When you think of motorcycle maintenance, you probably think of checking your tires’ PSI, replacing your air filters, and doing general tune-ups and checks. However, one of the best preventative maintenance tasks you can do is simply washing your bike.
The problem with washing your motorcycle is that it’s not as simple as washing a car. You can’t just roll up to a car wash and drive right through for obvious reasons. Not unless you like getting smacked around by flailing washer pads and other oddball machines. You also have to be careful with handwashing. While your bike is resilient and in no way made of eggshells, it still has many exposed parts that you need to be cautious with. Not to mention, you spent a lot on your bike, and you don’t want to mess up its paint job or streak its shiny metal bits.
In this guide on how to wash a motorcycle, we’ll go over each step of a proper washing process, along with some notes to keep you from making beginner mistakes and help you maintain the motorcycle in the long term.
How to Wash a Motorcycle: The Dos and Don’ts of Washing
Before we get started with tips on how to wash a motorcycle, you should know about a few do’s and don’ts.
Always Plug the Exhaust:
You probably don’t think about it when washing your car. Still, your exhaust needs to be plugged on a motorcycle to prevent water from entering it. Flooding your exhaust pipe with a hose can lead to damaged parts elsewhere; not to mention, it can corrode your exhaust system. This corrosion goes from the inside out since the water more or less doesn’t have anywhere else to go and will take much longer to dry out. You can easily plug your exhaust by jamming a rag or towel into it. You don’t need to do anything fancy, but don’t forget to take out your motorcycle radio before you start to wash. As long as you follow the proper washing process, you won’t do anything that’ll let too much water get in.
Be Careful with the Chain:
We’ll detail this extensively in the chain-cleaning section, but remember that your chain is one of the most important parts of your bike. While you need to clean it, you can’t just soak it with a hose and let it go. You have to be careful with your chain to keep it in good shape and well-lubed. Again, we’ll tell you everything you need to know when it comes down to it. Keep in mind that you should try to avoid it while handling the rest of the process.
One of the essential keys to washing a motorcycle is being gentle. You don’t want to mess up your paint, scratch the bike, or otherwise damage it cosmetically, and in some areas, being too rough can cause damage to parts. This approach doesn’t just go for how much physical force you use. It also means to use non-harsh or non-abrasive cleaning supplies, and you should keep your hose or another water source on as low pressure as possible.
Take Your Time:
It can be tempting to speed your way through the cleaning process and get back on the road, but the little details make the most difference when it comes to a motorcycle. Yes, you want to get the big, muddy splash off the side of your bike’s body and make it look good. Still, it’s the dirt and grime that packs into the tiny crevices of your forks, chain links, and various other barely-noticeable spots that make the most difference. These small details can cause big-time damage, especially with your chain and other mechanical parts. They’re also the details that require the most meticulous attention to detail to properly clean. Don’t rush it.
How to Wash Your Motorcycle: The Body
First, we’ll start with the bulk of the work, giving your bike’s body a good wash. For this step, you’ll need some essential cleaning gear.
- Normal residential hose
- Soft bristle brush such as a toothbrush
- Gentle dish soap such as dawn; no harsh chemicals
- Microfiber towel
- Vehicle wax
- Automotive sponge
So, how do you wash your motorcycle’s body? To start, make sure you plug your exhaust with an old rag or towel you have laying around. DO NOT use the microfiber towel listed in the gear list. That’s for drying the bike.
Now, remove any electronic add-ons you might have placed on your bike, such as an external GPS system or anything like that. You don’t want to waterlog the fancy gizmos you’ve bought.
Once that’s done, use a standard household hose on a low-power setting to rinse the entire bike. This pressure will wash off dirt and grime, and it will help loosen particulates stuck in the chain and other crevices. You don’t have to be too anal about this step. You’re just prepping the bike for the wash.
Once you have rinsed the bike, soak your automotive sponge and apply some gentle dish soap to the sponge. Using small, tight circles, gently scrub the bike’s frame, forks, gas tank, seats, and everything else besides the chain. After that, use your toothbrush to gently brush any crevices you can reach and remove built-up grime.
Rinse the soap off with the same rinsing method you used before until you remove all the soap. Immediately after rinsing, dry the bike by hand with your microfiber towel. This method will prevent streaks from popping up. Make sure you use a microfiber towel, though. Regular towels and rags do not have a fine weave, and they can cause light scratching. It’s not immediately noticeable most of the time. You will quickly watch high-polished parts grow dull from tons of micro-scratches if you don’t use a microfiber towel.
Finally, follow the directions on your automotive wax product to apply a thin layer of wax on the bike’s non-mechanical parts. This wax will protect the paint and metal from water damage and make future washes easier. Just use a bit of common sense. Don’t go waxing your motor, chain, seats, or electronics like a mad man.
That handles the bulk of the washing process, and as you can see, it’s pretty standard.
How to Wash Your Motorcycle: Tires
Washing your tires is pretty straightforward. From here on out, you’ll have an easier time if you get the bike onto some stands, though. You don’t have to, but it will help you get the bike into showroom shape.
For this, all you have to do is spray the tires down. There isn’t a reason to go all out with soap and stuff like that, but you might want to scrub the tires if there is a particularly stubborn spot of grime. Your hose should do a fine job blowing debris out from between your treads and removing dirt build-up, but if you notice a pesky rock or mud spot in your treads, whip out your trusty toothbrush and scrub it free.
We realize that you will get your tires dirty again the second you get the bike back on the ground. However, knocking out more challenging bits of debris, such as pebbles, can prevent punctures, and cleaning out your treads will give you a better grip. So, this is worth doing whenever you wash your bike.
Cleaning your rims is something you should do at this point, too. Your rims will stay cleaner than your tires, so it’s worth doing. Of course, you can use your automotive sponge, water, and some dish soap for this. Just rinse them off the same way you did the body, and you’ll be good to go. Do this after you wash the tires, though. If you clean the rims first, you can accidentally push dirt from the tires onto them while cleaning the tires, and then you have to redo the rims.
As a final note, you want to raise the bike onto stands because that will allow you to rotate the tires. If you leave the bike on the ground, you have a good six to ten inches of tire-to-ground contact you can’t wash. Of course, you could just roll the bike forward about a foot and solve that. Still, then you’re dirtying your tires on the ground before you can take a picture of that showroom-quality wash you just did. In reality, it doesn’t mean very much, though. This is just a tip if you’re particularly thorough about bike cleanliness.
How to Wash Your Motorcycle: Cleaning the Chain
The chain is probably the most unusual part to wash. You can wash it on or off your bike, but it’s usually unnecessary to remove it. The issue is balancing your washing with your relubricating practices. You don’t want a dry chain, and you certainly don’t want just to dump a bunch of garbage on it.
To start, give the chain a good rinse. Remember to be gentle, but since you won’t be hitting paint, you can use a more directed hose mode to hopefully blast out some of the junk built upon it. After rinsing, take a toothbrush, or buy a motorcycle cleaning brush with extra-soft bristles, and brush the chain to remove any gunk that is between the links. You want to make it spotless. You can use this time to give the sprockets on the back tire a bit of a touch-up, too.
However, just cleaning all the junk off isn’t the end. Now, you need to make sure it’s lubricated. After all, you just cleaned all the lube off of it when you were removing debris.
Don’t just use any old random lubricant you find. Buy a high-quality motorcycle chain lubricant, and apply it per the manufacturer’s instructions. Usually, this means applying a light layer, giving it a quick wipe with a microfiber towel to remove excess, and calling it a day. Just make sure you read the instructions to prevent messing up with some of the more complicated formulas.
Note: You do not have to wash the chain every time you wash the bike. If you wash your bike frequently, and the chain hasn’t built up any gunk or debris since the last washing, there’s no need to strip it of lubricant and redo everything. Get it during the next cleaning cycle.
How to Wash Your Motorcycle: The Engine and Exhaust
For your engine and exhaust, you just want to take your automotive sponge, soak it, and give them a good scrub. You don’t want to spray forced water into those parts, and the main goal is to wash away debris. Make sure you dry the parts immediately to prevent messing up their finish.
When to Wash Your Bike
Suppose you’re a particularly forgetful car owner. In that case, you might go a year or more without ever washing your vehicle and even longer without knowing how to clean a motorcycle, especially if you don’t go on roadways that create noticeable dirt buildup. However, you can’t afford to do that with your bike. Dirt packed into the treads can reduce your grip on the road, and your chain can start malfunctioning if it’s dirty. With the bike fully exposed to the elements, its body and parts can deteriorate much faster than a car’s when left in a filthy condition.
So, you want to wash your motorcycle more frequently than you would your car. Still, luckily, some of you might not have to worry about it as much, depending on your riding habits.
If you’re a hardcore rider who takes their bike everywhere year-round, you’ll be putting in the most work with cleaning. It would be best to wash your bike about once a month or whenever you notice dirt buildup. You should also frequently inspect your chain and tires for any buildup that might affect your bike’s performance. If you notice any, clean it early.
You can probably go a lot longer for your summer road bandits and weekend warriors. Washing your bike once or twice during the good riding season will typically be enough to keep it well-maintained. Make sure you perform a full wash every time you wash it since you’ll have long gaps between washes.
As always, you can find more motorcycle information at TheMotorBiker to get you on the road and enjoying the ride.