How to Wash a Motorcycle

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Why Wash It Yourself and What You'll Need

Triumph daytona 675
Justin Capolongo/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Whether you own a custom cruiser or a souped up sport bike, you'll want to keep your motorcycle away from commercial washing facilities and perform the cleaning ritual yourself. Those high-pressure hoses can damage bike parts, which are more vulnerable than mechanical parts in cars.

Be sure you find a shady spot to wash (and dry) your bike since the sun can create temperature differentials that harm paint and allow water to leave spots.

Assemble the following items as needed:

  • A bucket for soapy water
  • Soap or liquid detergent; automotive cleaners will work
  • Gloves (to keep your hands clean)
  • Bug and tar remover
  • Degreaser and/or engine cleaner
  • A toothbrush
  • WD40
  • A brush for wheel cleaning
  • Wheel cleaner
  • At least two microfiber or 100% cotton sponges
  • A variety of soft cotton towels and more abrasive rags
  • A chamois cloth for drying
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Prepping the Water for Bike Washing

Using warm water will increase its solvency. Photo © Basem Wasef

While some people swear by washing their bikes with plain water, others insist on using specific brands of soap. Whatever your style, use warm water with the mix and fill up a bucket for convenience.

Keep the sponge nearby, and don't let it touch the ground (since it can pick up pebbles or abrasive particles that could damage your paint.)

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Bugs and grime congregate on the nose. Photo © Basem Wasef

Dead bugs and grime are the banes of every motorcyclist, but using the right tools will get them off your paint easier than you think.

Bug and tar removers work surprisingly well, and some people also use WD40 for this duty. Don't scrub too hard into the paint when loosening bugs, and be sure not to use the same sponge for other cleaning duties.

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Getting the Hard Parts Clean

Be sure not to let degreasers touch sensitive parts like paint or chrome. Photo © Basem Wasef

A motorcycle's hard parts (like the swingarm and matte exhaust pipes seen here) require different treatment than more sensitive parts (like paint or chrome.)

Using a degreaser, scrub hard parts carefully and individually, making sure not to let the powerful solvents touch paint or chrome. No need to use microfiber materials here; a rough rag will do.

Some people use oven cleaner to remove boot marks from chrome exhaust pipes, but extra care must be taken to keep strong cleaners away from the sensitive bits.

For chain cleaning tips, check out our maintenance guide.

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Don't Forget the Nooks and Crannies

Hard to reach parts can be cleaned with a toothbrush. Photo © Basem Wasef

You might not need to get your motorcycle to concours condition, but a toothbrush will go a long way towards making hard to reach parts look clean. Apply degreaser on the tip for non-chrome engine parts, and oil and grime will disappear. While specialized cleaning tools enable more detailed work, you should be able to scrub most visible parts with readily available accessories.

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Erasing Brake Dust

Use a brush to scrub wheels, and keep brake dust off your sponge. Photo © Basem Wasef

Wheels can be difficult to clean, and a long-armed brush is usually the best way scrub off brake dust and dirt. Apply a wheel cleaner first and let it settle before scrubbing it off. Chrome wheels will require specific cleaners, so be aware of your wheel's finish before purchasing a cleaner.

Don't use tire dressing products, as their glossy finishes can compromise grip.

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Washing the Body

Be sure and get all the contours you can with the sponge. Photo © Basem Wasef

Microfiber sponge gloves are great ways to clean a bike's painted parts and should be used with warm, soapy water from the bucket in Step #2. Be sure to get the paint good and wet before scrubbing, so the soapy water can act as a lubricant and not scratch the paint. Only use 100% cotton or microfiber sponges, as other materials can cause damage.

Rinse the soapy residue off with a gentle stream of water from a hose, or by pouring water from the bucket.

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Last But Not Least, Dry

A chamois cloth will keep your paint from getting scratched. Photo © Basem Wasef

With your bike still parked in the shade, use a chamois cloth to soak up the moisture from the paint. The chamois will keep the finish from getting scratched, and prevent streaks and spots from accumulating.

Feel free to reward yourself with a ride on your newly cleaned bike; not only will you enjoy the breeze after all your hard work, the air movement will dry out many of the parts you might not have been able to reach while you were drying it.