heated becomes less resistant and could be more easily susceptible to small scratches. Similarly, if you rinse your motorcycle badly, traces of soap can be difficult to get off from the paint.

5. Only use motorcycle cleaning products

Still have some “special curly hair” shampoo? Well it’s a bad idea to use it on your bike.

Use products for motorcycles that contain elements that do not damage the parts where they’re applied. There are foam products, sprays and shampoos to put in water. But there are also products that can be used without any additional water.

But if you lack anything better, a mild dishwashing liquid can do the trick. It was used most frequently when there were no special motorcycle products around.

6. Use a soft, damp cloth

Assume that dust is just very fine particles and that if you crush them with a dry cloth, it will scratch the surface of your bike. A soft and slightly moistened cloth will allow you to avoid the micro damage. You can use two containers to rinse: one for dirt, the other for soap. That way, you won’t mix the mud you just removed with soap.

Some people use an old t-shirt or a similar peace of cloth or a rag. My recommendation is to simply buy a micro-fiber cloth which costs about 2-5 bucks. It does a better job of removing dirt, and can be cleaned with water and reused.

7. Don’t allow water to remain in the nooks and crevices

Water leads to rust. You don’t want to wash your bike and then, when you have the feeling of a job well done, let an insidious evil eat its insides. So, to prevent water from getting inside the exhausts, for example, start the engine and run it a little. You may even see some steam evaporate. This is proof that you did well.

8. A good wax to finish

To make your motorcycle truly shine, finish with a wax that you apply with the appropriate small pad. Again, no wax for floors, even if it smells good. Instead, use wax or polish made for plastic surfaces and another type for metal surfaces.

9. Lubricate after washing

Lubricate the essential elements once the bike is washed and dried. A little lube in the cables and around the crutch pins will probably do your bike good.

And don’t forget the chain, possibly after a very short ride of a few kilometers, because the grease will be better absorbed on a hot chain. If you’re not sure how to clean and lubricate the chain I’ve explained the full process in this article.

10. The minimum service between two large washes

One can spend two hours properly cleaning a bike. It’s not necessarily something we do every day. So, the key is to keep your machine at a “presentable” level during these intervals:

Remove the mosquitoes after each big trip and even more the droppings of pigeons that attack the paint, rather than letting them dry for too long. Regularly pass a protective layer of silicone. That’s the way to keep a long bike presentable and in good condition.

Final Word: How to Wash a Motorcycle Properly

To wash your bike you’ll need at the very least:

  • 1 bucket of water
  • 1 old sponge
  • 1 old t-shirt
  • washing liquid

If you want to take your cleaning results a step further you’ll need these products (with links to Amazon):

It’s important to treat each part of the motorcycle differently. Plastic parts require different products than metal parts. The chain needs to be degreased and then lubed back up once the washing is complete.

Lastly, don’t forget to remove water hiding in small pockets on the motorcycle, because it can lead to rust if it stay there for too long. This is often easily accomplished by simply taking your perfectly clean motorcycle for a ride.

You might also enjoy checking out a video tutorial on how to wash a motorcycle. This is my personal favorite:

Luka Barron

Motorcycle mechanic, writer and Heineken lover. A bit like Hank Moody on a Suzuki.

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